The Joe Biden I Know

by Ken Feltman

Nobody I know who knows Joe Biden doesn’t like him. Some may not like his politics. Others may think he lacks intellectual capacity. More than a few may laugh at his stumbling and bumbling. But they like him as a person. They trust him. They believe that they can work with him – that they can work things out with him. What you see is what you get with Joe Biden.

Whenever I have been with Biden, in groups or twice alone, he has shown his sense of humor, his ready wit. A good listener, he wants to hear ideas. His questions go beyond the subject to gentle inquiries about the people he is talking with and their lives and experiences. Clearly, he tries to understand the ideas people have in the context of their lives and experiences – and their hopes, dreams and failures.

More quickly than most people would think of doing, he asks questions about family, background – even religion. He does it after offering information about himself. On an AMTRAK train from Washington to New York, he asked where I went to college. When I answered “Northwestern,” the conversation turned to Chicago’s Irish politicians and his Irish heritage, then to my Welsh heritage. “As I recall,” he said with a mischievous smile, “the Irish Sea surrounds Wales. Do the Welsh have a sea?” I responded, “Yes, on Welsh maps.” He laughed and nodded his head, then laughed again – and again.

He is comfortable with people. It is himself that Biden is not comfortable with. The tragic losses of family members – most recently the death of his son Beau just over three months ago – stick with him. On a train to Wilmington a few years ago, I realized that Joe Biden had put aside his own political ambitions and was living his life through Beau’s bright prospects. Beau had the gift. He was ready-made for a career in elective office. The sky was the limit and Joe Biden knew it. He was imagining his son’s future, tasting it, living it. That future was to Joe Biden like an extension of his own life.

Then, the tragedy: A life ended too soon, before it could fulfill its potential.

Joe Biden had left his political ambitions behind and was focused on Beau. Before he can commit to running for president, he must see the campaign as the fulfillment of Beau’s bright future, not his own. Joe Biden will have to live his life through his son’s unrealized life. To run, he must take up his son’s ambitions. Clearly, that is different from his own ambitions for his son.

It will require reliance on his strong Roman Catholic faith. It will require time. He may worry that he will be “stealing” Beau’s life, taking Beau’s potential for himself. Whatever he decides, the process of getting to the decision will be difficult. He is a complex man who seems to be so simple to figure out.

And that is precisely why people are drawn to Joe Biden: He will include anyone and everyone he can in his, and Beau’s, decision.

Posted in Controversial

While we were paying attention to Donald Trump …

by Ken Feltman
While the media were reporting the outbursts and arrogance of Donald Trump, other things were happening – things that will be more important in the long run.
  •  Several candidates are running short of money. Rick Perry, for example, stopped paying his campaign staff. He is hoping that super PACs will keep him competitive till his campaign fundraising can regain traction. (Check this article.)
  • Rand Paul was losing support before the debate, especially after two longtime advisers were indicted, triggering a falloff in fundraising that continues. (Article.)
  • Scott Walker has shown declining support in post-debate polls and is now scrambling to shore up his fundraising and change his campaign message. (Article.)
  • Carly Fiorina is the big winner of the debate, despite not being on stage in prime time. In fact, Fiorina’s rise caused concerns in the Nikki Haley camp, which decided to be a bit less coy about wanting VP consideration. (Article.)
  • The campaign professionals do this for a living. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed. They are good at what they do and are looking for a campaign that will survive the inevitable winnowing down of the field. They are not looking for a candidate they agree with on issues or who excites them. They are jockeying for jobs with a campaign that has staying power.  (Article.)
Behind the headlines, the people who make Republican politics their profession are deciding on their next moves. They have already narrowed the field. Most see Trump as unmanageable and not electable. They understand why Fox News CEO Roger Ailes made peace with Trump: Trump has entertainment value. Look for him to strike a deal with Fox when his campaign is over – perhaps even sooner.

The Ailes factor

Ailes has a long history of advising so-called “establishment” Republicans, including four presidents (Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes). His media work with Rudy Guiliani’s first campaign for mayor of New York (1989) is still cited as one of the most creative applications of political media. He knows how to draw eyeballs to television screens.
Meantime, Trump shows signs that he is weakening as a candidate. He will continue for a while to rank highly in polls although he seems to have hit his ceiling. The GOP professionals know that Trump is not likely to get the Republican nomination. They want to keep him happy so he will not run as an independent. With Trump in a three-way race, the Democratic candidate would be heavily favored to win.

