R.I.P. Bailey and Deardourff

The New Testament’s book of Hebrews, in the 12th chapter, contains a moving reference to “a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,” presumably those saints who have died and gone on before us.

The scripture urges Christians to run the race of life with faithfulness, honoring those watching from above.

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While political consultants may not have the equivalent of Christian saints in our cloud of witnesses, another set of eyes joined the pols peanut gallery above when Doug Bailey passed from this life last week.

I’m sure he’s sitting there in the grandstand with old friend and colleague John Deardourff, who has been watching since his own passing in 2004.

It’s a sobering thought to be watched and judged from above by those two icons. They were among the best. But it’s a worthy challenge to live up to their standards.

In this life, I was already judged wanting by Doug and was chastened by the experience.

A few years ago in this space I wrote something unkind about the “Rock the Vote” movement.

Doug, who had taken to consulting with them, called me up and expressed his disapproval of what I’d said, along with some rationale for why I was wrong.

For the most part, he was correct and I had erred.

I have tried to be gentler since, or at least to be more logical and informed when being critical of that organization. That’s how much I respect Doug Bailey, his gentlemanly behavior, his many accomplishments in our shared calling of campaigning and most of all his accumulated wisdom.

Just as Christians get sanctified as they grow in their faith, consultants get wiser. Those of us not there yet should listen and learn. Though he’s now gone, I’ll keep listening for Doug’s wisdom through those who knew him.

That wisdom came through loud and clear this week as Dan Pero, one of Doug’s early pupils, reminisced about what he’d learned as an employee in the 1970s of the old Bailey, Deardourff and Associates consulting firm.

Dan, a Michigander, had tried as a young freelance consultant to attract the attention of Doug by constantly sending him examples of his direct-mail pieces for statehouse campaigns.

There was no response until one day, just as Dan was leaving for the church and his own wedding, the phone rang, and it was Doug Bailey calling. He begged Dan to stop sending the mail samples and to meet with him. Dan went to the church, and upon meeting his bride at the altar, whispered to her, “Doug Bailey called.” 

How romantic. But that was the start to Pero’s distinguished career, one that even included a presidential campaign, under Bailey’s tutelage. 

Pero told me yesterday that he still teaches the same lessons to aspiring candidates and consultants that Bailey taught him in the 1970s.

What did Pero learn? He told me that Doug taught him how to approach a campaign, focused on strategy, not tactics.

In those days, the Bailey, Deardourff firm wrote a detailed plan for every campaign.

Every plan acknowledged that every campaign is different. Every state is different. Every year is different. No cookie-cutter approach will do.

The campaign was laid out in the beginning, from announcement to Election Day. There was rigor. Dan said that Doug would not tolerate incompetence and tore up the first campaign plan he ever wrote as a new employee of the firm.

I asked Dan what motivated Bailey and Deardourff.

He said it evidently wasn’t money. He described the firm’s D.C. office as meager, “with cracked linoleum floors, old steel case desks, and a black couch losing its stuffing.”

So far as he could tell, they mostly wanted to find candidates who shared their goal of “making America a better place.”

May God rest their souls in that thought.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.