First Presidential Contest Kicks off with a New PR Crisis:
How to Respond?
It didn’t take long for the first actual voting of the 2020 primary season for Democrats to blow up in spectacular fashion. An app used to tally the votes failed to work and partial results were delayed into at least the next day.
The problem is that in politics, just as in a TV news appearance, perception is everything and the Iowa Democratic Party and the candidates looked lost, giving fodder to the Republicans.
As far as anyone can tell, this was not 2016 when Russians interfered with the election; this was just a huge glitch. Press reports identified the app developer as a company called Shadow Inc. and this led a Democratic operative named Tara McGowan to deny that her company ACRONYM had any role other than investor in Shadow.
The Democrats tried to put a brave face on it but the headlines said it all — DUH MOINES, CAUCUS CHAOS, etc. It also conjured up memories of hanging chads and the 2000 election but this time the problem was digital — one might call it App-gate — and left Gen Z thinking who are these luddites?
The twitosphere joked whether Iowa wants to change its name or whether it had put out an RFP for a PR agency. What Iowa and the Democrats need is a strong crisis response and that’s hard to do when they are now moving on to the New Hampshire primary.
The response by both parties was also most predictable. Pete Buttigieg claimed victory – without any results – and other candidates said they had done well. Buttigieg was also in the middle of a problem with the last poll before the caucuses; it inexplicably left him out in polling questions so the poll was scrapped.
Former Vice President Joe Biden took a different approach – writing to Iowa officials expressing concern about the process and asking to see the results before they were released publicly.
This whole thing is just dumb. The Democrats don’t need to give President Trump and the Republicans any more ammunition. They need to fix the PR fallout. Asked in an interview from New Hampshire, a Biden spokeswoman dodged a question whether the Iowa Caucuses should be shelved permanently.
Trump immediately took to Twitter and blasted the flap as a disaster for Democrats.
All this came after Democratic infighting during the long primary season, and while Trump stands as an impeached president. It also came on the eve of his State of the Union address and on the eve of the Senate vote on whether to remove Trump from office or acquit him on two counts of impeachment.
It could get uglier. As one commentator said, “The Democrats need to bring their A-game against President Trump.”
About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms