During every election all passionate voters get into frequent bouts of armchair quarterbacking and will wax eloquent about what their candidate is doing wrong and what exactly their candidate should do to win the election. The campaigns of the candidates do get a lot of email and calls from such voters and they also keep track of the campaign’s successes and missteps from TV shows and papers. For the most part though, a campaign will use the current polls as the barometer of their success or failure and a very small portion of the valuable feedback from the average American voter (and more importantly the ‘battle ground’ average American voter) makes it through to them.
Such feedback can be pretty valuable as it is such voters that watch the daily working of both the campaigns, and follow a good portion of their speeches, attacks, counter-attacks and talking points. How such a voter perceives each of their steps and what impact their ads are having on such a voter can be very valuable for the campaigns. The campaigns might trying to cull such tactical feedback (if they’re smart) from the voters but it is not something that is very easy in spite of the information age and they might be getting drowned in a lot of conflicting feedback. Also, every body and their uncle will claim to have the magic formula for victory and will be very vocal about offering advise on what the campaign should do. I belong to that segment of the vocal population too and (like them) I believe I have developed a crystal clear insight on what the democratic campaigns have been doing wrong in the past two elections (including this one) and I have listed out detailed steps (see below) , both strategic and tactical, that the democratic campaign should take to outfox the republicans, turn the tables on each of their attacks, and easily grab the momentum back from them. I do feel that I have a hand on the pulse of the average American (especially the battleground) voter, and hence that makes me suitably qualified to give advise on how to make an impact on them.
I strongly believe if the Obama campaign learns from the mistakes made in 2004 and adopts a revamped strategy comprising of the key components listed below then this election could indeed be a 'slam dunk' (with all due respect Georgie - I mean Tenet of course) for Obama. This might make Rove put on his thinking cap again instead of pressing 'replay' on the 2004 tape (which is what he's doing now).
Hit Back Hard – Smartly
The democrats have always feared the famed republican attack machine, which is indeed very impressive (though almost always follows their ‘web of deception’ policy), and most of the time end up with an inadequate response and just playing into their hands. What the democrats don’t realize is that these attacks are actually god’s gifts for the democrats. John Kerry just needed to do one thing to win the 2004 election and that opportunity was dropped in his lap by the republicans. In response to the swift-boating attacks he should have announced that he is going to give his response on national television (so that enough votes see it, hopefully close to the election date). In that response speech all he had to do as stand straight like a ramrod and in a tough tone deliver a knockout punch to the republicans, with words to the following effect.
“My fellow Americans, I have been following over the past couple of weeks a despicable web of deception being weaved by the campaign and friends of George W Bush. I decided that I cannot stay quiet any longer because one thing I cannot and will not tolerate is somebody attacking my patriotism and service to our beloved country. I have fought for my country selflessly and with a lot of dedication because I love my country and whenever our country is in trouble I will be the first person the frontlines. It is downright shameful that people will stoop low enough to attack, disrespect and malign our veterans, whether it is me or my friend Max Cleland or any other veteran for that matter, for the sole selfish purpose of winning elections. Our veterans have fought bravely for our country, have shed blood, and have selflessly offered their life to our nation when our nation needed it the most. I, for one, will not stand by quietly when somebody ridicules the service of those very veterans, and especially when such statements come from people who have never worn the uniform and have tried every trick in the book to wiggle out of fighting for our country and risking their life.”
Something to that effect, maybe leading that speech to an ending note of “I will be as determined to defend our nation this time around too and I assure all Americans that I will launch a manhunt of unprecedented proportions to find the terrorists who dared attack our nation.” (you get the idea). I can almost guarantee you that the election would have been in Kerry’s pocket if he had given such a speech. Ten minutes and the election would have been won! So simple, and the people who are supposed to know the voters’ brains inside out couldn’t figure this out? The Kerry campaign got away pretty lightly considering their costly incompetence and the disservice they did to the nation.
Again, the reason why it was critical to give the response has to do with the perception of the candidate and how he relates himself/herself to the average American voter, and in this case especially the ‘battleground’ American voter. Especially for Kerry, this was a golden opportunity to shatter his image of a weak, waffling, French poodle (that the republicans smartly cultivated) and show some toughness and bluster that the battleground voter likes to see in their candidates.
