Labor Day signifies the end of summer, the beginning of football season and the official countdown to this fall’s elections, set for Nov. 2. Nationally, politicians, parties and 527s will educate and urge the masses to vote for or against candidates and issues on the local, state and national level.
So how am I going to vote this fall, and who do I trust to give me accurate information?
Interest groups have been polling and plotting for months for this window in time when people actually pay attention to potential new laws and the would-be officials who write and enforce them. In recent years, I have gotten more involved in the financing of political campaigns, both as an individual contributor and as the chairman of a political action committee that gives to pro-business candidates. The great paradox of political contributions is that on a local or statewide level, few individuals contribute resources to the positions that ultimately have the most impact on our lives. Who we elect to school board, city council and school superintendent – among others – will have a disproportionate impact compared to the next President or Congress. I support candidates I trust and those who vote similarly to how I would on issues I care about. I am engaged.
As a public relations consultant, I am often asked by candidates at all levels for advice on communication strategy to reach voters. Wisdom, and political consultants, will tell you that paid television advertising is the best campaign strategy. “Go raise as much money as possible, buy television and then GOTV (get out the vote).” I am not sure I agree with that logic anymore.
I was involved in several campaigns this primary season and watched other races closely. Everywhere I looked, conventional wisdom failed. The rise of social media, good old-fashioned name I.D. and momentum made for interesting results.
Candidate One: Outraised every other candidate in this federal race, almost all from donations (as opposed to personal money). He spent almost $100 per vote and finished third in a crowded primary. The eventual winner has no political experience, but a motivated base of friends and a strong church community. He also ran a hugely successful social media campaign.
Candidate Two: First-time statewide candidate outraised competitor 2:1. Received endorsements from every major newspaper and had nearly 2,000 donors. He was endorsed by several well thought of politicians. His commercials were good. In the end, his competitor – someone who had better “name I.D.” – was elected, despite being outspent.
Candidate Three: Underdog statewide official was down double-digits in nearly every pre-primary poll. She was considerably outspent and self-funded a lot of her campaign. She refused to go negative – which is virtually unheard of – and received an endorsement of a prominent and popular former college football coach about a week out from the election. Her opponent, also a popular statewide official, ran what I think was a flawless race. The underdog won.
What do all these races have in common? Nothing! The results of each of them were unexpected. Results like these are happening across the country. As your phone rings in the coming weeks with recorded messages from famous people and your mailbox is flooded with mail, do your own research on the candidates. If you want to project winners, roll the dice or ask a coach who he or she is going to vote for. Then, hold your breath. It is going to be a wild ride.