While their GOP counterparts work for a flat fee on presidential campaigns, Democratic media consultants profit on commission, pocketing as much as ten percent of every dollar spent on TV ads. It's a business model that creates "an inherent conflict of interest," concedes Anita Dunn, who served as a strategist for Bill Bradley in 2000.
"Consulting," says former Gore campaign chair Tony Coelho, "is a business that can turn into a racket." Over the past two presidential elections, Rolling Stone estimates, that racket has cost the Democrats at least $10 million more in consultant fees than it did the Republicans.
Obviously the economics incentive structures here are way screwed up. A while back I did watch "Our Brand is Revolution," in which American consultants did try to help in Bolivia's elections. They were able to get a candidate in office in good part by skillfully out-maneuvering the other side. Although he squeaked through a multi-candidate election and ended up without enough of a mandate to succeed. So I do believe that the consultants can beat the crap out of candidates without the same level of firepower, but against the Republicans they haven't done a great job. I'm not sure how much the situation improved in 2006, although there was much more emphasis on the politicians heading various election committees, guys like Rahm Emaneul.
I think this also gets to an issue a one-time candidate friend of mine raised. Bases vote on policy but swing voters often vote on personality. Fine-tuning perfect messages for Dem presidential candidate seems to often come at the cost of personality. Personality is a often a terrible proxy for governing ability, but that's a different problem.
Hat Tip: Bradford Plumer on TNR's Plank.