Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Campaign a Trios...

New Jersey sits about 20 miles from here.  It is a peninsula bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware River and Delaware Bay.  It is free to go into the state and people gladly pay to leave (all the toll booths are set up on the Jersey side).  Some people think you need a passport to leave the state, but that is just a rumor.

Politically, they are more advanced than my home, Pennsylvania (some call us Pennsylbama or Pennsyltucky).  Jersey allows open primaries.  That means that Democratic voters can select Independents or Republicans in their primaries.  It also allows for more Independents in general.  This is a good thing.

The race for Governor across the river is starting to look interesting.  It is a 3-way race, as much as you can have one these days.  If you haven’t seen Independent Chris Daggett’s commercial please check it out now.  It is entertaining and creative.  

I don’t know any of these guys from a hole in the ground.  I have no dog in this fight.  But what I hope happens here is the double-clutch.  The double-clutch is the point that makes you re-think something.  An event makes us break out of our routines to react differently to the environment.  Today, a good three-way race can make a good double-clutch.

Ok, let’s look at a standard 2-way race – D vs. R; Blue vs. Red; Phillies vs. Mets (notice I put the good guys first on those…) you don’t have to define yourself.  You define your tactics and strategies to the opponent to give you the best advantage.

If my opponent is soft on gun-rights, call up the NRA, they’ll be happy to stir the pot for you.  If the opponent wants to eliminate all taxes everywhere, you can always find the public school parents who are directly benefitting from those taxes and they will have a vested interest in defeating your opponent.  If your opponent has a clearly defined stand on the abortion issue you get a guaranteed team on your side, either pro or con.

Two way races allow you to paint your opponent into the corner so that you can maximize the space in between you.  It is a linear game.  As an example, I’ll use the Casey – Santorum race a few years ago (notice I put the good guy first again…).   Pennsylbama is really defined by the far Southeast Corner of the state (Philly and the 5 surrounding counties) which are trending more blue over the last few years, the 30-40 mile radius around Pittsburgh which tend to trend purple, and the rest of the state have different shades of red. 

Catholics are big here.  I mean REALLY BIG here.  If you want to see a saint in a glass coffin, stop by St. Peter’s Church basement in North Philly and pay your respects to St. John Neumann, philosopher and the founder of the Catholic school system in Philly (very cool guy for a bishop).

Bobby Casey is the son of Robert Casey, the governor who, in 1992 stood up to the powers that be in the DNC over the abortion issue and was ostracized from the convention.  When Robert Casey Sr. ran for re-election he took all but one county in the state (mine unfortunately).  Bobby is pro-life, but not in your face about it.  I call him a social justice Catholic, meaning he puts the meaning of the entire Gospel into action (subversive things like feeding the poor, helping the sick – real nasty stuff), not just picking and choosing the parts that look good politically.  Casey would probably be about 5 to 6 on a Liberal - Conservative scale (1 = uber Liberal; 10 =  Limbaugh and Friends).

Faced off against him was Rick “the Rabid” Santorum.  This guy is already trying to run for the 2012 GOP Presidential Nomination.  He is an in-your-face Catholic who had no problem whatsoever interfering in the Terrie Shiavo case.  I place him at about a 10 on our scale.  His first 2 Senate elections were against polar opposites, Harris Wofford, a man who truly walks the talk, is about as a 1 as you can get.  Ron Klink ran against him 2000, appeared to be a 2-3 liberal, but got no traction.

With a two way race, Casey was perfectly poised to clean Santorum’s clock.  Casey, being a step or two around the midpoint line allowed all the people to the left of him to stand at his back.  Casey could eat into the Catholic vote that was previously exploited by Santorum.  I like having a soft-spoken low-key Senator that helped guide Obama to the White House.

We now have the three-way going on in Jersey.  With the introduction of a viable Independent to the race, the linear idea is out.  Daggett is viable because prior to any advertizing being run he had broken the 10% barrier.  It is no longer a Blue vs. Red scenario. The idea of painting one opponent into a corner is not going to work.  As you saw in the commercial, Christie is portrayed as a whiney fat guy with a North Jersey attitude.  Corzine is too self-absorbed to look at his surroundings.  This is a great double shot at both of them. 

Psychologically, Daggett may also be playing to the South Jersey crowd, who are generally fed up with being defined by North Jersey.  You could draw a line just north of Trenton and split the State in two and both would probably be happier. (If Texas leaves the union, this may be a way to keep our 50 state limit.)  If the major parties split the North and Daggett can run the table in the South…

The question now is how do the campaigns answer this challenge?

We now have 3 camps going negative, but it is an odd dynamic.  Both major party candidates are now double teamed.  Any negative messaging sent out against the other major party will be seconded and amplified by the Daggett camp. 

If left unchecked, Daggett can keep driving the negatives against both sides and it will eventually work.  He is actually running against the 2 party-system.  In a warped way his going negative against both equally keeps him above the fray.  If he has the cash and can continue to make his case, he may be able to force one of the other camps to drop back to take him on directly.

The first campaign that goes after Daggett instantly gives him the credibility he needs to gain ground.  It will also send the message that the double team worked, because now that campaign has opened the second front.  That means the campaign that didn’t go after Daggett will have a more room to launch clearer shots at the first aggressor.  In other words, Daggett will be doing the dirty work of the non-aggressive campaign.

The aggressive party that attacks first will also need to be careful of the effect of being too negative.  It is kind of like, “what is with this guy that he can’t say anything nice about anybody”.  If we get to that point, you may see that campaign go into a death spiral, benefitting the Independent.

This opens the opportunity for the non-aggressive campaign to go positive.  Instead of defining your single opponent in terms of their weaknesses (the two-way race), you have to define why you should be elected because of how great your ideas or programs are.

There are a hundred other permutations here, but it creates the double-clutch.  If you want to get rid of the negativity in these elections, maybe encouraging the third party candidates is a way to go. 

Who would have thought the New Jersey would be a leader here?  Go figure.

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