Be On Message. But Not Like This Guy.

Will one bad press conference from 2008 cost Republicans full control of Congress this year?

Most political prognosticators expect the GOP to gain control of the House next month, but their forecasts for the Senate are much closer, with some predictions suggesting the Senate will remain in Democratic hands – by a single vote.

It’s possible that former Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-MN) campaign manager cost the GOP the 2010 election.

Let’s rewind to 2008, when Sen. Coleman, up for re-election, was accused of accepting a gift of clothing from a wealthy donor in violation of campaign ethics laws. His campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, refused to answer a yes or no question about whether the Senator had received the gift, instead saying nine times that Coleman had, “reported every gift he has ever received.”

The press conference train wreck, which occurred less than a month prior to the 2008 election, earned widespread statewide and national coverage.

Imagine if Mr. Sheehan had tried a different approach, saying, “Yes, Mr. Coleman was given a gift. The gift was reported, and complies fully with campaign ethics laws. However, Sen. Coleman is completely committed to transparency and openness, and in that spirit, he has returned the gift because he understands that appearances matter.” The controversy would have quieted down more quickly, and Sen. Coleman would likely still be serving in office.

Instead, Sen. Coleman lost his re-election bid by a mere 312 votes, paving the way for Al Franken to become a U.S. Senator. And because of a few nice suits given to a U.S. Senator two years ago, Democrats may retain its hold on the Senate by a single vote.

Note: It is possible that Mr. Sheehan disagreed with the media strategy to repeat this message numerous times but was over-ruled. I wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his story, and called the Communications Director for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus, who promised to pass a message along to Mr. Sheehan. That was on October 11. Mr. Sheehan has not yet returned the call. I will update this story if I hear from him.