The payroll factor

The pros are looking for a winner, someone who can carry key states – Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia, for example. That means that they are looking closely at Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich. That is also why they are not looking at Rick Santorum. He failed to win his last Pennsylvania campaign and could not gain traction after Iowa in 2012. His support comes mostly from those who hold the same values he does.
Rubio was impressive during the debate. But he has not caught on with rank-and-file Republicans beyond Florida. The pros do not see evidence that he can put together a national campaign. To be an effective competitor nationally, Rubio will need a tough, seasoned campaign team. If that happens, other GOP pros will seek to join the team. Rubio could catch on. He is so close, yet still so far.


Mike Huckabee has not caught on this time. His  campaign seems a little tired. The pros wonder: Does he have the “fire in the belly” this time?

Ted Cruz has a loyal following. He will continue as a national figure and a force within the Senate. But the pros think his message is too narrow and his knowledge of politics too parochial. In the end, voters almost always pick the candidate who can get things done. Cruz has a reputation for stopping things from getting done.

Ben Carson was impressive in the debate. He impresses the media following the candidates and voters are showing interest. But, to this point, his campaign can be summed up by Gertrude Stein’s comment about Oakland: “There’s no there there.” The pros have seen this many times before. Successful politics requires organizational skills. Carson shows too few signs of understanding that.

Bush has everything he needs to be the nominee – plus one more thing: A last name that may weigh him down. Still, Bush is the safe bet. He is better organized and financed than other candidates. His campaign staffing may be fleshed out.

If the Bush campaign is not hiring, that means that the unemployed pros need to find another candidate. Where do they go?

Kasich is ideally positioned as a successful governor of a swing state. He is an excellent “retail” or “one-on-one” candidate. As he works a crowd, he appeals to people with his relaxed, friendly style. That skill is important in New Hampshire and, as Kasich spends more time in New Hampshire, he is rising in polls there. His campaign will be hiring.
Retail political skills are less important in Iowa, where caucus delegates tend to support candidates based on political ideology and social issues more than on likeability and campaigning skills. That is how Santorum won Iowa in 2012 (remember Michele Bachmann winning the Iowa straw poll four years ago this month before fading in disorganized confusion?) and may account for Scott Walker’s early popularity in Iowa.
The pros do not trust Chris Christie. He has not treated people well. Bobby Jindal is viewed as having a brilliant future behind him. He has what it takes but no compelling reason to think he will get anywhere, based on his track record of being slow to seize opportunities.



Lindsey Graham comes from South Carolina, a key state, but is not polling well there, much less nationally. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is interested in the VP spot and with her on the ticket, who needs Graham to carry South Carolina?

George Pataki and Jim Gilmore entered the race recently and may stick it out through Iowa hoping that lightning will strike. Pataki, a popular former New York governor, must make the case that he can carry New York in the general election next year. That is a hard case to make.


Gilmore thought he had time to make the case that he can win Virginia, where he was governor. He has shown in the past that he is a fast finisher. But he is a slow starter and may have run out of time already. Beside, squabbling in the Virginia GOP has some national Republican groups talking about writing off Virginia in 2016.

Those looking for somebody new keep returning to Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. They are the flavors of the day with the media. But the pros know the media are fickle. The pros ask what states Fiorina or Carson might bring to the ticket in November 2016? The pros have been through this before.

They know that the American people are fed up with gridlock and the sense that Washington cannot get things done. Trump is playing into that frustration. Fiorina and Carson are, too, but with a more dignified, civil approach. Both are thoughtful, intelligent and reasonable people. But what can they bring to the party or to a ticket?

On the other hand, a Bush-Kasich ticket (or a Kasich-Rubio or Rubio-Kasich ticket) brings the hope of carrying two “must win” states next year.  Then, of course, Nikki Haley is a plausible vice-presidential candidate on any ticket.

As the pros settle in with campaigns, we will know more about which candidates should move toward the front of the pack and which are being carried by media attention.

As a long-time GOP fundraiser used to say, “Don’t tell me about the candidate. Tell me who is on the team. Who is on the payroll?”

Posted in Candidates, Elections, Politcal Consulting, Political parties | Tagged ,

The GOP Debate: Who Won? Who Lost?

After spending the night pouring over focus group videos and transcripts from last night’s Republican debates, I have some conclusions:

  • The “junior varsity” debate mattered because Carly Fiorina was part of it.
  • Donald Trump was the big story – but not the big winner. In fact, he may be the big loser.

These unscientific conclusions are based on comments by focus group participants. The more follow-up comments and positive head-nods that a comment got, the more likely I was to be drawn to it.

Carly Fiorina was a big winner. She took command and impressed people with her intelligence, knowledge of the issues and delivery. Focus group participants had few negative comments about her (often a key to a candidate on the rise). A political consultant who is working for one of the top-tier candidates sent me a text during the preliminary debate:

 GOP nominee would be wise to have Fiorina for VP 

unless presidential nominee IS Fiorina.

