When Consultants Cost Candidates Their Races

We can officially add the "Gate" suffix to "Hicky." Today, the hullabaloo over what seemed to be a casting agent's unfortunate choice of words recruiting people for an ad campaign against Gov. Joe Manchin, the Democrat running for Senate in West Virginia, became a scandal. The casting agent says that call for "hicky" types came directly from the advertising agency responsible for the National Republican Senatorial Committee's independent expenditure campaign.

The agent produced an e-mail from Jamestown and Associates, the responsible firm, with the precise description used to cast the ad. Initially, Jamestown apparently told the NRSC that it had not used the language and that the casting agent was responsible. Today, both the NRSC and Jamestown acknowledge that that was not true. According to Politico, Jamestown released a statement by e-mail that acknowledges that "a private communication in an email to the talent agency from an independent contractor we hired to organize production apparently used the term 'hicky' to describe the look for the actors needed for a television spot."

The NRSC says it was lied to, and when it found it this morning, it fired the firm.

Ok, so this is just a gotcha story, right? Nope. It's bigger. The "hicky" story has been pretty heavily covered by the West Virginia press and it has allowed Manchin to tell a story about Raese, even though Raese had nothing to with the ad. Now, Manchin has more ammunition to show undecided West Virginians -- and there appear to be a lot of them -- that the Republican Party is out of touch, and that Raese, who jokes about inheriting his wealth, who opposes the minimum wage, and who opposes tougher regulation of mines, is no better. So not only are people going to be angry that D.C. beltway elites characterized them as "hicks" and did so without tongue-in cheek humor, the story flashes them back to everything else that it represents. Raise is a guy who repaves the driveway of his mansion in Florida while they can't get a job. Class warfare doesn't work, until it does.

Who's to blame? Pinks-eye. Pinks, to me, are political consultants, who tend to be very white and pasty and don't get much sun, who tend to stay inside a small, closed world of consultants, who don't think before they act, and who get jobs because they've gotten jobs in the past, not because they're particularly good.

There are plenty of good political consultants who respect voters and aren't prone to shortcut language and stupid consultant tricks. But then ... there are the pinks, the folks who can ruin even a good idea, such as the one behind the "hicky" ad, which urged West Virginia voters (who like Manchin) to keep him as governor. Jamestown has a good reputation, but the culture of the pinks is so pervasive that a few pinks can bring down a company that's trying its darnedest to turn the country red.

According to the NRSC, Jamestown only worked on West Virginia for the committee. The company has produced ads for several clients, including the Chamber of Commerce, in other states, and helped Chris Christie win his race in New Jersey.