Campaign Professionals Replace Machines

By Wagner, David | Insight on the News, March 10, 1997 | Go to article overview

Campaign Professionals Replace Machines


Wagner, David, Insight on the News


Lyn Nofziger, a political adviser to President Reagan, has 30 years in the business. He was press secretary to Reagan's first campaign for governor of California in 1966 and then worked on Max Rafferty's Senate campaign in 1968.

"There's now a full-time profession of people who run campaigns or, rather, who advise on media and strategy, while other people actually run the campaigns," Nofziger tells Insight.

"In the early days, campaigns were run by people who would do one every two or four years and in the meantime practice some other profession. It wasn't until the seventies that you started to see people make full-time careers out of campaigns.

"Because of this professionalization, there is also more specialization. The Reagan campaign for governor in 1966 used television because the candidate was an actor, but the people who were running the campaign didn't know diddly about television."

Nofziger does not see a sole turning point for the transition. However, he says "I think one factor was videotape. Television was all done with film until the early seventies. With the coming of videotape, you started to get sound bites, live-action photo-ops, etc. It changed the way you think about campaigns. The visual side started to matter."

The Democratic counterpart to Nofziger in the 1966 California governor's race, Joe Cerrell, agrees. "I was head of Students for [Adlai] Stevenson in the 1956 presidential race," says Cerrell, who later worked for Pat Brown, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Lloyd Bentsen, John Glenn, A1 Gore and Bill Clinton, "and television didn't mean a thing, even in presidential campaigns back then. The Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 were a turning point. After that, television was here to stay as a factor in campaigns."

Television, agrees Tony Fabrizio, pollster for Bob Dole and for numerous successful congressional candidates last year, "transferred control over information flow from the bosses and ward heelers to the professionals."

"Television was used before the seventies," notes Fabrizio, "but videotape made it more affordable. In the sixties it was in presidentials and statewides but now it's used in all the down-ballot races as well. Every candidate for dog-catcher has commercials, media guys and pollsters."

"The campaign-consultant business has gone through two revolutions since the 1960s," says Fred Mann, a self-styled "old-right" consultant and commentator who handled Dan Quayle's successful challenge to Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh in 1980. "The first was the centralization of the business in the big Washington all-purpose campaign firms; the second was the return of specialization.

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