Des Moines Register 05-16-07

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Des Moines Register
05-16-07
Giuliani joins others to fix blunders on campaign trail
When bad press blossoms, candidates must act fast - as the Republican did,
privately visiting an Iowa farm couple.
By THOMAS BEAUMONT
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
Call it a campaign code red.
A clumsy campaign move, an embarrassing development or an awkward
statement makes its way into the press and the Internet.
The blogs crackle.
And before top aides can say "damage control," the candidate has a big, puffy
black eye.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's misstep earlier this month with an
eastern Iowa farm family is an example of the kind of gaffe that can turn local
activists against a candidate, and send a staffer to the doghouse - or packing.
But Giuliani's unannounced visit on Monday to Deborah and Jerry
VonSprecken's farm in Olin, and his two-hour apology at their kitchen table, is a
telling detail about the Republican presidential candidate's personality, political
observers and activists said.
"All campaigns make mistakes," Iowa State University political science
professor Dianne Bystrom said. "Really, to me, the strength of a campaign is
how they react to them."
John Edwards' $400 haircuts, John McCain's parody of a Beach Boys tune and
Barack Obama's misstated Kansas tornado death toll are all recent moments the
campaigns have been forced to answer to in the round-the-clock news coverage
of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Giuliani's campaign offended the VonSpreckens after the Jones County farmers
agreed to host a May 4 event.
Jerry and Deborah had spruced up the farm and made room for the roughly 100
Cedar Rapids-area GOP activists and their cars that Giuliani's staff told them to
expect.
When all the brush was cleared and hay bales were in place, Giuliani's staff
informed the VonSpreckens their farm was not worth enough money to serve as
a fitting example for the candidate's campaign message, a critique of the federal
estate tax.
The estate-tax point was lost on Deborah VonSprecken, who walked away
feeling like Giuliani had hoped to stand up with wealthier farmers.
That's what she told the Anamosa Journal-Eureka, the weekly newspaper that
broke the story under the headline: "Giuliani Snubs Jones County."
From there, the story exploded onto the Web.
"That is a staffer's worst nightmare," said longtime Democratic communication
strategist Kiki McLean.
Political staff cannot be too careful in checking details when planning events, nor
too sensitive in working with the vast majority of Americans who do not speak the
language of political campaigns, said McLean, a former top aide to Al Gore and
longtime adviser to former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
"Vetting everything to be perfect has become an ever-bigger pressure, with
blogging and cable 24-hour news," she said. "There is no chance that a simple
error will go unnoticed."
Giuliani interrupted his campaign schedule to travel to Iowa on Sunday evening
and met with the VonSpreckens Monday morning in private.
By the end of the day, the couple had agreed to support Giuliani in Iowa's leadoff
precinct caucuses, with Deborah VonSprecken on board as Giuliani's Jones
County campaign chairwoman.
The VonSpreckens did not return telephone messages left by The Des Moines
Register.
Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella described their conversation as "very indepth" and said Giuliani "took full responsibility" for the situation.
"He did call and ask if he could speak to us, and then he asked if he could
apologize in person," Deborah VonSprecken told the Associated Press. "He was
sincerely apologetic."
Campaign-trail goofs tend to be magnified when they strike at a key asset or
liability of the candidates who commit them, said Bystrom, director of ISU's Carrie
Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.
Giuliani, a man synonymous with the biggest city in the country, seemed to show
insensitivity to rural America, she said.
Similarly, the revelation last month that Edwards, a former North Carolina
senator, received haircuts costing hundreds of dollars seemed to cut against the
Democrat's campaign theme of ending poverty.
McCain's switch of the opening lines of "Barbara Ann" to "bomb Iran" prompted
some critics to say the Arizona Republican, who solidly backs the Bush
administration's strategy in Iraq, appeared to be acting lightheartedly about war.
Reporters also seized last weekend on Democrat Obama's unintentional
misstatement that 10,000 people had died in a Kansas tornado, as pundits have
debated his preparedness to be president.
Word of Giuliani's blunder was beginning to circulate among Republicans in
Iowa, where Giuliani's organization has been slower to take shape than those of
other top-tier candidates such as McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt
Romney.
In a way, the matter has helped clarify Giuliani's intentions in the caucus state,
Black Hawk County GOP Chairman Steve Schmitt said.
"This sure doesn't make it sound like he's taking Iowa lightly," said Schmitt, who
plans to be neutral during the campaign.
Reporter Thomas Beaumont can be reached at (515) 286-2532 or
[email protected]
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