Among the array of always fascinating candidate endeavors, the one that still baffles me the most is an inexplicable capacity to “gift” opponents with all manner of free “advertising.” When you consider that, on a level electoral pitch, the contestant who secures the most “impressions” almost always wins, mentioning the opposition’s name may well be the worst possible campaign strategy.
But despite that eminently basic truth, that kind of thing happens at an alarming rate, particularly as the inevitable fallout of a negative campaign strategy. But there are two major problems with that proposition.
The first, and most obvious – at least it should be obvious – is that going negative rarely works at the local level. Attack strategies may bear fruit in the statewide and national arenas because that’s where partisanship reigns supreme, and those distant politicians are always a much more nebulous concept. But it’s a lot harder to hate the local candidate who occasionally shows up at your front door and actually responds to your phone calls.
The second, and far more important issue is, not only was P.T. Barnum right, but he was way ahead of his time. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I tell you that Donald Trump has conclusively proven there’s no such thing as bad publicity in the 24/7 news cycle era. And that campaign reality filters right down to the lowliest of local races.
Here’s a perfect example!
We’ve endured a semi-amusing perennial Elgin, Illinois, candidate who’s run for almost every possible office. He did manage to get himself elected to the Library Board, but after repeatedly abusing the staff, with the exception of board meetings, he was banned from the very library over which he presided!
To make matters much worse, this gentleman also harbors a vast propensity to get in trouble with the local gendarmes, not the least of which was being charged with physically abusing his elderly parents.
But despite that raft of, not bad, but terrible publicity, our intrepid candidate managed to best a serous county board primary opponent as a direct result of all that “hard-earned” name recognition. Those patently ADHD voters remembered his name, but they couldn’t remember why they remembered it!
And he almost unseated his general election opponent, too! But shocked into action by that wholly unexpected primary result, the incumbent turned up his ground game and prevailed by a scant 7 percent.
Thank about that for a second!
Simply because voters had seen his name often enough, a local candidate with the worst public track record I’ve ever seen beat the party sanctioned candidate, and the Party did quite a bit of work on his behalf, too!
And some silly candidates go as far as putting their opponents’ pictures on mailers – and good ones, too! Within the bounds of reason, the least you can do apply an unflattering photograph.
So, when you consider this “no bad publicity” dynamic, with the exception of using the term “my opponent,” when voter impressions are the only real campaign currency, why would any self-respecting candidate EVER give their opponent any free air-time whatsoever?”
It makes no sense because it loses elections! And that caveat applies to social media, press interviews, endorsement interviews, forums and debates, campaign mailers/literature, and any other situation in which you might have to discuss your opponents’ track record.
The bottom line? It’s always far more effective to explain why you’re the better candidate than it is to explain why the other guy isn’t.
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