Thursday, January 19, 2017

Find an Issue and Run on it

Campaigns are about issues. Not about personalities. At least most of them. Even this nasty last Presidential race. Issues. Mr. Orange hair with the foul mouth and grabby little hands won because he tapped into the core of middle America's pain. What he does with it is another question altogether.

Even on the local level, candidates and their consultants need to look for the issues that differentiate them from the competition and that tap into what the people care about. One of my first campaigns was won on the single issue of whether or not to bring a new pipeline from the Russian River in Sonoma County to Marin County (California) to increase the water supply.

My candidate was an environmentalist, a fervent one.He wanted to protect the fish upstream, whose habitat would be damaged if not decimated by removing more water. Other environmentalists agreed with him. But there's more to it than that.
Building the pipeline would be costly. Our job was to take those realities - pipeline kills fish and costs taxpayers money, and craft them into a message that both environmentalists and more conservative taxpayers could get behind.

Our opponent had all the endorsements of the establishment. She had the money. She had TV ads. She was for the pipeline.

Logically, she would have been able to leverage that support into votes and win handily. But our client had a solution to the problem, need for more water, that didn't cost a dime and didn't kill a fish - Conservation.

It turned out to be an easy sell, once people heard the message, and realized it did not involve any great sacrifice, just a few adjustments to water usage on a personal level, and stopping waste on an institutional level. Getting this message out took both good mail, attractive, dynamic (if small) postcards sent to a carefully selected universe of frequent voters, and old fashioned shoe leather and telephone calls.

The week before the election our team was calling into a very conservative part of the district. I was talking to older Republican men, when I had a revelation. I turned to the candidate and said "We're going to win!"

We won. Big. Because we had the right issue, the right message and the right delivery. How you say what you have to say and who you say it to are key.

A lesson our Democratic Party needs to learn before the next midterm election if we want to take back the Congress.