- Cliff Bentz
(Note: for any blue-state grassroots general campaign candidate, there is much to learn here .)
For years, CD2 has been the single Republican congressional district in the state (well-served for 22 years by retiring congressman Greg Walden). Diana and I are CD2 residents who simply do not want a Democrat Congressman representing our district. Our endorsement, made one month prior to election day, was to Cliff Bentz.
MOGA2020‘s * impact was significant. We have 26,000 online subscribers in CD2. The race would ultimately draw 117,000 total votes. In our online efforts, we estimate that we swung 7,000 votes from the other ten candidates, to Bentz. This means the other candidates combined (but mostly Knute Buehler) lost a total of 7,000 votes to Bentz, giving Bentz an approximately 14,000 vote-margin over Buehler and the others. He defeated Buehler by a margin of 11,000.
In the months leading up to our endorsement of Bentz, the deciding question for us was, which Republican nominee could win the general election against a Democrat in November? Our ultimate goal was to help save the District. It really was that simple.
To win the general election, the nominee would have to be seriously conservative, with an actual history of being pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment as-written, an advocate for smaller government, etc..
Also, the candidate would have to come to us and ask us for our support. The candidate would have to want our endorsement. (The same holds true for any endorsements we might make in the upcoming general election campaign.)
And, of course it would be good if the nominee was a long-term resident of CD2 who had a history of politically representing the district. That would be a bonus not just in DC, but here at home (because, if the other four congressional districts remain Democrat, this sole Republican U.S. Congressman would be the unofficial yet tantamount leader of the Oregon Republican Party).
And this is where our personal preference overlaps the pragmatic: Diana and I have a special place in our hearts for the wide geographic expanse of Oregon east of the Medford, Bend, Hood River, population centers. Notwithstanding Congressman Walden’s good work for this relatively lightly populated region, our Salem government has ignored Eastern Oregon for decades.
It’s important to point out that in the 2018 CD2 race, Congressman Walden defeated his Democrat rival by a significantly lower margin than in past races. Yes, CD2 has had an 11% Republican voter advantage, but in November of 2020 the Republican nominee will matter more than ever. This candidate will need the support of 100% of the conservative base.
The Final Four
Cliff Bentz. Our first analysis of the race included several long one-on-one Q&A sessions with Cliff at our house and in restaurants in Bend. This was in November. There were subsequent phone calls. A resident of far Eastern Oregon and with twelve years of legislative experience in both the Oregon House and Senate – and a native of Ontario, Oregon – on paper, Cliff Bentz was far more qualified to represent CD2 than any of the other candidates. Nice guy and easy-going. No baggage. Attorney. Family man. Smart. After much analysis of the various candidates, on April 24th we endorsed Cliff. He won the race with 32% of the vote.
Knute Buehler. His fund-raising ability is legendary, but his baggage is also renowned. His decidedly progressive comportment in the 2018 gubernatorial race would not be forgotten by conservative voters in CD2. Also, his big-money, hard-core personal assaults in that race did not endear him to that same large contingent of voters. As nominee, he could never win the general election simply because so many Republicans would refuse to vote for him. In this congressional race, the Buehler campaign protocol, established in the 2018 gubernatorial race, repeated itself. He raised and then spent massively more than his closest opponents (and by including the Phil Knight-associated “non-affiliated” PAC, we estimate he outspent Bentz by a four-to-one margin). Also, as noted above, there was the scorched-earth distorted personal attacks against other competitive candidates (Crumpacker at first, then at the last moment, Bentz), dependence on conservative vote-splitting (orchestrated by Buehler in 2018 but evolving naturally in this race), and ideological duplicitousness. He came in second at 22%, ten points behind Bentz. His pronounced defeat shocked the Right and the Left, and it’s hard to see him entering another major political race, no matter his future official political affiliation.
Jason Atkinson. We never met with him because, in our eyes, his campaign manager’s background – he is a ballyhooed never-Trumper from DC – doomed that campaign from the start. In the general election, too many CD2 voters would “stay home.” We disqualified him back in November. He was third in the race, at 19%.
Jimmy Crumpacker. Early on, there was a single long meeting with Jimmy and his manager at our home in Bend, another one-on-one meeting with his manager, and then several subsequent phone chats. In the end, we disqualified him because it was clear that no matter his other attributes, his elephant-in-the-living room outsider status would derail him in the general election. No getting around that. He wound up in 4th place, at 18%.
