Chris Lee's cautious campaign may not be the path to victory
It seems inconceivable to that Chris Lee, a well-funded, wealthy, hand-picked GOP candidate in a marginally Republican district, could lose the 26th congressional race.
I haven't seen any polls to suggest he could lose, but it seems Alice Kryzan, the Democrat's nominee, is putting up a good fight.
If Lee loses, it could come in part because of a GOP backlash over the war and the economy, but even in a relatively safe district like the 26th Lee probably couldn't lose to a progressive Democrat unless he did himself in.
Which is why, I suspect, his GOP handlers have him running a safe, cautious campaign.
But it is exactly such a campaign that could prove his undoing.
Lee's conduct of his campaign should also have us asking hard questions about his fitness to be a leader in Western New York.
It's difficult to tell at how much of Lee's campaign reflects the real Chris Lee, or whether his GOP handlers have him under such tight wraps that he can't stretch out and make bold moves.
Either way, Lee's conduct in this campaign should be of concern to WNY voters -- either he lacks the vision to take chances, or he lacks the leadership to throw off the shackles of party Plutocracy.
The last thing WNY needs is a congressional representative beholden to the party elite (of course, there's no guarantee we wouldn't get just such a rep in Alice Kryzan, either).
Lee is playing not-to-lose, rather than to win. Sports teams that play cautious often find themselves on the wrong end of the score. I'm not rooting against Lee, just pointing out what I see as the glaring weakness of his campaign.
Consider, Lee has passed on debates with Kryzan, was slow to respond to the Wall Street meltdown, and declined a video interview with The Batavian, which doesn't hurt our feelings, but the reason given by his campaign manager speaks to the overly cautious nature of his campaign: Nick Longworthy was worried about how the opposition might use the video.
That's being too cautious and too calculating. That's not how leaders behave.
Meanwhile, Kryzan has been out front on raising issues, such as her immediate (though wrongheaded) support of the bailout, and her push for green collar jobs in WNY (and more on her business plan here).
Lee's campaign has avoided specifics, spoken in platitudes (check this letter to the Democrat & Chronicle), and generally failed to articulate a clear message that sets him apart from a run-of-the-mill Republican.
When you compare Lee's campaign web site to Kryzan's site, you find that Kryzan's site is more dynamic, more frequently updated and a deeper source of information about the candidate and her take on the issues. Lee's site, reflecting the cautious nature of his campaign, is more of a paint-by-numbers brochure site with few specifics. Look, for example, at his page on jobs. It has a scant three paragraphs of text.
The more information a candidate puts out, the more fodder for opponents to pick over. It's actually risky to open your mouth or write a policy statement. The safe approach is to say as little as possible and avoid diving deep into significant issues.
On his own site, where Lee has his best chance at presenting an unfiltered message to voters, his brevity is revealing. Kryzan, on the other hand, floods site visitors with information.
Which is the more transparent way to campaign?
When it comes to Lee's commercials, they reflect the same play-it-safe approach. His "positive" commercials, the ones about himself, are filled with the same platitudes we get from him elsewhere, and his attack ads on Kryzan are filled with trite and hackneyed phrases like "liberal trial lawyer" -- the ads seem pulled from the same GOP playbook they've been using for two decades. At this point, Lee should be concerned that these predictable attacks have lost all meaning with voters. They've heard it all before. These phrases ring hollow.
Regular readers have probably figured out that my politics lean more conservative than liberal, so you would think my inclination would be to support Lee. Well, I'm not really taking sides here. I am concerned Kryzan is too liberal for my tastes, but really mistrust any candidate from either major party.
And, I've met Lee. I like him. I don't buy into the attack ads from the DCCC and think he is at least minimally qualified for the job. If he could maintain an independent mind, he might make a good freshman congressman. He strikes me as somebody with a solid human core who in the long run, if he avoids the pitfalls of power, could make WNY proud.
But, this lack of courage in his campaign is also a concern. Is this a reflection of the true Chris Lee? Will we find ourselves saddled with a representative -- a representative likely to hold the seat through many terms -- who is kowtowed by his party leadership rather than stepping out on his own?
I just don't know.
Again, I'm not predicting a Lee loss. I'm not rooting against him. I'm not endorsing Kryzan. I'm not offering any suggestion on how you should vote. I'm just raising a concern that has been on my mind for a few days. Make of it what you will.