Bad Databases, Terrible Commercials

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Many postmortems of Super Tuesday are citing Ron Paul’s weak showing as proof that Americans are “not ready for libertarianism.” Others are blaming the media blackout of Paul coverage since New Hampshire.

Both explanations are unpersuasive or, at least, incomplete. While the claim that “Americans are not ready for libertarianism” is true as far as it goes, few of us ever believed (except in our less rational moments) that Paul was going to win. At the same time, we thought with good reason that he had a fighting chance to win a respectable bloc of Republican votes (10 – 20% or higher).

Unfortunately, several major blunders and miscalculations by the campaign itself always seemed to get in the way. A case in point was the Iowa database fiasco. The campaign had produced a get-out-the-vote database showing the names of thousands of people to be called on caucus day or transported to the caucus sites. Either because of petulance or because of simple human error, a volunteer completely messed up the list.

But it was the campaign itself that made the fatal mistake by not making a backup list, leaving the volunteers unable to carry out the operation on the crucial day. This was no small matter. Only a few thousand votes separated Paul from John McCain and Fred Thompson.

Had Paul come out of Iowa with the momentum of a third place win, the media blackout may well have never happened, at least to the same degree.

The terrible television and radio ads, however, were even more damaging to any hope of a better showing. I suspect that they may have actually lost Paul votes. It is revealing that exit polls showed that antiwar Republican voters on Super Tuesday (as in Iowa and New Hampshire) went for McCain – the most pro-war candidate in the race.

Instead of appealing to these voters, Paul’s commercials made him look like just another Republican candidate, or stressed immigration, which had essentially become Romney’s issue. Had Paul’s commercials stressed his antiwar views and hammered McCain’s enthusiasm for the war, Paul might have reached more of these voters.

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