Lessons-learned (and remembered):
- The message matters more than the money-raised. It must be the right message and yes, that message must actually reach voters. With the exception of Diana and me and a few people close to us, pretty much everyone was stunned when Cliff Bentz, an underfunded, quiet-mannered, dark-horse candidate who started with less than 50% name-recognition, soundly defeated the super-funded, hyper-aggressive Knute Buehler who had over 90% name-recognition.
- The fatal error shared by Buehler and Crumpacker? Both discounted Bentz early-on. Neither was prepared for his last-minute surge. Indeed, in our scientific poll of late April, just nine days prior to ballots being sent out, Bentz was behind at 16% of the total vote, trailing Buehler and Crumpacker who each tallied 22%.
- It’s OK to point out the weaknesses of other candidates, but be honest about your remarks. (e.g. our MOGA2020 tactic in challenging Buehler was to simply publicize his past Left-leaning statements, verbatim.)
- 50% of voters don’t pay attention to a race until the very end. That’s why a last-minute mass-media onslaught by a well-funded candidate can be so effective. This huge segment of Republican “low-information” voters was Buehler’s core constituency.
- The pro-life issue is constantly downplayed. That’s a mistake. A majority of Americans are pro-life. (And as an important aside: pragmatically speaking. – whatever the issue – voters are looking for candidates who stand up tall in their beliefs. In 2020, a wishy-washy, cross-the-aisle candidate is a losing candidate.)
- In their endorsement of Jimmy Crumpacker while overlooking Cliff Bentz, Oregon Right to Life yet again augments their legacy of missing the mark.
- TV advertising is an outdated campaign media vehicle – but not according to political consultants. Truth is, there are too many TV channels for any kind of saturation, and now DVR’s are ubiquitous (90% of households) making it easy for viewers to skip through commercials. It’s crazy, but political TV campaign advertising, even though hyper-expensive, is extensively used because virtually all political consultants are making the same mistake: It’s a level playing field. But also, and certainly more importantly, political consultants typically get a 15% commission on campaign ad-buy expenditures, and expensive TV provides a mother-load of commissions back to the consultant. It’s a con by the mercenary consultant and a huge drain on the candidate who has been persuaded that raising huge gobs of cash is the only way to win. (The consultant orders the candidate to “Sit down six hours per-day, seven days per-week and make those fund-raising calls!“) **
- Social media: Why do political consultants downplay it? For one thing, it’s esoteric and ever-changing, and the typical old-school consultant simply doesn’t want to learn something new. The other reason is because of the low commissions it provides (see previous point). While spending 10% as much as Buehler, social media engagement with voters is how I took the lead in the Republican 2018 gubernatorial race, six weeks out from election day.*** And here in 2020, our almost-zero-cost social media efforts certainly made the difference in the Bentz win.
- Inexpensive Radio advertising was under-utilized or outright dismissed by virtually all the candidates. That’s crazy.
- For Republican candidates to win in November, supporting President Trump is mandatory. He’s at an all-time high approval rate with Oregon Republicans, at 93.1% (per a scientific poll released on May 8th). That’s great, but here’s why we can win back the state by 2022: there are plenty of Independent, Democrat and unaffiliated voters who would will cross over to our side in November – and in two years from now – if they are presented with an enthusiastic and unapologetic President Trump-supporting Republican candidate. In contrast, there will be virtually zero Republicans voting Democrat. MOGA2020 endorsed only two candidates in this primary election: Art Robinson, in Oregon’s 2nd Senate District, and Cliff Bentz. Both were unabashed in their support of our President and both won their races by wide margins. It’s way past time for Oregon conservative candidates to stop quivering about President Trump. Man-up
* MOGA2020 was not mechanically or financially involved with any of the CD2 primary campaigns. We made no cash or in-kind contributions. We spent zero dollars in our Facebook and email online efforts. We don’t have a PAC and we don’t accept donations. I’m a blogger.
** From Chapter Seven in my book, Making Oregon Great Again: “And remember to figure this important element into the spending equation: a political consulting firm will typically take, besides their high monthly fee, a 15% cut of all media ad purchases. And with this, naturally the consultant will tell his client/candidate it’s about who can raise the most money, and so they will want the candidate to spend most of his or her time, dialing-for-dollars and engaging professional fund-raisers. How best to spend all that money, according to the consultant? On expensive traditional TV and postal mailings, of course…and not inexpensive social media. To the consultant, that 15% is everything.”
*** We were derailed by Buehler’s last-minute, one million-dollar media onslaught/vote-splitting tactic. I wish we had seen that coming, but in any case we used that harsh lesson here in 2020 to help Cliff get over the finish line.