Burdened by President Barack Obama's sinking approval ratings, a loss in a special House election in Florida this month, and millions of dollars spent by Republican-aligned groups attacking the new health law, panicked Democrats are now pinning their hopes on a long shot even more unlikely than their party picking up seats in the midterm elections: wooing Phil Jackson, the legendary former basketball coach, to take control of their faltering campaigns.
"Phil will have complete autonomy," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said hopefully. "Whatever he wants, whatever he needs, we will find a way to get it for him. And then we will find a way get out of his way so he can do the job."
Desperate for some sign of a turnaround in the face of grim poll numbers, many Democrats are suddenly embracing the idea of working one-on-one with the basketball genius, even though Mr. Jackson has yet to publicly embrace his role as the party's savior and just last week agreed to take a job with New York Knicks as the basketball team's president.
Interviews with more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress, state party officials and strategists revealed a new optimism about their election chances since the party leadership began vaguely talking about the remote possibility of seeking out Mr. Jackson's help.
"I don't care if you are somebody who has 50-some-odd billion dollars, you are not going to be able to compete with Phil Jackson. The man is a legend. Just hearing the talk about him coming to the rescue has turned my campaign around," said Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida, a vulnerable first-term member who has already had to weather more than $500,000 in negative TV ads from third-party conservative groups without the aid of a basketball guru.
"Everyone is trying to send the signal: Don't get ahead of yourself — 2016 is critical, but 2014, now that we might have Phil, comes first," said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama's former campaign manager.
Flanked by four like-minded congressmen, Mr. Obama this week took the Democrats' campaign to hire Mr. Jackson on the road, kicking it off with a stop at a fundraising ball in New York where he told the gathering that "anybody who counts out the Democrats doesn't understand politics and doesn't understand Phil's triangle offense."
Warming to the rowdy crowd of 3,000 wealthy donors, the president said "it's time to give Phil Jackson a raise." He urged the contributors to "think big" and commit to donating hundreds millions of dollars to lure the basketball coach into the Democratic fold as the party's new president of midterm election operations.
A high wage paid to Mr. Jackson, Mr. Obama argued, would inevitably lift millions out of poverty and stimulate the broader economy.
"It's not bad business to do right by Phil Jackson if that means you are doing right by Democrats; it's good business," the president told donors over chants of "November."
As euphoric Democratic candidates embraced the possibility of a campaign life unshackled from Mr. Obama's approval rating of 41 percent, the presence of Mr. Jackson seemed to suddenly loom heavy.
In Democratic circles there is bouncy preaching of teamwork, dedication, vision, footwork, hitting the open man, getting out the vote, and perhaps even getting Mr. Jackson's autograph.
Former president Bill Clinton, too, seems to have bought into the idea of a Jacksonification of the party, saying he will gladly turn over the spotlight and all control of the Democratic operation to the 11-time-NBA-title-winning coach.
Though Mr. Jackson is a savior without an executive political portfolio, the fact that he has entered the conversation during the midterms has prompted sudden unrest among Republicans, who seemed to be sailing to certain victory in November before Democrats started talking about bringing the basketball legend on board.
"Many of my guys have had nightmares about it," said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. "They're giving a campaign speech and suddenly everyone stops paying attention. They're all looking at Phil, diagramming something on a dry-erase board. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are there, too, in basketball jerseys with DEMOCRAT stitched on the front. They are looking intently over Phil's shoulder, at what he's drawing, and they're chanting: 'Wisdom is always an overmatch for strength.' I don't know what it means. My guys don't know what it means. It's starting to get to us."
But Mr. Priebus isn't worried about any long-term problems for Republicans.
"In politics," he said. "Dreams don't last that long."
Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Panicked Democrats now looking to woo Phil Jackson
Apr 11, 2014 at 3:00 PM