The Dan Hynes-Pat Quinn race for the Democratic Gubernatorial nomination produced one of the most interesting communications stories of the 2010 primary race.
By now, we’re all familiar with the Hynes’ Campaign ad showing Harold Washington discuss his regret hiring Pat Quinn in the 1980′s, pointing to Quinn’s incompetence.
The message was pretty hard to argue with – coming straight from Democratic and progressive icon Harold Washington’s mouth that Pat Quinn is unqualified to handle budgetary matters. At first, it helped to bring Hynes up in the polls with Quinn.
But then something remarkable happened. To the Quinn campaign’s credit, the Governor was able to turn the Washington ad into an issue of race and M achine politics where Dan Hynes and the Hynes family stood on the wrong side of that debate. This was a good and pretty predictable response from the Quinn camp.
The Hynes response to this was deeply flawed. Hynes could have distanced himself from the Quinn attacks, stating his father’s politics was ancient history and that his father was not running against Pat Quinn. He could have voiced disagreement with the race wars of the 1980′s and Tom Hynes’ role.
Instead, Hynes fell off message, defending his father and allowing Quinn to shift the conversation that previously focused on job performance to a much more emotionally-charged issue of race. There was no doubt that Quinn worked for progressive candidates and causes and he was able to use the Hynes attack to his advantage to demonstrate solidarity with minorities and middle class voters. The message completely escaped Hynes.
The timing of course was critical. This all took place a few weeks before Election Day. Leading in to this period, a candidate wants to be focused on their message. The Hynes defensiveness was very costly communications hiccup.