Remembering Doug Bailey: A political pioneer

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doug bailey
doug bailey

One of the great visionaries of the political world, Doug Bailey, died in his sleep early Monday morning. Doug leaves a legacy that spans decades and, well, centuries. He had three distinct and separate successful careers that all had one goal: to make the American political system a little better and a little more noble… In the ‘60s, 70s and ‘80s, he was considered the leading Republican media consultant of his time and in many ways, pioneered methods on political campaigns that are now the norm today. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment in that field was a loss. In the fall of ’76, Gerald Ford was badly trailing Jimmy Carter in the polls, by more than 30 points in some polls. He hired Bailey to help bail him out and Doug came up with a series of “man on the street” TV ads, just hearing from so-called average people on their concerns about Carter. It was among the first time that was tried in political TV advertising and it almost worked… Ford lost one of the closest elections in history.

In 1987, Bailey set out on a second career, one that would make him a pioneer in the world of political journalism. He, along with a Democratic counterpart, Roger Craver, founded The Presidential Campaign Hotline, which later would simply become ‘The Hotline’ – the concept was considered radical at the time but Bailey believed folks in Washington would want a daily briefing on the 1988 presidential campaign, which would feature over a dozen serious presidential candidates.  The Hotline’s motto, “cover the coverage” but do it with a brain and a sense of humor. Looking back, it was clearly the internet before there was one.

The Hotline became one of the coolest first or second jobs for anyone trying to learn anything about American politics. And the list of esteemed Hotline alumni is long and impressive. Name the publication or network, and there’s a Hotline alum working there in some prominent role.  And for those folks involved in political journalism, you may not realize it, but your job wouldn’t be half as interesting or half as valuable to your employer if it wasn’t for Doug Bailey and his vision for The Hotline.

But there was one over-riding passion for Doug and that was to lift up American politics, have it seen and viewed as a more noble cause. And in these last 15 years, Doug set out trying to engage the public in whatever way he could think of to fix what he believed was a broken political system. Whether it was his hope to see a third political party rise up from the grass roots or his attempt to see the two political parties work as one, he simply wanted the political system to be fixed.

For me, he was an important mentor, someone who essentially taught me how to think about politics. Always pushing me to be do better. While he battled health problems for years, he seemed indestructible. He always came through. The idea that he’s not going to be on the other end of a phone call after a particularly depressing day covering politics is hard for me to fathom.  But I know what he’d want, he’d want me and others who called him a friend and mentor to keep innovating, don’t get stuck in a rut, press on.

Doug Bailey was 79, he’s survived by his wife Pat, two devoted children, Ed and Kate, and as Doug would say to me all the time, one PERFECT grandchild.

Remembering Doug Bailey: A political pioneer

Updated