It is crucial that the Obama campaign understands this very well because the republicans are still sticking to the same strategy as 2004, because it is still working! (boy, they must be laughing their pants off). The republicans are really good at tarnishing the image of a candidate (using blatant deception most of the times) and diminishing the credibility of the candidate in the voters’ eyes. They are doing the same thing to Obama that they did with Kerry (remember the waffling French poodle) and Obama is dangerously close to having the image that republicans are painting of him stick to him forever (or at least till the election).
The sad part is that these attacks are actually gifts for the republicans as I mentioned before, and almost every one of them can be made to turn around like a boomerang and knock them out. For example, as I wrote in this post hitting back the right way, and at the right time, is all it takes to turn the tables on the republican attacks and make the attacks work against the republicans themselves. Another example of an unjustified republican attack is the one that the McCain campaign came up with recently accusing Obama of ‘Not being a leader during the financial crisis and not taking a stand’. Again, all Obama has to do is stand straight like a ramrod, and ina sincere and tough tone flood all the mediums (and make a public appearance on TV as this is an important issue) with his response, which should be something to the effect of:
“The McCain campaign has once again taking the low road and playing the politics of deception by deliberately distorting the truth. It is sad that they are willing to stoop so low to win an election and have taken to lying blatantly to win votes. Now, let me tell you the truth on the financial crisis that we witnessed recently and is still by no means done with. Much before the crisis came to this stage I was one of the few advocating improving the regulation of the wall street companies as they were definitely not doing a good job of regulating themselves and were putting a lot of people’s money and the economy at risk. Now the whole financial world is coming around to that same conclusion and have recently announced that the wall street investment will be converted to commercial banks and will be subject to more regulation.
I have been right on the economy long before John McCain figured out what was wrong with it. In fact, the truth is that John McCain and the republican party was completely flummoxed by the recent crisis, caught unawares, at a loss for solutions, and have been flip-flopping on their statements every day. This past Monday, when the crisis was in full swing, John McCain said regulation is not the answer, and on Wednesday he flip-flopped and agreed that more regulation was indeed required. On Monday, he said that the government should not help AIG and interfere in free markets, and on Wednesday he changed his tune yet again. The truth is that McCain is clueless on the economy and on how to handle the financial crisis, and he is casting blatantly false allegations on his opponent to divert people from the truth and cover up his woefully inadequate and clueless response to the financial crisis.”
Again, words to that effect, with a nice head and tail, concluding with the democratic record on the economy and highlighting how his economic policies will help the average American and the economy. That is all it takes to blunt the republicans attacks and make them work against the republicans themselves. The risk of not responding to the attacks is that some of the mud that the republicans are throwing will stick on Obama’s image (hey, we know that many voters are gullible enough to fall for these deceptions). That is what the republicans are trying here again, to paint a negative image of Obama as somebody who does not have any leadership qualities and is clueless on the economy.
In conclusion, it is critical that the Obama campaign wakes up now, and open up a 24 hour communication room whose one important duty would be to pro-actively monitor republican attacks, plan monstrous responses to republican attacks, and turn the republican attack machine against the republicans themselves. It is very important to understand the mindset of the battleground voter, who likes to see a little of himself/herself in the presidential candidate and when they see somebody who cannot defend himself, even against unjustified attacks, they perceive him to be weak, under-confident, lacking leadership or guilty as charged. Such an image, especially during a time of war, can be political suicide and the democrats need to work right away on building the image of their candidate (and also at chipping away the image of their opponent(s).
That was just one aspect, albeit the most important one, of the multi-pronged revamped campaign strategy that I’m advocating. The rest of the points that I have in mind, that should form a part of the complete Obama campaign strategy, are listed below. I will elaborate on each one of these points listed below in the coming days.
