John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Three Yards And A Cloud of Dust

Posted on March 6, 2012

The most important contest in today’s Super Tuesday primary calendar is Ohio.

It is hard to see how Mitt Romney can beat Barack Obama if he can’t do well in Ohio (although Obama was able to lose the state to Hillary Clinton and carry the state in the general election).

Ohio is a big diverse state. It has your typical northern urban center (Cleveland), your typical Midwest big city (Columbus), and a city with Southern sensibilities (Cincinnati). It has a little bit of Appalachia in the east, a bunch of farmland in the west, and a Great Lake to the North. Ohio has a bunch of ethnic tribes, Irish, Polish, Germans, Italians, blacks, Hispanics, and blue blood Wasps.

Ohio also has a proud tradition of football. The Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals both have long histories, but none compares to the Ohio State Buckeyes. And of course, the most famous Ohio State coach and one of the most famous coaches in all of football was Woody Hayes.

Woody Hayes described his brand of football as "crunching, frontal assault of muscle against muscle, bone upon bone, will against will." His conservative philosophy has often been summed up a “three yards and a cloud of dust.” And he once said about the forward pass, then seen as an innovation in football, that "only three things can happen when you pass (a completion, an incompletion, and an interception) and two of them are bad."

Mitt Romney’s campaign reminds me the Hayes philosophy. It many ways, it is an old-school campaign. He is grinding this election out. He is collecting the endorsements. He is building up a careful campaign structure. His rhetoric is carefully designed. His campaign commercials are tough against is opponents.

The Santorum and Gingrich campaign models tend to remind me of Air Coryell, the kind of campaign that uses flashy offense, but has no defense. Don Coryell was one of the most innovative coaches in football history, but he never won a Super Bowl (and isn’t in the Football Hall of Fame). Both Newt and Santorum have tried to run campaigns based not on endorsements or on a ground game, but on the power of earned media and the debate. They have relied on the political equivalent of the putting the ball in the air. That is all well and good, except they on occasion make verbal gaffes, throw interception, and fumble the ball in ways that have hurt their campaigns and put them off message.

My guess is that the Woody Hayes style of political organizing will pay off for Mitt Romney. Santorum has made too many mistakes too late in the game, and Romney’s ground game will ultimately help him pull off the victory.