Friday, November 10, 2006

The Campaign for Dominance

I recently heard a panel of three talking heads lamenting their loss in the recent election. There was one man who several times analyzed the situation by saying, "Our candidates didn't do enough to disqualify their opponents."

I beg to differ. That is exactly the thrust of too much political advertising this season. They beat on dead horses, intoning phrases so dead from over-exposure they became meaningless. Their fingers in the wind, they adjust their message to what they think will win their election.

What about candidates who say what they believe, and believe what they say, letting chips go wherever chips go? I've been involved with two such challengers in the last two years, both with that refreshing point of view. They both lost, coming within mere hairs from unseating their opponents, but they amazed even the most jaded political hacks with their emergence from anonymity into real players.

The first campaign was Jeff Smith's when he ran in a 10-way race for Dick Gephardt's congressional seat. He came within inches of defeating the Missouri brand-name, Russ Carnahan. Jeff is articulate and passionate, well-educated and insightful. He truly listens to people. I'm not surprised that he's now our state's Senator-elect. I expect great things.

The second was Jim Trout. His campaign for state house was waged on a shoestring, and the work of nearly 100 grassroots volunteers. He was adamant that there be no personal attacks. He stuck to his beliefs, and let his opponent's record tell the story. He was more focused on communicating his plans for Missouri.

Jim lost by 183 votes, just 1.1 percent. He nearly unseated an entrenched incumbent, even though his name recognition was likely less than zero. He worked hard, knocking on every door, showing up at every coffee, walking in every parade, and working his shoestrings until they finally snapped the morning after the election, when we finally heard of his loss.

Both these candidates ran on their convictions and made no ad hominem attacks. Neither stooped to intentionally misinterpreting their opponents.

That's the lesson. The big win isn't earned by speciously discrediting your opponent with half-truths and obfuscations, but by being a real person, with real convictions, and an out-of-the can demeanor.