The message part of your campaign has five components: your rationale, your story, your values, your issue positions, and what you say about your opponent.
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Today, we’ll discuss what it is that you say about your opponent.
In my time, I’ve won political campaigns without saying a word about the opponent. If your opponent has no money, isn’t making any real effort or gaining any traction, you don’t need to say anything. Ignore them.
However, most of the time in competitive races, it will become necessary to compare and contrast yourself with your opponent. What you say, how you say it, when you say it is a judgment call that depends on your strategy. I can’t advise you on that without knowing your strategy.
What I can tell you is that it is foolish to go into a campaign without knowing your opponent backwards, forwards, sideways and six ways from Sunday.
When I was in my 20’s my first mentor used to say that campaigns were won and lost in the library. Today they are won and lost on google and what you can learn with a few phone calls.
What do you want to know about your opponent?
Is their biography accurate? Did they really do the things they said they did? Accomplish what they said they accomplished? Earn the degrees they said they earned. Author the legislation they said they authored? Lead the fight they said they led?
I once worked in a Kentucky campaign against a Senator who claimed he’d earned two degrees from the U.S. Naval Academy. He’d been saying it for years, and it was in his official biography published by the State of Kentucky. When I called the U.S. Naval Academy to check, I learned he’d never earned any degrees from the academy. It was a bold faced lie.
Why do politicians do that? Because it is human nature for those in the public life to exaggerate and embellish. All the more reason for you to double check every detail in your opponent’s biography.
Look at their public statements. It’s easy to find them on google, or Lexes-Nexus. Are they consistent in what they say? Did they claim credit for something they did not do? Did they take a position on an issue in front of one group, and the opposite position in front of a different audience? Closely examine what they claim to be their accomplishments.
I was once involved in a Congressional race where a candidate claimed to have worked as an analyst at the Pentagon during the Iraq War…a job that required top security clearance. That’s what she told an audience on the campaign trail. What we later discovered was that she was an unpaid intern who ran the copy machine. How did we discover it? That’s the way she described the position in a tweet to a one-time boyfriend. Her campaign quickly fell apart.
Look for things in your opponents past that suggest their values are out of sync with the electorate. George Bush 41 discovered that as Governor, Mike Dukakis had vetoed a bill requiring students to recite the pledge of allegiance. In 1988, that bothered a lot of people. Bush won 40 states.
If you are running against an incumbent, look at where their money comes from. Do they receive money from unsavory characters or special interests? Take a look at their voting record and look for a relationship between the votes cast, policy decisions made and the contributions they receive. More than once I have defeated an incumbent politician by demonstrating a quid pro quo between a lawmaker’s decisions in office and the money flowing in their campaign account.
If you are running against an incumbent, look closely at how they spend their campaign money. Many often use their campaign accounts to enjoy tax free dinners at fancy restaurants, buy lavish vacations, golf club memberships, luxury cars and to supplement the income of family members they hire as consultants. That is a no no.
Assign to someone in your campaign the job of learning everything there is to know about your opponent…their story, life history, bio, public statements, record, votes and campaign contributions. It is some of the most important work your campaign will do. In a competitive race, that information is the difference between winning and losing.
Have questions? You’ll find me at 845-458-1210. Or email me at Jay@JayTownsend.com.