Skip to comments.Disastrous Wellstone Service Analyzed
Posted on 11/26/2002 1:00:29 PM PST by What Is Ain't
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - In hindsight, their first mistake may have been holding a memorial service in a big basketball arena.
Under a bank of Jumbotron screens.
Live on C-Span.
The Oct. 29 service held for Sen. Paul Wellstone after he was killed in a plane crash turned into a raucous political pep rally that turned off many voters. Some analysts say it not only led to the defeat of Wellstone stand-in Walter Mondale but also may have contributed to the Democrats' setbacks nationally.
In studying the anatomy of a debacle, many critics have focused on the blunt-edged speech of Wellstone's close friend Rick Kahn. But the event was designed from the start to be boisterous and, yes, political.
"The problem was the labeling," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "The mistake was in labeling this as a memorial instead of a celebration of the lives of these individuals, which is what it was."
She said people tuned in expecting a funeral and instead got a rally.
Others said that holding the event in a sports arena that seats nearly 15,000 all but predetermined the tone.
"To expect that 15- or 20,000 Wellstone supporters would be quiet as pictures of Trent Lott and others flashed on the screen was too much to expect," said Steve Smith, director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis.
The crowd's booing of Lott was difficult to hear on television but obvious to reporters there. The event was featured prominently on the national news, and conservative pundits seized on the spectacle.
"The problem here was that this was an event controlled by a family that was grieving and a campaign staff that was no longer in the campaign," Smith said. "So, there were errors in judgment."
Wellstone campaign manager Jeff Blodgett apologized for the event the next morning but declined to revisit it in a recent interview, saying: "We've paid the price for the memorial many times over. We're moving on."
The event almost happened in an entirely different way.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source familiar with the planning meeting the day after Wellstone died said the small group considered holding the service in a more somber setting such as a cathedral. But that idea was rejected for a variety of reasons.
One reason was that the senator was Jewish. But organizers also believed that any tribute to Wellstone had to reflect the populist bent of the man. Thus the big arena.
To those paying close attention, the intent of the memorial was clear in the advertised theme: "Stand up, keep fighting."
During the event, Wellstone's wife, daughter and three campaign staffers were given tearful eulogies. But when Kahn, chosen by sons Mark and David to speak of their father, took the podium, he almost immediately changed the tone.
"We are begging you to help us win this election for Paul Wellstone," he told the crowd. "We can redeem the sacrifice of his life if you help us win this election for Paul Wellstone." Kahn also singled out some Republican lawmakers in the crowd to ask them to honor Wellstone by supporting a Democrat for his seat.
Mark Wellstone spoke later and started a finger-jabbing chant of "We will win!" When the video monitors in the arena focused on Mondale, then Wellstone's presumed replacement, the crowd began chanting, "Fritz!"
Democratic National Committee (news - web sites) Chairman Terry McAuliffe recently told a group of editorial writers that the big-screen close-ups were the biggest mistake of the event, which he said could have cost Democrats nationwide.
Afterward, the event's organizers were in shock, one person present said, and some immediately realized it was a public relations disaster.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a political independent, said the very next morning that he was so disgusted he walked out. Republican challenger Norm Coleman was essentially given a fresh start.
"Up until the event, the Coleman people were scared out of their minds," said GOP strategist Sarah Janecek.
Neither Kahn nor the Wellstone brothers would comment for this story. But Kahn said in a radio interview the week after the election he intended his speech to be a personal expression of grief. He said he had no regrets: "I didn't say anything bad at all, and I wouldn't. It's not in my heart."
Mark Penn, who conducts polls for former President Clinton (news - web sites), told Time magazine he found 49 percent of voters thought the service made them less likely to vote for a Democrat. About 67 percent of independent voters felt that way, and overall 68 percent of voters had heard about the service.
The Welfare "service" was deliberaltely mislabeled. If it had been labeled "a celebration of the lives of these individuals," then it would never have been televised nationally because the Republicans would have been within their rights to demand equal time to celebrate the lives of non-Democrat individuals.
"To expect that 15- or 20,000 Wellstone supporters would be quiet as pictures of Trent Lott and others flashed on the screen was too much to expect of Democrats,"
It's called DENIAL.
Gosh, only 68 percent knew about the service, I guess the remaining 32 percent voted for Buchanan.
Their second mistake was letting the public find out about it.
Notice the use of present, not past, tense.
In other words, Slick Willie still has a pollster on staff to do his thinking for him.
Only a soulless speck of a "man" could get on stage and say something like that. Disgusting.
National analysis of this event keeps minimizing this broadcast, because outside of Minnesota it was only on C-Span.
Within Minnesota, every single network save Fox blocked out all of primetime to cover this event. ABC, NBC, CBS, even UPN carried this thing for the entire 3 1/2 hours. Unless viewers had cable, this almost literally took over their television "Big Brother" fashion. That made quite a statement.
Yeah, over-the-top crap like this worked just fine during the Clinton years ... at keeping Clinton in power as the rest of the party eroded away. As long as the Dems pine for the Clinton years, they'll be stuck in neutral as the GOP increases its lead.
That sh!t ain't gonna fly, either. This was not a memorial, and it was not a "celebration of the lives of these individuals," -- it was a freakin' campaign rally.
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