09.01.10 Where’s Duchy?

The following is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions are Local.

On the Maryland Politics Watch blog this past week, Adam Pagnucco, clearly no friend of Montgomery County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), accuses the candidate of not using her enormous war chest ($226,911, as of Aug. 17) “wisely.” As one who is sympathetic to the councilwoman (I did some work for her during the 2006 race), I’ve also been bewildered as to what all that money is for. So I posed the question to Trachtenberg and others at a political picnic Saturday.

The first person I raised the issue with pooh-poohed my impression of inactivity, saying, “You’re not their targeted demographic.” That makes sense, as I sit in Takoma Park, the most progressive part of this (more or less) progressive county. Trachtenberg is going to do well here without much effort – why should I expect to see any evidence of a ground game here?

Just the same, I was thinking about good uses for all that money. Even if you don’t want to put up signs in my neighborhood, shouldn’t some kind of significant outreach have been underway long before now? After all, this is not a market where a quarter of a million dollars will be spent on TV – the rates are too high and too many jurisdictions are covered by the same broadcast media for TV to be in any campaign’s calculus. But what about a series of well-designed, thematic pieces over a series of months – something to create attention when there otherwise wasn’t any?

My conversations this weekend convinced me though, that the Trachtenberg campaign doesn’t need my advice.

For one thing, they’ve put more effort into polling the electorate than anyone else (something other commentators have called wasteful). The impression I got was of a campaign team empowered by its polling, knowing how well it’s doing and confident in the result of targeted investing. Campaign manager Woody Brosnan, for example, highlights efforts to court retirees (Leisure World), women and the Jewish community.

For another, the campaign is holding a significant portion of its money in reserve as deterrence. (Ahhh, my graduate studies of nuclear strategy and mutual assured destruction come rushing back to me!) Even as the four at-large incumbents crawled closer to a mutual nonaggression pact this year (one that I have previously characterized with some distaste), there was always the distinct possibility that someone might be tempted to open fire on Trachtenberg. All those dollars in the bank have made the prospect of an attack less tantalizing, since it would be met with the PR equivalent of overwhelming force.

In a bit over two weeks, we’ll find out whether, as Pagnucco suggested, Trachtenberg is a fool with too many enemies and too little strategy or a great tactician working in quiet confidence of assured victory. If I were a betting man, I’d put my two bucks on the latter.

©2010 Keith Berner

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