5:48 a.m. August 9, 2012

Maui Shore

Hawaii’s former Republican Governor Linda Lingle is on television. All. The. Time.

She’s running for the U.S. Senate, and her campaign has set up a Hawaiian cable channel on the dial between FOX News and CNN Headline News. The New York Times describes it as a “feast of Lingle speeches, Lingle advertisements and Lingle endorsements, as well as video issue papers, televised forums and testimonials.”

I’m as cynical a media critic as everyone else on the Internet, but I don’t hate this idea. Actually, I think it's slightly wonderful.

For one thing, buying your own campaign cable channel is a completely logical extension of tested campaign media tactics. Most television channels in my home state of North Carolina are flooded with political ads, meaning the scheduled programming is essentially a way to entice viewers into watching Romney and Obama attack each other. But once you’ve bought up all the television ads, where do you go from there? Simple – you buy the programming as well. It’s not even that expensive – Lingle’s station costs only $2,500 a week (meaning NSFWCORP should buy its own Hawaii channel immediately – I’ll happily go there and get things started).

That said, so far Lingle’s conventional campaign programming has proved a poor use of such an incredible resource. The campaign says the channel drew just 70,000 viewers in July for an average of three and a half minutes – meaning only five or six people watched the channel at any given time. Buying her own channel was a great first step, but to succeed, Lingle clearly needs to give the people something they want to watch.

There are other Republican candidates with a keen grasp of political entertainment values. Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment, is running in Connecticut. Sadly, though, she has had to tone down her messaging after losing her Senate race in 2010 – so ratings-grabbing, televised slap-downs from her daughter are out. Carly Fiorina’s 2010 campaign for Senate unleashed the famous “Demon Sheep” ad. Herman Cain’s bizarre YouTube videos feature a rambling smoker, a meta Western actor, and, more recently, an exploding rabbit.

But no matter how bizarre and hilarious these videos are, they would barely begin to fill a 24-hour cable station. For the bulk of her programming, Lingle should look to the Sarah Palin model: reality television.

Reality shows are the best way to produce cheap, voluminous content, and a Senate campaign in a beautiful state like Hawaii should yield hours of compelling footage. Viewers could go canvassing with volunteers, watch an attack ad get filmed, and sit in on strategy sessions. Campaign staff members would be hired based on their telegenic qualities and their willingness to insult each other to boost ratings. Lines will be crossed. Alliances will be tested. Illicit campaign romances will bloom. It will basically be like that Hulu show "Battleground" ("The Office" meets a political campaign), except real. And good.

The money that GOP supporters are pouring into Lingle's campaign even allows for a small team of producers to be hired, ensuring that the show stays on message (the focus would be personalities, not policies) and that nothing too real makes it on air. Once viewers identify with the characters, they’ll be rooting for their campaign to win whether they agree with it substantively or not. And since they’ve already been primed to vote in reality shows, the voter conversion rate would be extremely high.

At the very least, the campaign reality channel would keep viewers’ attention for far longer than three and half minutes per month.

Update 9/25/12: I've added hyperlinks to the Politico story where I learned Linda McMahon had toned down her messaging and to the New York Times story, which is where the facts on the Lingle channel came from.