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Spence's campaign accidentally goes public with its 'pivots'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 27, 2012 -  When faced with an embarrassing situation, most candidates are advised to adhere to one word: Pivot.

Candidates' campaign staffs often produce prepared statements for candidates to hopefully memorize, and repeatedly use — especially after the candidate may have made an earlier goof, or found themselves discussing a less-than-desirable topic.

The aim is to pivot to a more favorable response — or ideally a more comfortable topic.

But the maneuver is supposed to seem seamless in public, after lots of prep in private.

Unfortunately, there's no privacy in the latest pivots for Kirkwood businessman Dave Spence — a Republican candidate for Missouri governor.

Spence — who has been plagued with various missteps — got detailed campaign advice this week on how to handle any further questions about his earlier controversial statementin which he raised doubts about President Barack Obama’s religion. And how to sidestep repeated meda questions — which, in the Beacon's case, he has yet to answer — about his view of the budget debate going on in Jefferson City.

Trouble is, the briefing memo was accidentally emailed to the Beacon and other news outlets this week as an attachment. The campaign had intended, instead, to alert reporters to a charity event that he was attending.

In other words, it was Spence's campaign staff that goofed.

But to reporters and the public, the misstep offers a rare, and somewhat refreshing, inside look at how campaigns seek to keep a candidate on-message.

In this case, the memo offers advice as to specifically how Spence can pivot if he’s asked about certain matters, especially that Muslim matter, which prompted a recent rebuke from the St. Louis American.

Here's key portions, which include suggested verbatim responses for Spence:

Suggested Talking points:

“Dave there are no talking points as we are just looking for press to share your good deed. But please be aware that a media advisory was sent out so you are open to the possibility of questioning. Just some key reminders in case you are approached.”

“Obama Muslim Statement:

“In a meeting with the St. Louis American newspaper, I was asked if I believed that President Obama is a Muslim. This is not an issue that I felt was pertinent to my candidacy for governor and expressed those sentiments. With our state’s economy in terrible shape, I have made every effort to focus on solutions that will get Missourians back to work. However, if the media insists that this is a critical issue that must be addressed, I will be clear. President Obama says he is a Christian, and I take him at his word.”

“Senate Budget Statement:

“There’s no doubt that legislators are making some tough decisions right now which have sparked some healthy debate. I am confident they will work their way through the process and pass a responsible and balanced budget.  This would not be happening if Jay Nixon would have shown real leadership and submitted a realistic budget at the beginning of this process.”

“Pivot Point if needed: Return to Jobs Plan”

The memo then details, just in case Spence forgot, the basic points of his lengthy jobs plan issued earlier.

Now, Spence’s campaign just needs to come up with a new pivot, to divert attention from the release of his old ones.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.