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Rally Size & Turnout

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Every campaign behind in the polls falls into the same trap: "Look at the size and enthusiasm of the crowds we're getting. There's something wrong with the polls."


This isn't spin. At least, it isn't just spin. Just about everyone has been able to talk him or herself into this at least once in their career.

Except, it is never true.

The polls might or might not be correct, but equating the crowds your candidate is drawing with what those polls are saying is fantasy.

When I was traveling with the late Fred Thompson in the 2008 cycle, we drew great crowds in South Carolina. At restaurants, in parking lots, wherever.

On the bus the elders (of whom I was the eldest) knowingly suggested that we were really making headway. That the people of South Carolina appreciated a fellow southerner (Tennessee) who started many of his speeches by saying,

"It's nice to finally get to a part of the country where people understand that cooked green beans are not supposed to be crunchy." [Pause for appreciative laughter]

On election night the truth won out. We came in third behind Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mike Huckabee, getting under 16 percent of the votes and zero delegates.

Crowds were great, though.

On the other side, that year, Barack Obama came in first with over 55% of the votes followed by the woman then known as Hillary Rodham Clinton (26.5%) and John "Big Daddy" Edwards oozing in at third with 17.6%.


Donald Trump may be fooling himself with that same fiction. "How can I be 10 points behind in the polls when the crowds are so big that the Fire Marshall has to shut the doors?"

Yeah, well.

Speaking of crowds, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have had the bad luck to have unpopular people sitting, not just in the hall, but in the frame behind the lecturn at which they are speaking.

Coverage of a Clinton event clearly showed Seddique Mateen, the father of the Orlando night club shooter, sitting over her left shoulder. There has never been a hint that Mateen had any idea what his son was planning, but still.

Meanwhile at a Trump event, over his right shoulder sat disgraced former Republican Congressman Mark Foley who was accused of stalking young male Congressional pages. That scandal had two outcomes: It helped lead to the loss of GOP control of the House in the election of 2006, and it led to the end of the page program in the House.

The point here is with 1,500 or 3,000 people entering the hall, the Secret Service cannot do a background check on everyone. The best they can do is get everyone to pass through a magnetometer to make sure they're not carrying any prohibited items.


WHO comes in and where they sit is usually a political issue, not a security issue, so it is up to the campaign staff to make those decisions.

I guarantee you that when someone called and said "Former Congressman Mark Foley would like to attend Mr. Trump's rally" the young campaign advance person had no clue what the back story was.

In the case of Mr. Mateen, I'm willing to bet he got that seat behind Mrs. Clinton because he filled a profile slot as part of what is called "The Tapestry;" a cross-section of supporters including Whites, Blacks, Middle Easterners, Far Easterners, and anyone else who helps create the preferred backdrop.

But, don't be beguiled by the size of the crowd. Many of them - most of them - are there for the same reason people line up next to the red carpet at an award show. To see the stars.

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