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Caveat Victor

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By Allen Wilson

By the time you read this it is possible that votes have been cast in the August 24 primary election in Florida. Absentee ballots we scheduled to be mailed on July 15th. Early voting is just weeks away and the main event occurs on August 24th. Only a few days are left for Floridians to register if they have not already done so.

As I drive back and forth to work I see one candidate’s crew has lined the public thoroughfare with signs, most of which will become litter in a few days. Others have posted mini billboards. Those candidates with big budgets are beginning to advertise on television and some have already been placing ads on the radio, though I only listen to satellite radio.

Straw poll season is in full swing. We all see the triumphant tooting of horns, no less annoying than the world cup, that “My Candidate (insert name here)” is best because they destroyed the competition at (insert event here) straw poll. Of course to vote you buy a ticket and to participate you buy a table and the (insert name here) makes money for their organization.

You might think that we have a built in stimulus package every two years called an election. When you visit FEC’s website you can see the details of the federal candidate’s budgets. Some pay salaries to political operatives, some pay consulting fees to their party, and some haven’t posted their financials yet. Some just list big round numbers and some list every single expenditure. Notably, many of the bigger campaigns spend their money out of state in Chicago or Washington D.C or New York.

So I asked myself, “How much does a vote cost?” Primary votes cost less then general election votes. Let’s say a candidate raises $800,000 and gets 15,000 votes in the primary. That’s a bit over $50 a vote. My wild guess method of political analysis suggests that in Florida’s Congressional Districts 8 and 24 those numbers might not be too far afield. So many candidates so few votes and so much money.

But there is something different this year. In Districts 5 and 8 there are candidates that qualified by petition and in State District 26 there is also a qualified by petition state candidate. The professional campaign managers don’t know how to take that. Is it an omen that conventional wisdom may have some flaws this year. You wouldn’t know it by looking at their campaigns.

We see three basic campaign strategies. First is the poly-sci 101 strategy. You can buy this campaign strategy on Amazon.com for $56. It tells you who should endorse you, how much you should raise, how many commercials you have to air, how many signs to buy, and how to avoid making any specific commitments. You will be able to tell who is running this type of campaign by two significant factors. First, they will have an “I’m just like you and I can be trusted” ad on TV showing them with their family and working hard for you. Second, you won’t get many chances to talk to them, here them speak and answer your questions, and they won’t personally return you email.

The second strategy is what I call the “I didn’t buy the book but I watched the movie” campaign. Those are marked by stumbling, bumbling, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic circumstances. Their candidates blame everyone but themselves. Have messages that are popular in limited circles but not widely accepted and therefore seemingly out of touch. They tout past experiences rather than present examples of why they should be elected. You won’t see them on TV and if you do you can be sure their personal fortune is five or six figures less because of it. When they lose it is because of the dirty tricks of other campaigns and the fact that nobody contributed to their campaigns.

Finally there is the third strategy. I like to call this one the “People aren’t stupid” strategy. It is so new that most politicos either don’t recognize it or write it off to an inconsequential passing fad. I believe some are actually very concerned about it but won’t admit that fact in public. This strategy is based on the principle that when two people have the same thought it is an anomaly. When three or more people have the same thought it is a movement, a trend and may likely be an instinctive reaction to an outside stimulus (pun certainly intended).

The “People aren’t stupid” strategy candidates may raise money, but money doesn’t drive their campaign. They may be attacked and labeled as “radical”, “extreme”, “inexperienced”, or “young and energetic” by the other camps. What the other camps don’t realize is that these are the very reasons they are popular. You might see them on TV but probably not. You might hear a political ad on the radio. What you will do, if you seek to, is hear them speak. If approached they will have a conversation with you rather than giving you talking points. They answer emails. They focus on “You” and not on “Me” in their speeches. And when they show up, there are usually crowds that cheer rather than politely clap.

These “People aren’t stupid” candidates have supporters that are off the radar. They probably didn’t vote in the last primary and they have been registered voters most of their lives. They don’t get polled because they are not on the “likely” or “new” list. They answer their doors and they ask questions. They donate their time and maybe a few dollars of their hard earned money. And they elect people like Scott Brown, Sharon Angle, and Nikki Haley, but also people like Alvin Greene and Kesha Rogers.

So here is the message to the first two strategic camps. There is still time, but precious little. Start talking to the people, not at them. Show up, and listen. Give your audience credit for knowing more than you think and perhaps more than you know. And, recognize that if you defeat the “People aren’t stupid” candidates they are not going to go away. They may rise up stronger than you can imagine.

There is a bill to be paid for this election and it isn’t in currency. It is in performance. The winners will suffer a scrutiny the likes of which has never been seen in our lifetimes, regardless of office or party. Caveat Victor

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