Much has been made recently of the risks to the Republican Party of Tea Party candidates, Tea Party-Supported candidates, and the risks of splitting votes that are needed to oppose Democrat candidates. The Florida gubernatorial race for the Republican nominee has provided some outstanding teachable moments that all Republican candidates should learn from.
Teachable Moment 1: Being a Conservative or Republican is not enough. Bill McCollum seemed to approach his campaign from the position of having a strong list of Republican or Conservative credentials is enough to win. At a time when the entitlement mentality of the Left is being challenged more and more every day, McCollum’s campaign displayed a near sense of entitlement that being a long-time Republican, Conservative, and state politician was all that was needed to finish first.
This sense of entitlement was most evident in McCollum’s advertising. While Rick Scott’s advertising was primarily focused on issues and his plans to deal with those issues, McCollum’s advertising was entirely focused on Scott’s business career, including his running of a health insurer that was fined by the U.S. Government. McCollum didn’t offer his vision or plans for dealing with issues until the end of the election. When Scott’s advertising became more negative, and focused on McCollum’s actions that were associable with the most common traits of typical politicians (excessive use of the state’s aircraft, wanting to conduct state business in secrecy, flip-flopping on the Arizona law, etc.), McCollum was very slow to react, which gave the appearance that he really didn’t see anything wrong with his actions.
Teachable Moment 2: There’s a new political machine – The Voters. Scott won the primary without much support or endorsements from the traditional Republican political machine, which largely endorsed McCollum. There is a tendency by some Republicans to downplay this aspect of the election by saying Scott’s campaign was largely self-funded, and was proliferate in their spending, but that overlooks the history that Steve Forbes and others have provided us, that being money or endorsements alone is not enough to win an election. Voters vote more for message than money or endorsements!
The Tea Party movement has opened many new lines of communication that weren’t available before. In the past, decisions by voters, especially in the case of newcomers, was largely based on endorsements by party officials who were seen as “trusted agents”. If these agents endorsed a candidate, they were worth voting for. This allowed voters to develop a lazy approach to making a selection by shifting the responsibility for learning more about candidates to the trusted agents. The Tea Party movement has changed that. Voters are now feeling more empowered to do their own research, reach their own conclusions, and discuss these with fellow voters, rather than just accept the conclusions of trusted agents.
Will this lesson be learned? I heard a consultant on WOKV, the news-talker in Jacksonville, this morning saying that Scott’s big challenge now will be going to the members of the Republican Old Guard, who he had labeled as the “bums” who need to be thrown out, and seek their support for the general election. This comment showed that some people seem to have missed the message that the Old Guard has been replaced by a New Guard made up of the voters themselves, and that the Old Guard would better serve their interests by proving they should not be thrown out instead of compelling Scott to make a case for why he should be let it.
Teachable Moment 3: Negative advertising does not always work! As mentioned in Teachable Moment 1, McCollum chose to run a traditional campaign with ads that attacked Scott from the start. While Scott was providing voters with reasons to vote for him based on his experience (creating jobs, running a business, etc.) or his positions on issues (supporting the AZ law, reducing property taxes, etc.), McCollum was running ads telling us what a ne’er-do-well Scott is.
McCollum’s negative campaign was so over the top that it eventually became a joke for the Scott campaign, who began opening his ads with “I’m Rick Scott, and I’ve been called about everything in the book.” Scott was also able to roll the McCollum’s ads into his own ads by having actors talking about how Scott’s ads detail his stands, while McCollum’s ads are nothing but attacks. In the end, both sides switched and McCollum’s ads became more positive while Scott’s became more negative, but by then the die had been pretty well cast.
When you have thousands on top of thousands of concerned and motivated voters coming out for rallies to oppose wasteful spending, higher taxes, big government programs and the intrusion of government into their lives, a message of how you would address these issues resonates much better with voters than telling them your opponent is a bad guy.