One of the very top officials in Bill Brady’s campaign told me a few days after the election that he believes Brady lost to Gov. Pat Quinn for one reason: The pro-choice group Personal PAC.
Brady’s election-day model, the top campaign official said, had him taking 43 percent of the suburban Cook County vote. Instead, Brady took only 40 percent. That extra 3 points definitely would have won race for the abortion opponent Brady.
“The North Shore went to hell,” this uppermost Brady operative added, blaming Personal PAC’s mail, TV ads and robocalls for the loss.
A look at Cook County results showed that Brady vastly underperformed the numbers of Republican Mark Kirk, an abortion rights supporter, in several northern Cook townships. Kirk is a north suburban resident, so he was expected to somewhat outperform Brady. Yet Kirk won New Trier Township by 4,535 votes, while the anti-abortion Brady won it by just 537. The pro-choice Kirk won Northfield by almost 7,000 votes to Brady’s 1,325-vote margin.
And it wasn’t just the North Shore. Kirk more than doubled Brady’s winning margins in Schaumburg, Wheeling, Maine and Lyons townships. The same basic pattern played out in all the suburban collar counties as well.
Personal PAC CEO Terry Cosgrove told me he focused his group’s mail and robocalls almost solely on suburban women who voted in the last two general elections, but who didn’t vote in any primaries. That way, Cosgrove said, he could aim his message at what he believed were “very middle of the road, average suburban women.” He also included in his list 170,000 pro-choice Republican women whom his group had identified in suburban state legislative races over the years.
“I knew if we could get enough of those suburban women, that’s where victory was,” Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove said his media buyer’s research showed he could find those same “average” women voters via the early morning news and daily TV talk shows. “We were on every single network TV station in the–morning through 4 o’clock,” he said. Cosgrove said Personal PAC spent $100,000 on TV the day before the election alone, figuring that he could catch busy, preoccupied women who were just about to make up their minds.
Cosgrove also determined early on that independent millionaire Scott Lee Cohen would help Quinn. “I didn’t care if they went for him because it wasn’t a vote for Brady,” he said.
“This race was a referendum on Pat Quinn,” Cosgrove continued, saying that he viewed it the same as a multi-candidate primary. Relative unknowns often split the “anti” vote in those primaries. Cosgrove figured Scott Lee Cohen would do the same. He was right.
Were there other important factors in this race? Absolutely. Organized labor and the Democratic ground game helped push Chicago’s turnout well above 2006 levels. The Brady Campaign - the gun control group, not the candidate - most certainly helped pit many of those aforementioned suburban voters against Bill Brady.
But it’s no secret that Personal PAC is infinitely more sophisticated with its messaging than its counterparts on both the left and the right. The best example of this is one of the group’s mass mailers featuring a photo of a middle-aged couple on the front. “My husband might not have made it,” the mailer began. “Prostate screening saved his life. Who would vote against that?” Brady voted against a bill mandating prostate cancer screening.
The idea behind the mailer, Cosgrove said, was to get women to talk to their husbands about Bill Brady. About one man in six are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that rate is far higher among older men. The mailer was designed to play on an almost universal fear.
The group also is much more willing than typical candidates to use harshly blunt messages in its advertising. Cosgrove, for instance, said that men are more amenable to his abortion messaging when they’re reminded of their daughters. So, his TV ad featured a young woman who talked about how she was raped at age 18, saying she wouldn’t know what she would have done had she become pregnant. The rest of the ad featured photos of very young women along with the message that Brady was against abortion in cases of rape and incest. The idea was to drive the message home that this was about daughters. It worked.