By JOHN M. WYLIE II
Publisher, Oologah Lake Leader
Dan Boren's official debut Monday shows why national pundits have already anointed him as the 2nd District Democratic nominee for Congress, while some who actually know the district have grave doubts that he is ready for prime time.
His debut at the Hammett House featured his campaign chairman, the immensely popular former Governor George Nigh, who was in great form. State Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan was on hand, as were Democrat leader Pat Hall, District Attorney Gene Haynes, Claremore Mayor Jim Cochran and about 100 others.
Boren has his father's name, and a good campaign gimmick: David Boren swept into office with a broom, George Nigh rode to victory wearing a white hat, and young Boren plans to build his victory using a white hard hat carrying the slogan "Boren for Quality Jobs." It is a solid theme for a district with high unemployment.
But the execution of the campaign so far has been miserable at best. Of the major Tulsa television stations, only KJRH-TV2 was there. The big names, KTUL-TV8 and KOTV-TV6 were nowhere to be found, nor was KOKI-TV23, the Fox affiliate which best reaches young viewers. There was not a word in the Tulsa World Tuesday about the event, which was so poorly planned that there were no texts of the remarks, and the backdrop for photographers was the kitchen and waitress food prep area of the restaurant-including a window that ruined pictures by creating backlighting.
A great moment, Boren and Nigh enthusiastically shaking hands, occurred behind the podium where the image could not be captured. Boren He offered a superb idea--using his web site to match job seekers and job applicants. Unfortunately, he announced the wrong address, giving one that leads to a Nevada outfit that peddles web services and who knows what else. Meanwhile, his real site is embarrassingly barren, with not a sign of the promised job bank. Later in the day, Boren made embarrassing gaffes during a trip to the Rogers County Courthouse. To top it all off, calls for more information to his campaign headquarters were greeted by a recording saying the office would be closed until Jan. 21 for his announcement tour. Call back in a week or 10 days, or leave a message, the machine said. Messages left Tuesday were not returned.
While the conventional wisdom is that Boren can win based on his famous name alone, his campaign operation is far from ready for prime time--especially for a carpetbagger who moved into the district just to run for the seat. This isn't a state house seat, where you can wow 'em with a few billboards. This is an open Congressional seat in a pivotal state that will be swarming with national media covering the incumbent's run for the US Senate. They will eat Dan Boren for breakfast.
In contrast, former district attorney Kalyn Free has been on the campaign trail for months. She lives in the district, has most of the kinks worked out of her operation, and returns phone calls made to her headquarters-which is staffed.
Tuesday in Muskogee, she announced six key labor union endorsements, including the Teamsters and the IBEW, representing 10,000 families. These working men and women who Boren wants to represent already are in his key opponent's camp.
Others are in the race, too, and while they are unlikely to pass the front runners, they can and will inflict damage on the most tempting target. Right now, that is Boren.
August is a long way off, but the old expression, "the bigger they stand, the harder they fall" comes to mind. Boren had best fix his campaign operation from top to bottom--and fast--or he will learn that the hard way.
George Nigh is an Oklahoma treasure. Underneath his affable exterior beats the heart of a savvy, skilled politician. He needs to offer that expertise to his young protégé with tough love, and fast, or Boren is in for a truly nasty spring and summer.
Copyright 2004 Oologah Lake Leader, LLC