An interesting summary from Patrick Ruffini of the lessons that can be drawn from the primary campaigns. By and large, I think he's nailed it -- with one minor quibble:
Second Timers Don't Win. This one hasn't always held true, but the new environment of permanent campaigns is writing a new rule for Presidential candidacies: one strike and you're out (unless you get elected VP). The fact that the Johns (Edwards and McCain) have had so much trouble catching on is directly related to the lack of mystique surrounding their candidacies. They're yesterday's news, and were best known for losing.
Edwards and McCain constitute a relatively small sample size for drawing such a conclusion. If Howard Dean had not wound up as DNC Chair, I wonder if the Democratic electorate this year might have chosen him. He'd still represent a past loser, but would argue that the party made a mistake in 'marrying Kerry' adter dating Dean in 2004. As a bona fide anti-war traditional Democrat, I suspect he'd have a strong following.
There's also this piece of wisdom, which is one of the surest bets in politics despite media claims to the contrary:
Nice Guys Finish Last. The polls say that the public despises negative politics. The polls are wrong.
In an 8-second soundbite universe, new information is king and attacks always make the news. So while it's true that the public may not like hearing slashing attacks, new attacks always have more legs than recycled positives.
Barack Obama has tried to stay above the fray, embracing a "politics of hope" and until recently limiting his attacks on Hillary Clinton to the notion that she was too polarizing. The result: he stayed flat while she surged ahead. Politics is about conveying the reasons why voters should vote for you and no one else. (The media loves covering the last part.) Being Miss Congeniality gets you nowhere.
In the abstract, voters don't like 'negative politics.' Sure. I don't like it either. Why do I want to see candidates tear each other down?
What I DO want to see and what WILL affect my vote is a presentation of why one candidate's experience, views, and record are superior to another's. Does Mike Huckabee seem like a good candidate? Sure. Do I want to know that he backed tax increases as Governor? Definitely. That's not the type of candidate I want to support.
So-called 'negative' ads are therefore not only effective, they are essential. A candidate will never broadcast his or her own weaknesses; that's the job of the opponent.