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Politics as Usual: Gemma's campaign strategy is confusing at best (OPINION)

July 25, 2012

The Anthony Gemma for Congress campaign continues to baffle.
Gemma, who is challenging Rep. David Cicilline in the Democratic primary in September, was on the Buddy Cianci radio show on WPRO one day last week but he didn’t exactly sound like Mr. Democrat.
First Gemma said he would not support Cicilline in November if Cicilline beats him in the primary. O.K., that’s understandable. He is running to kick Cicilline out for a variety of reasons, including his stated belief that Cicilline will lose if he goes up against Republican Brendan Doherty in the general election. So Gemma will write his own name in at the polls in November if he loses the primary; that’s fair enough.
But then Gemma went on to hedge about whether he would support Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Jim Langevin, both Democrats, in their bids for re-election in November.
Asked point-blank if he supported his fellow Democrats to be re-elected, Gemma drew a laugh from Cianci when he said, “[Sen. Jack] Reed’s not running, so yes, I support Reed,” then he added that in the senate and 2nd District House race, “I would have to look at the person, that is the bottom line.” A short time later, he said, “I’m not taking a stand on anyone else’s race.” So, if nothing else, we can say that party loyalty doesn’t seem to be Gemma’s first consideration in deciding whom to support.
Then he kept digging.
I am willing to give Gemma the benefit of the doubt that this was a slip of the tongue, because Cianci was grilling him pretty intensely, but this is exactly what Gemma said next: “I’m going to be honest with you; I’m very frustrated with Senator Whitehouse that he has not stepped up and done what is right for me.” Whitehouse should have ignored the Democratic Party endorsement in order to do what is right for Anthony? He said that is what constituents want and are demanding, yet polls show Gemma lagging slightly behind Cicilline among Democrats.
Slip of the tongue or not, that statement reinforces the impression that some people have had since Gemma’s first campaign two years ago that, even though he carries a “D” after his name, he is running as a Gemmacrat, not a Democrat. That is never helpful in a primary race.
Which probably explains why Gemma backtracked a short time later and announced that he would endorse Whitehouse and Langevin after all. Still, the damage was done and, as always, the first remark got much bigger play than the retraction.
Gemma’s comments were so politically egregious and partisan-ly incorrect that they brought former Rep. Patrick Kennedy out of retirement to dump on him. Saying he is “deeply disappointed” by Gemma’s comments, Kennedy added: “While there is so much at stake in this election: protecting Social Security and Medicare, health care reform, ending tax breaks for companies that are shipping American jobs overseas and stopping taxpayer subsidies for oil companies making billions in profits, it is critically important that we all continue supporting our fantastic federal delegation this year in Sen. Whitehouse and Reps. Langevin and Cicilline. This is about Rhode Island, not about each candidate, and I don’t think Mr. Gemma understands this.”
You don’t want to go around campaigning in old folks’ homes in the 1st District after Patrick Kennedy dumps on you like that. His name is still gold among the silver-hair set.
Gemma said at the outset of this year’s race that he would look past Cicilline and concentrate on beating Doherty in November, but in his reluctance to embrace fellow Democrats, Gemma may be seen as dissing Democratic primary voters as well, which, if nothing else, is not good strategy.
“What’s good for me is good for the party,” is not a particularly convincing line from a relative newcomer with just one losing primary challenge under his belt.

n Speaking of running lousy political campaigns, what is the deal with President Barack Obama’s re-election effort?
Four years ago, Obama was a juggernaut, coming seemingly out of nowhere to out-think, out-run and out-class the massive, experienced Hillary Clinton team in the primaries, then absolutely smoking Republican John McCain in the November election after serving in the Senate for just two-thirds of a term.
By revving up youth and minority voters – who tend to be spotty when it comes to actually showing up to vote – and communicating and raising money through social media and other non-traditional campaign tactics, the Obama campaign was hailed as a bunch of young political geniuses.
Well where are they now? Better question: Where have they been for the last entire four years? Since he first set foot in the Oval Office, Obama has been absolutely awful at the politics part of his job.
The president told CBS news that his biggest mistake as president was thinking that his job as chief executive “was just about getting the policy right.” Well, what kind of naive babe in the woods is he?
That is why he is consistently having trouble gaining an advantage on an absolutely terrible campaigner, who seems like he wouldn’t know a genuine human emotion if one walked up and kicked him in the shins and whose party’s base doesn’t know if they like him and are sure they don’t trust him to be “reliably” conservative. Obama should be crushing Romney. It reminds me of a 1988 Saturday Night Live skit of a debate between Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush when Jon Lovitz as Dukakis stops, looks directly into the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
After nearly a couple of decades where tens of millions of people could not get health insurance coverage and many Americans who did have it couldn’t say the name of their health insurer of HMO without using a few four-letter words before it, Obama ushers in comprehensive health care for nearly everybody — a program that doesn’t allow insurance companies to reject you or your children because of pre-existing conditions, stops the practice of insurers dropping you because you get sick prevents them from slapping an annual or lifetime limit on your coverage, and allows parents to keep their children on their health policy until they turn 26 – and he allows the term Obamacare to become an epithet for a program despised by everybody, even those who say they like those provisions I just listed.
Obama should be running commercials – right now – listing all the virtues and benefits of the health care law and declaring how proud he is that it carries the name Obamacare. He should spend some of those billion of dollars his campaign is expected to raise, or get someone to form a super PAC specifically to sell the health care law as a boon to every American. He has to run these ads all across the country, in all 50 states, not just the “swing” or “battleground” states because he needs to create a critical mass nationwide that appreciates the benefits of the law, which most people still don’t understand.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi got unfairly blasted for saying “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” but she was exactly right. Hell, no congressman or senator knows exactly what is in all of those 2,400 pages of thick legislative language, so how is the general public supposed to know? If you rely on reporters to interpret such a complex issue, you are taking your chances.
As Pelosi meant to say, people are going to have to start living under the law and receiving its benefits before they say, “Hey, this is pretty good; this is what we have been crying for all these years!”
The health care law is supposed to be the signal achievement of his first term in office, but Obama barely brought it up in the nearly two years between when the law passed and the Supreme Court ruled it to be constitutional. The president is now starting to brag about it a little on the stump, but it may be too little, too late. As I said, a great number of people are already convinced that they don’t like Obamacare, even though they like most of the things that are in it. It has become less than the sum of its parts.
If Obama can get Obamacare as a whole up to 55 or 60 percent in the polls, his re-election will be fairly secure. If not he could become that “One! Term! President!” that Michele Bachmann was always talking about during the primaries.

Jim Baron covers the State House for the Rhode Island Media Group. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of The Standard Times or SRI Newspapers. He can be reached at

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