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Monday, September 19th, 2022

Tiffany Smiley’s emails: Heavy on ultra MAGA cliches and feverish pleas for donations

The count of email fundrais­ing blasts from Repub­li­can Unit­ed States Sen­ate can­di­date Tiffany Smi­ley has risen to five a day, used to deliv­er repet­i­tive per­son­al mes­sages from Smi­ley, repeat­ed claims of finan­cial des­per­a­tion, and late­ly to put an ultra MAGA face on the campaign.

At one moment, the cam­paign claims: “The Wash­ing­ton Sen­ate race is now the #1 bat­tle­ground race in the coun­try. Regard­less to say, all eyes are on us.” Lat­er the same day, we hear despair from the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee (or her con­sul­tants): “I am try­ing hard to not let neg­a­tiv­i­ty creep in, but it’s incred­i­bly difficult.”

The real rea­son for despair is that top Sen­ate Repub­li­can Mitch McConnell is shov­el­ing more than $60 mil­lion into unex­pect­ed­ly dif­fi­cult con­tests to hold onto seats of retir­ing Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Rob Port­man and Pat Toomey in Ohio and Penn­syl­va­nia. Smi­ley has raised a lot of mon­ey but appears large­ly on her own.

The FiveThir­tyEight odd­s­mak­ers now give Democ­rats a sev­en­ty per­cent chance of hold­ing onto con­trol of the Sen­ate, and Smi­ley just a three per­cent chance of upset­ting Mur­ray. The real mar­quee races are in Ari­zona, Geor­gia, North Car­oli­na, Neva­da, Wis­con­sin, Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio.

Still, the shock-and-awe vol­ume of Smi­ley emails pro­vide a use­ful tool for exam­in­ing fundrais­ing tac­tics in the age of the Internet.

In days gone by, con­gres­sion­al staff or cam­paign vol­un­teers would face a day­long or night-long task of get­ting out a mailing.

Against a back­drop of stale donuts and cold, con­gealed piz­za, envelopes would be stuffed with dire fore­casts if dol­lars were not donated.

Nowa­days, a fin­ger on the “send” but­ton blasts out appeals.

Themes can vary by the hour, but basic tech­niques are interchangeable.

Pro­voke fear and alarm, warn of car­toon vil­lain ene­mies, and con­vince donors that the small­est con­tri­bu­tion can make a big dif­fer­ence. Email blasts do not test the mind. They want mon­ey, and to get you on the mail­ing list.

Over the years, Pat­ty Mur­ray emails — as craft­ed by fundrais­er Tra­cy New­man — car­ry the inevitable kick­er: “Fight Back.” The sen­a­tor warns of Repub­li­cans plot­ting nefar­i­ous deeds and depicts the Repub­li­can poised to pour in mil­lions if her fundrais­ing fal­ters. This year, the Mur­ray mes­sage has been giv­en res­o­nance by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs deci­sion and Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Graham’s pro­posed nation­wide ban on abor­tions after fif­teen weeks..

Often, the bom­bard­ment deploys the candidate’s fam­i­ly and sur­ro­gates, all of whom dis­play a mag­i­cal abil­i­ty to stay on message.

Jay Inslee, Tru­di Inslee, and Tra­cy New­man have deliv­ered appears in the hours before cam­paign report­ing dead­lines. At one point, copies of paint­ings by the gov­er­nor were used as induce­ment to give.

Smiley’s cam­paign is email fundrais­ing on steroids. Increas­ing­ly, in keep­ing with the MAGA cul­ture, com­plaints are lev­eled against “polit­i­cal megadonors” (as if Repub­li­cans don’t have enough), “Biden’s busi­ness exec­u­tives,” “cor­po­rate elites,” “polit­i­cal elites” “big city bil­lion­aires” and “elite coastal donors.”

The themes can be sep­a­rat­ed out:

Ersatz des­per­a­tion: On Sat­ur­day night came a mes­sage, “We’re at risk of hav­ing to go off the air with Tiffany’s tele­vi­sion ads. We need a huge fundrais­ing blitz this after­noon in order to keep our ads up through the Gen­er­al Election.”