Marco Rubio and John Kasich were winners. Many expressed surprise at Rubio’s performance and some said they would give him “another look.” Kasich impressed people with his handling of Donald Trump. People used words such as fresh, experienced, bright and organized to describe him.
Ben Carson surprised people. Words and phrases used to describe him were wise, sense of humor, refreshing, intelligent. Carson and Fiorina got the fewest negative comments

Scott Walker did a good but not spectacular job: His performance did not excite his partisans. One supporter said, “he was too low key.” Another used “workman-like” to describe Walker’s performance. They were expecting more. A participant who was leaning toward Walker before the debate said “he did OK but didn’t convince me. I’m still looking.”
Chris Christie did a better job than expected but did not change minds. Participants had low expectations for Christie. They gave the impression that they have written him off as an acceptable candidate. One participant commented, “If Trump had not been there with his sharp elbows, Christie would have filled the void.”
Ted Cruz impressed people but they worry that he is not a team player. Cruz has an image problem that was summed up by participants: “He isn’t a team player. It’s his way or no way.” “We can’t win or get anywhere with (candidates) like Cruz.” “He has his fans. He won’t be able to go much beyond that.”  “He’s not a builder. I don’t think he’s that good a politician. He’s just good with his followers.”
Jeb Bush did what he needed to do. One participant said, “Bush didn’t need to win. He’s got the money and contacts. All he needed was not to make big mistakes. He didn’t.” Another said, “I can see him as president.” Another: “Jeb Bush isn’t my first choice but he’s a good second choice. There’s less risk with him than with some of these other candidates.”
Donald Trump did not help his cause. One participant asked, “Is there a Dump Trump Facebook page I can go to?” Another: “He not running for president. He’s running for his ego.” Another: “Imagine him in a meeting with other world leaders.” That last comment triggered this response: “We’re in enough trouble already.”

My conclusion on Trump? He should not participate in debates if he wants to keep his poll ratings up. His disorganized, rambling comments work better when there are no thoughtful, prepared candidates around.

Posted in Controversial

Pollster Frank Luntz sums up the shortcomings of some of the GOP candidates

Tomorrow night’s much anticipated Republican showdown will probably disappoint more than inform. Here are a few thoughts on some of the candidates from Frank Luntz, one of the savviest Republican pollsters:

Scott Walker: He’s casual, he’s committed, he’s passionate.

Chris Christie:  He too often yells at his audience and the audience doesn’t like it.

Ted Cruz: His challenge is not just to demonstrate he’s smart. He has to demonstrate that he can beat Hillary Clinton.

Jeb Bush: He’s got to stop reading his speeches.

Donald Trump: Nearly half of Republicans say Donald Trump is hurting the GOP’s image.

Ben Carson: Voters like Ben Carson as a person, but they’re not convinced he’s the next president of the United States.

Here are my predictions: The Fox News debate format will be criticized. Yes, every debate is criticized for something or other. This debate format will deserve it. Viewers will not have a reasonable chance to compare and contrast the candidates as they try to make judgments. Voters will have to be satisfied with quick impressions.

The candidate who may benefit is John Kasich. His confident but not arrogant style with a smile may be the perfect way to overcome the limitations of the format. The inability of other candidates to adapt could make Kasich look even better.

You can find Frank Luntz here: @FrankLuntz

Posted in Elections, Republicans | Tagged

Ever notice how Swedes use humor to express important concepts?

by Ken Feltman

Have you noticed how often Swedes use humor to make a point? Twenty-some years ago, at a meeting of executives from Volvo’s North American headquarters with an advertising agency from New York City, one of the ad agency executives became tongue-tied while making a presentation.

He stumbled, clicked to the next slide, stuttered, tried to repeat himself, clicked to another slide, then another. He was confused, completely lost.

Then a Volvo executive who was visiting from Sweden rescued the befuddled American. “You and I share a common language. We speak “broken English.” Everyone laughed, including the ad man, who took a deep breath, found his place and completed his presentation with no further problems.

In the years since that uncomfortable moment, I have learned that many Swedes can inject humor into difficult situations. It’s second nature. They ease difficult moments and take away the stress without embarrassing someone.

If they could bottle this talent, every politician in the world would want a case. Here is another example of the Swedish sense of humor. Please enjoy it!

When I sent this YouTube video to CEO’s and CFO’s of companies across the world, I got so many positive comments that I was, frankly, surprised. Busy corporate officers took time to watch this video. I owe that response to Hans Rosling, whose humor matches his video’s content.

I especially like the part that begins at about 17:01 and goes to about 17:43.

What’s your favorite part?
Posted in Thought-Provoking Analysis