Do not zig while they zag
While the republicans were pounding Obama as usual he decided to attack back. Great. What exactly did he attack them with? While they were pounding him about the ‘Lipstick’ comment and Oil Drilling, he chose to send out an attack ad saying that McCain is out of touch (can’t type email) and that his term will be Bush’s third term. Huh? Firstly, that attack is stale and most importantly you have to attack back on the same topic. You cannot avoid a response to an attack and hope that it’ll go away. It makes you appear real chicken and that does not go down well with the battleground voter. More recently while McCain was bashing Obama about 'not taking a stand during the financial crisis' and 'not providing leadership' Obama decided to attack back by talking about McCain's social security program and economic policies. If you want to win, remember this very important rule - hit back on the topic of their attack FIRST and then talk about something else. Check out this article where I've given one example of how to take their attacks head on and turn their attack machine on themselves.
Do Not Blame Bush/McCain for Everything
Your attack strategy should go beyond "this problem is due to the failed policies of Bush/McCain". Look, we understand Bush is unpopular and you would like to keep on tying McCain to Bush. Got it. Now, let's move on. Over the past few years even democratic voters are getting tired of listening to empty critisicms and not anything more substantive (the critisicms are important mind you, but they have to be more substantive too). Recently when the financial world was crumbling Obama went on his usual 'tape' of "The failed policies of Bush/McCain are responsible for this mess". Firstly, it makes you sound like a typical politician because this statement has been repeated by every democratic offocie holder on earth for everything (if it gets too hot in summer then it's Bush policies on global warming). In fact, it behooves you to speak positively once in a while, especially when the other side has really done a good job, because it makes you look like you are an objective and magnanimous person and not the typical scheming politican. It rasies your image in the voters' mind, especially the battleground voter. If Bush did a good job with Gustav then tell the voter that "even though the Bush government totally mismanaged the Katrina aftermath they did a good job on planning for Gustav and I congratulate them for it". That way when you hit hard on the issues which need hard hitting people will listen to you intently and will believe you.
The Iraq war, 9/11 and security are still very important
You can never ignore security as a campaign issue, especially during the time of war. Add a little bit of bluster to your persona (Mr. Obama) and tell the nation how your judgement proved right on the Iraq war and how our brave soliders and their families paid such a big price due to one horribly wrong decision by the president. Get ANGRY (don't explode though) and tell the nation that the pieces of dirt who attacked us on 9/11 are still out there and whether it is important for Bush and McCain or not it will be one of his missions' during his presidency to hunt down the rats who killed Americans on American soil (a little bit of bluster is NECESSARY considering the voters you are targeting and very importantly will go some way towards taking that 'tough on security' mantle off the republicans which is very important). Do not ignore security and focus just on the economy as a campaign issue. Remember, the Iraq war still generates very strong passions amongst voters and you got to remind them that you were right and McCain is still wrong on it. Hit the republicans back HARD with the very security stick that they consider to be their sole domain.
Splash on some Americana and bond with small town Americans
Go for a training course if you have to, for god’s sake, and learn to relate and bond with the battleground votes which means that you should add a little bit of ‘Americana’ to your personality and delivery style. Heck (yeah, use that too) talk about football, talk about how great our country is (they like to hear that – America is exceptional!) and you’d like to keep it that way. Talk about one of your biggest priorities being hunting down Bin Laden and dragging him out of his rat hole to the States and teach him and his comrades the consequences of attacking America (bluster helps with these folks … yeah for that matter use ‘folks’ too). Tell them it’s obviously not a priority for Bush and McCain but you cannot rest in peace till we get the guys who killed 3000 americans … you get the idea. Now go for it, cowboy.
Don’t just fight local in the battleground statesIt is a mistake to think the rest of the country doesn’t need to see/hear the campaigns you are fighting in the battleground states. Some of the issue though present conflicting interest in different states and those can be left alone, but is important that you build your image nationally as that is crucial for a presidential campaign and provides the synergy you need.
Wrest the initiative on the attacks.
Show the other side for what they are. Remember, you got to chip away on the other side’s image the same way they’re chipping at yours.
Read my article on how to hit back at Palin and McCain. Click here to read my latest post on the final republican attack assault on Obama and how to turn it to Obama's advantage.
Election Strategy, US Politics