Arthur J. Finkelstein, a longtime GOP pollster and strategist credited with helping elect Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, has died at age 72 of lung cancer, his family says.
Finkelstein, considered less flamboyant but arguably more influential than better known Republican strategists, such as Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, is widely regarded as the man responsible for turning the word “liberal” into a pejorative to be wielded against Democrats. He was also considered a pioneer in developing political action committees to raise vast sums of money for campaigns.
“Those who matter in politics are familiar with Arthur, but no one beyond that; which is the way Arthur likes it,” wrote Craig Shirley at National Review in January. “He’s never been the face of a wristwatch, but the gears would not run without him. While other consultants run to the spotlight, Arthur has always run away from it.”
He was instrumental in helping to elect or re-elect such figures as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and New York Gov. George Pataki. He also worked on campaigns for Israeli prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon.
Minnesota Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone told The Washington Post in 1996 that Finkelstein “dictated the message strategy” for Republicans, which was to charge “liberal, liberal, liberal.”
According to The New York Times, Finkelstein “pioneered sophisticated demographic analyses of primary voters and methodical exit polling, and of using a marketing strategy, called microtargeting, to identify specific groups of potential supporters of a candidate regardless of their party affiliation.”
“He would bombard them with appeals to support a candidate through direct mail and phone calls, coupled with television advertisements that mercilessly exploited a rival’s vulnerabilities.”
The Washington Post writes:
“He was also something of a political conundrum — especially after it was revealed in 1996 that his private life as a gay man was in sharp contrast to the views of some of the conservative firebrands he helped elect. Helms, for instance, often railed against the ‘homosexual movement,’ which he said ‘threatens the strength and the survival of the American family.’
“In 1996, New York Times columnist Frank Rich described Mr. Finkelstein as someone who ‘sells his talents to lawmakers who would outlaw his family’s very existence.'”
In 1994 rival political consultant Philip Freidman described Finkelstein as “the ultimate sort of Dr. Strangelove.”
Freidman told The New York Times that Finkelstein “believes you can largely disregard what the politicians are going to say and do, what the newspapers are going to do, and create a simple and clear and often negative message, which, repeated often enough, can bring you to victory.”