The appeal came as view­ers watched Smi­ley tele­vi­sion ads on Wash­ing­ton-Michi­gan State, Notre Dame-Cal and even Deep South foot­ball games tele­cast by ESPN and Fox. It’s nev­er pos­si­ble to get a fix on the campaign’s actu­al need.

On Sat­ur­day, the cam­paign was “$4,275 short of our crit­i­cal goal.”

A night ear­li­er, Smi­ley spoke of her “mid-month dead­line” and how “we came up $427 short of our crit­i­cal goal.”

Ersatz opti­mism: If you missed the movie “Twister,” the Smi­ley cam­paign offers a sub­sti­tute. At one moment, it appeals for donors to “make his­to­ry”. On Sun­day morn­ing, Smi­ley’s cam­paign wrote: “The lat­est polls in Wash­ing­ton show that my oppo­nent and I will be neck and neck and I’m get­ting ner­vous. We’re bare­ly trail­ing behind Mur­ray but I need your sup­port to cross the fin­ish line.”

A few days ear­li­er, the can­di­date was fes­s­ing up her deep­est feel­ings: “There’s tru­ly no one who believes in this cam­paign more than me, which is why it kills me to say I may have to call it quits.”

Ersatz pop­ulism: Ultra MAGA Repub­li­cans have embraced the notion they are per­se­cut­ed, an argu­ment dri­ven home relent­less­ly by right wing media.

“They” are out to get us, Repub­li­cans wail. “They” is big tech com­pa­nies, the “deep state” Wash­ing­ton, D.C., estab­lish­ment, “Demo­c­ra­t­ic elites”, “elite megadonors” and peo­ple liv­ing on the East and West Coasts.

The Smi­ley emails are tap­ping into sev­er­al of these veins.

When it comes to com­plain­ing, Tiffany Smi­ley is to Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics what John McEn­roe was to ten­nis. Her cam­paign has gone after the Nation­al Foot­ball League, after it raised objec­tions to an ad called “Game Day” on ris­ing costs of food pop­u­lar at tail­gate par­ties. “Woke NFL wants to can­cel Tiffany’s ads,” said an appeal. The league was even giv­en a nefar­i­ous goal: “They want to stop Tiffany’s ad from appear­ing on the air­waves and can­cel her from win­ning in Washington.”

The press has fig­ured in.

Smi­ley is get­ting rave cov­er­age on FNC, most recent­ly a lov­ing Lau­ra Ingra­ham inter­view. She’s been on CNN. But that doesn’t deter demo­niz­ing. “Watch Tiffany Smi­ley call out Wash­ing­ton media over bla­tant media bias,” said a recent appeal.

Smi­ley want­ed the edi­tors of The Her­ald of Everett to con­duct a joint inter­view with the two Sen­ate can­di­dates. Mur­ray declined, so The Her­ald arranged for sep­a­rate inter­views. Smi­ley used the episode to raise the famil­iar cry that the Fourth Estate is out to get her. Of course, Fox has giv­en her exclu­sive coverage.

Richard Nixon used to define the lane-chang­ing aspects of the stan­dard Repub­li­can cam­paign tech­nique. Move right dur­ing the pri­ma­ry cam­paign, feed red meat to rouse the party’s base. Swing back to the “cen­ter” come gen­er­al elec­tion time, with themes keyed to inde­pen­dent swing voters.

The Smi­ley cam­paign makes a few nods to that approach, the first a promise that she is “pro-life,” but would not sup­port a nation­wide ban on abortions.

She uses anoth­er TV spot, keyed to school clo­sures dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, to advo­cate for high­er teacher salaries. Lan­guage ques­tion­ing elec­tion integri­ty van­ished from her web­site. Smi­ley has refused to offer specifics on key issues, notably in a reveal­ing pre-Top Two elec­tion Seat­tle Times interview.

The end­less emails deliv­er a dif­fer­ent mes­sage, of a can­di­date tack­ing to the right, pur­su­ing ultra MAGA Repub­li­can themes, and demo­niz­ing cat­e­gories of Amer­i­cans – even by where they live (e.g. “elite coastal donors”).

The Mur­ray reelec­tion cam­paign, in a can­ny move, began its tele­vi­sion adver­tis­ing in the spring, with the goal of defin­ing Smi­ley before the chal­lenger could get up on the air. It worked: Mur­ray led Smi­ley by nine­teen points last month.

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