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February 6, 2008

Florida Strategy Part Of Larger Giuliani Failure

Charles Hill talked to the Yale Daily News about the disappointing finish he experienced as a member of Rudy Giuliani's team, Hill, one of the policy stars Rudy attracted for his advisory boards in the presidential primary campaign, agrees with the conventional wisdom that the Florida strategy was a mistake. However, he argues convincingly that it was a secondary strategic error:

The candidate’s focus on Florida — at the expense of campaigning in the early primaries — was a mistake, Hill said in an interview with the News on Friday. But it was also part of a larger failure on the part of Giuliani’s communications staff to engage the media and, through them, the American public, Hill said.

Hill pointed to a foreign-policy speech Giuliani gave in September as emblematic of the campaign’s inability to draw attention to its candidate.

“Giuliani gave a speech in London that was a very serious and impressive speech,” Hill said. “It got very good press in London, and got no press here at all. Things that were done were not reported very well, and that, I think, was the fault of the communications team itself.”

These two problems, combined with debate formats that “trivialized and demeaned” and “swallowed … any attempt to stand out,” Hill said, left Giuliani with almost no public exposure.

“When the media was gearing up and becoming totally focused on the early primaries, they gave Giuliani almost zero coverage because he wasn’t a factor,” he said.

Giuliani needed to give that speech in the US if he expected the media here to cover it; that was a mistake that could easily have been rectified. Otherwise, though, Hill diagnoses the problem accurately. The campaign's strategists never appeared to care whether Rudy got national media attention. He remained in Florida and turned into a sideshow as Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and finally John McCain provided themes and story arcs that they could use.

Hill blames the communication team for the failure. As someone who worked with the communications team on a regular basis, I don't agree. They tried to work as assertively and professionally as possible to get the campaign message out to the traditional and New Media outlets, but the candidate himself didn't extend much effort. While McCain held weekly blogger calls through bust and flush, and Huckabee worked magic in interviews, and even the more corporate Romney reached out to talk radio especially, we just didn't see enough of Rudy, especially in the final weeks of the campaign.

And that was a shame, because Rudy's best asset has always been Rudy. Having Hill and Steve Forbes and other high-wattage surrogates were initially impressive, Rudy didn't appear to realize that he was the real attraction of the campaign. No one could have energized the campaign and found support like the candidate himself, but he left his best asset on the bench.


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