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SaxtonWatch.com wins Pollie Award for Best Negative/Contrast Website

The winner of a 2007 Pollie Award for "Best Negative/Contrast Website", this is the story of SaxtonWatch.com, a site produced by Mandate Media for the Democratic Party of Oregon.

A little background...

In June of 2006, Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) entered the general election as one of the least popular incumbents in the nation (#47 according to SurveyUSA.) After a bruising three-way primary and a popular independent who flirted with running, Kulongoski faced Ron Saxton - a Republican corporate lawyer from Portland making his second run for governor.

For years, the GOP had lost gubernatorial races by nominating conservatives. The conventional wisdom was that Saxton, the first moderate in years to win the nomination, would carve into the Democrats' Portland base and win easily.

The media perception was that Saxton was a moderate, pleasant, and well-meaning - while Kulongoski was battered and bruised, and unwilling to fight. Saxton was better-funded, and immediately set to pummeling Kulongoski - especially on illegal immigration.

The project...

SaxtonWatch.com was launched in July 2006 - paid for by the Democratic Party of Oregon, and managed in close partnership with Kulongoski for Governor.

The Kulongoski campaign sought to reverse the perception of their campaign, and to define Ron Saxton: He's not a moderate, and he can't be trusted.

The site had three primary audiences. First, the media. We sought to shape their perceptions of Ron Saxton.

Second, Ron Saxton and his campaign. We sought to deliver a series of hits that would rattle their campaign and force them off their game plan.

Third, the Portland Democratic base. Kulongoski had consistently been faulted by liberals for being too timid and too easily attacked. By responding hard, fast, and with humor - we sought to fire up the base and get them excited.

Content focused on debunking Saxton's policies, highlighting his flip-flops, ridiculing campaign missteps, spotlighting Saxton's business record, and pointing out his new-found conservative side.

We worked closely with the blogosphere, progressive talk radio, and allies with large email lists to echo our messages.

The outcome...

Almost immediately, the site picked up lots of traction. Traffic was moderate, but its influence was substantial.

The media narrative began to shift. Kulongoski was perceived as a fighter, and Saxton as untrustworthy. Media stories focused on his personal shenanigans, his law practice, and even the typos in his direct mail materials! ("Saxton for Governer")

Eventually, the "Saxtonville" story - migrant labor housing on his farm - broke the race open. It was picked up by local print and broadcast media all over the state.

State Senator Larry George (R) told the Portland Tribune that "he saw a dramatic shift in the polling numbers in late October. It started, he said, right after the news broke that Saxton had been part owner of a farm and said he wasn't sure if it had employed illegal immigrants – this after Saxton had supported harsh penalties for employers who hired illegal immigrants."

Kulongoski 51%, Saxton 43%.