Magazine article The New Yorker

THE POLLIES; AWARDS SEASON Series: 3/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

THE POLLIES; AWARDS SEASON Series: 3/5

Article excerpt

Depending on whom you ask, the Pollie Awards, which the American Association of Political Consultants has been handing out since 1985, are either the Oscars or the Golden Globes of the campaign industry. On a recent Saturday night, about three hundred and fifty of the profession's finest--media strategists, direct-mail coordinators, opposition-research gurus--turned up at the Washington, D.C., Park Hyatt for the presentation of this year's honors. During a three-and-a-half-hour ceremony, operatives from both sides of the aisle clapped, whistled, and yelled "Whoo!" as awards were conferred for outstanding achievement in a broad range of categories, from best Use of E-Mail/Viral Marketing (New Media Communications, for Bush-Cheney '04) to best Yard/Outdoor Sign (Precision Politics, for "Dr. Ramirez for Hospital Board").

The evening began with a cocktail reception ("black tie optional"), sponsored by the National Rifle Association. Angela Brightman, from the Lukens Company, a direct-mail firm that won a Pollie for a form letter that appeared to be a handwritten note from the Republican Senate candidate John Thune, had on a black cocktail dress, though she said that, in her amateur capacity as a seat filler at the Emmy Awards, she always wears a ballgown.

There seemed to be general agreement that the value of winning a Pollie can be measured more in prestige than in dollars and cents. Nobody mentioned what an honor it was just to be nominated. There are no nominations: for between a hundred and ten and a hundred and seventy-five dollars a shot, consultants may enter as many examples of their work as they choose. "One of the ways to make money off this is to keep expanding the number of categories," Bill Hillsman, the adman behind the Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura, and Ralph Nader (2000) campaigns, said. "You know, Best Handbill for a Republican Candidate for Dogcatcher, or whatever."

This year, there were more than a hundred and thirty categories (a record), and the judges awarded Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention prizes--sometimes more than one of each--in nearly every category. This made it impractical to read the names of every winner, much less hand each one a trophy. Acceptance speeches were out of the question. Instead, during dinner, a pre-recorded male voice announced the categories ("And now the Pollie Awards for automated phone calls") and the winners' names flashed by on large screens at the front of the ballroom, accompanied by easy-listening saxophone music.

Entertainment was provided by the Capitol Steps, a musical-comedy-sketch troupe of current and former congressional staffers, who performed ripped-from-the-headlines spoofs of Rodgers and Hammerstein ("There Is Nothing Like Ukraine") and the Beach Boys ("Help Rwanda"). …

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