Candidates Turn Negative Comments into Fundraising Gold

p>There are many explanations as to why Fred Thompson is coming up light in the fundraising department. Here's another one: people aren't saying enough bad things about him.

Welcome to one of the hottest new trends of Campaign 2008: raising money by being insulted. Or, at least, acting like you've been insulted.

A growing number of candidates have adopted the motto, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words ... will allow me to significantly add to my campaign coffers.

Hillary Clinton's campaign is the latest to try to turn a bash into cash.

After Barack Obama recently chided Hillary for being "Bush-Cheney lite," Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle quickly fired off an aggrieved email, seeking retribution via contribution.

"Can you imagine??" fumed Doyle. "Hillary like George Bush??!! Or Dick Cheney!!" (Focus-group testing must have shown that double punctuation is extra effective when asking for money.) "When you're attacked, you expect your family and friends to stand with you. And one thing is crystal clear: you are Hillary's family; you are Hillary's friends... Now there is only one thing I'm going to ask you to do: CONTRIBUTE. ... Every dollar helps Hillary fight back."

The message was clear: Hillary has been attacked (indeed, "attack" appears six times in Doyle's 440 word whimper) and the only way to salve her wounds is with a CONTRIBUTION (ALL CAPS must have tested well too).

Team Hillary also tried to turn dudgeon into dollars when WaPo fashion writer Robin Givhan had the nerve to write about the minor-but-notable amount of cleavage Hillary had shown during a speech on the Senate floor.

It took the Clinton camp a week to realize that there might be gold in them thar hills, but once they did, the faux fury was palpable: "Would you believe that the Washington Post wrote a 746-word article on Hillary's cleavage?" fumed Senior Clinton advisor Ann Lewis. "That is grossly inappropriate... Click to contribute." (Lewis apparently didn't get the double punctuation or ALL CAPS memos.)

But while the Clinton campaign is clearly catching on to the financial value of being offended, it has a ways to go before it catches up to John Edwards' campaign which, thanks to the serially loose lips of Ann Coulter, has taken mad money to new heights.

It started in March, when Coulter called Edwards a "faggot" at the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference in D.C. That afternoon (no waiting a week for these guys), Edwards campaign manager David Bonior fired off an email calling the episode "one of the worst moments in American politics I've seen," and asking people to "Help us raise $100,000 in 'Coulter Cash' this week to show every would-be Republican mouthpiece that their bigoted attacks will not intimidate this campaign."

The pitch proved even more effective than Bonior had hoped: the "Coulter Cash" appeal brought in $300,000. So it was no surprise that when Coulter struck again, joking on Good Morning America about Edwards being "killed in a terrorist assassination plot," the Edwards campaign sprung into action, blasting out two emails and a telephone text message, including an email from Elizabeth Edwards that featured a clip of her Hardball skirmish with Coulter -- along with the obligatory request for a donation.

The result was fundraising alchemy, turning a slap in the face into a trip to the bank; the gambit turned out to be the Edwards campaign's most effective fundraising email. (Perhaps that is what Joe Trippi meant when he told the New York Times that the Edwardses - particularly Elizabeth -- "get it" when it comes to using the Internet "to reach out to people.")

Interestingly, just as Republican presidential candidates are lagging behind their Democratic counterparts when it comes to overall fundraising, they are also falling short when it comes to cashing in on potentially lucrative negative comments.

Just imagine what the Edwards ire factory could have done with Joe Scarborough asking if Fred Thompson's wife "works the pole" or a Romney supporter's not-very-subtle anti-Thompson jibe about Mitt's wife being his "starter wife and trophy wife, all in one." And while Rudy Giuliani's camp has called Vanity Fair's new highly unflattering profile of Judi Nathan Giuliani "vile" and a "hatchet job," it hasn't sent out an email asking supporters to "help Rudy and Judi fight back." At least not yet.

So do Republican candidates have a thicker skin? Are they less easily offended? Or do they simply still not "get it" when it comes to mining Internet Indignation for campaign gold?

And what of the furiously flush Democrats? Sure, they have tapped into a rich fundraising vein of profitable perturbation. But do they run the risk of appearing mired in a constant state of whininess and victimization?

Will all that Coulter Cash and Cleavage Coin have the unintended blowback of making its recipients look like a bunch of self-pitying wimps?


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