I’m usually hesitant to criticize Democratic campaigns because I know first-hand they are pressure-cooker environments and decisions can easily be second-guessed by armchair quarterbacks who don’t have all the information a campaign is privy to. Around election time, everyone fancies themselves a political guru because they used to watch the “West Wing” and bombard campaign with advice, most of it bad.
However, today’s news that 1st Congressional District candidate Scott Ellington has lost his second campaign manager in less than two months makes me wonder just what the hell is going on with that campaign? Incumbent Republican Rick Crawford, based on previous Talk Business polls, was widely viewed last year to be vulnerable as he had not done an effective job at defining himself to district voters. Many believed that Crawford was on the verge of being a first-term Congressman.
But I am concerned that Scott Ellington may have let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers.
Ellington and his first campaign manager parted ways in July and I wasn’t concerned with that news at the time because there are often campaign change-overs after a primary victory. But losing a second campaign manager with 50 days left is a warning sign that cannot be ignored.
Ellington entered the race right before filing closed after previously telling establishment Democrats that he would forgo the race. Ellington’s initial decision to skip a Congressional run led many Democrats to jump on the Clark Hall for Congress bandwagon since they believed he would be the nominee. When Ellington announced late, he put Democrats in an awkward position as many who would have supported him if he had just announced earlier were already backing Hall.
In short, Ellington’s change of mind ticked off a lot of influential people because he put them in a bind and this hurt him to some extent behind the scenes for a time, but most have long gotten over it.
In his primary race, Ellington struggled to raise money, but to his credit he almost won the nomination without a run-off, just missing the magic 50.1% mark by 321 votes even though Hall significantly outspent him. Since Ellington was from the vote-rich northeastern part of the district, many of us naturally assumed he would easily defeat his opponent in the run-off since Hall was from the less populated area. Ellington won the run-off, but by less than 400 votes.
This squeaker win, after the Ellington’s anemic primary fundraising, was the second warning sign of potential problems. The third warning sign is losing two campaign managers in two months.
One major question, not fully answered yet, is if the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee (DCCC) will provide significant financial support to Ellington? In August, the DCCC said they were putting up billboards in the district, paying for a few staffers and funding some online ads, but in the context of the DCCC’s overall budget, these expenditures amount to chicken feed.
Ellington said at the time that the DCCC wanted him to raise $200,000 (beyond what was previously raised) by August’s end and if he met that goal more money would flow. Speaking from experience, when the DCCC decides to fully back a campaign it is immediately obvious to all political observers. Since fundraising reports are not due until mid-October, we don’t know for certain if he met that goal, however, actions always speak louder than words.
As of this moment, the DCCC is not running television spots for Scott Ellington, which unfortunately says volumes about their level of commitment. Jonesboro television spots are dirt cheap, comparatively speaking, and by not running the pro-Ellington (or anti-Crawford) spots, the DCCC is signaling that they are not “all in” with the campaign. That could quickly change, but at this time they are not spending any significant funds in the 1st CD.
To his credit, Ellington is still trying to raise money. For example, tonight in Little Rock he’s holding a fundraiser hosted by some heavy hitters and that could help entice the DCCC to jump in and spend some resources.
But with less than 50 days left, Ellington’s campaign is not showing signs of financial strength or organization. There’s always the possibility that Ellington could turn it around, raise needed television funds and convince the DCCC to turn on the money spigot, but time is running out quickly.
November 6th is right around the corner and that will be the final determination if Scott Ellington was successful, or if he let the race slip away from him.