Dennis Richardson Can Win the Oregon Governor's Race If He Adjusts His Strategy

Over the past few years, I’ve become a fan of writer David Horowitz and like his recent book, “Take No Prisoners.” I recommend this short read as it summarizes a realistic approach Republicans should take to win larger political campaigns. The essence of the book is we must aim for the heart instead of the head.

Horowitz talks about how the Republican base loves to hear intellectual arguments of the other side bankrupting us, over-regulating us, and generally obstructing a free way of life. However, this line of argument has little impact on those in the center or farther left who are busily trying to make a life for themselves. The other major point Mr. Horowitz makes is we must focus on offense, not defense.

As I watch State Sen. Dennis Richardson campaign in the Oregon Governor’s race, I am struck by how we in the GOP continue to make the same mistakes repeatedly while expecting different results. Making intellectual arguments in a blue state will not win the day as evidenced by Richardson’s current 10-point deficit leading up to the November election. This is especially true when the Democrats are masters at the emotional arguments. (Ironically, the incumbent, John Kitzhaber, isn’t a very strong candidate this time around.)

How should Richardson change the campaign to win? Here are a few thoughts.

  • The campaign for governor is a battle, not a meeting of two gentlemen. While the GOP candidates must work especially hard to be perceived as nice, they still must fight. The other side takes politics very seriously. Why don’t we? Elections have consequences and we as a nation are suffering from a nasty stew of leftist policies.
  • Sen. Richardson should focus on how incumbent John Kitzhaber’s policies have harmed specific constituencies. Highlighting any Democrat mistake without translating to individual impact is a lost opportunity. Conversely, highlighting any Republican vision or goal without translating into specific voter help is also wasted effort. If there is no discernable impact on a voter, a given mistake or goal is irrelevant. It is of small consequence how much the base may applaud the high-level arguments.
  • There should be little or no time spent on defending against attacks on socially conservative views. Defense in politics is a losing strategy. Richardson should continually change the narrative to focus on how Kitzhaber’s failed policies impact real people.
  • Emotional campaigning is necessary. For example, Richardson could find and spotlight single mothers and teenagers who have been hurt by increasing the minimum wage and how to fix this. He could talk about how our children are at risk because of excessive gun control legislation foisted by the left-wing, particularly in school zones, and how the GOP is a champion for children. Point out that if he had his way, Kitzhaber would force a sales tax and how this harms minorities and the poor … unlike how Republican’s fiscal policies will do the opposite.
  • Pick any number of Democrat policies and trace down to real stories. Actual people-stories will make a far greater difference. The numbers and conceptual effects alone have virtually no impact on most voters outside of core Republicans.
  • Balancing the state budget (in those terms) is important to the base but doesn’t mean much to a father working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet for his family. It is imperative to translate into detailed terms how state fiscal responsibility helps Oregonians (with names and faces) get ahead, thrive, have more fun, and take care of loved ones. Voters want to know, “How will you help me and my family?”
  • Highlight the Oregon healthcare debacle and how it specifically hurt low-income Oregonians (Hint: It’s not just about wasted millions).
  • Make a specific, emotional argument on how Kitzhaber’s extreme eco-plans will harm individuals and families (not “the state” or “business” or some other faceless entity).
  • Stay away from talking about Kitzhaber’s fiancé fraud marriage. It will be seen as petty and will backfire.
  • Quit talking about Kitzhaber’s ethically-challenged administration or how he received in-kind support without claiming it as a campaign contribution. A majority of people already expect ethical problems from the left (or from politicians in general) and will fail to see why it matters to their everyday lives.
  • In short, between now and election day, Oregon voters should come to fear the Democrat option and welcome the hope of a Republican alternative.
  • Just as military veterans are taught in war, leave the door open to work with Democrat legislators later because after campaigning comes governing.

Many want to see John Kitzhaber put into political retirement so the State of Oregon can once again rise to the unique place it should hold in these United States. However, if Mr. Richardson does not change his tactics, he will join the long list of Republican candidates who are historical footnotes. Too many good Republicans have lost too many races.