When I’ve worked on political campaigns in past lives, this was the stage when candidates were huddled with earnest armies of propeller-headed wonks, doing their homework on a dizzying array of issues.
What are agricultural loan deficiency payments, and am I for or against them? Where exactly is Hertsogovenia and why should we care about it? Why can’t there be a middle ground on abortion? What are the various constituencies’ hot buttons on the issue of forest fragmentation?
Judy Dutcher, among many other former candidates, can tell you that this cramming is time well spent, especially early in the season when you have more time, and when obscure issue-oriented interest groups and activists hold sway in caucuses and fundraisng.
Thoroughly knowing your policy stuff is most definitely a necessary condition for getting elected. But it’s not a sufficient condition. In addition to working on THE issues, candidates need to work just as hard on THEIR issues. That is, they need to mitigate their perceived personality problems.
The voters who are still undecided late in the general election don’t typically take a detailed inventory of policy positions to make their selection. Rather they choose the PERSON they feel good about, or, more accurately, less bad about. Who do/don’t I trust? Who would/wouldn’t I want to have a cup of coffee with? Who will/won’t embarrass Minnesota? Who is/isn’t in touch with my values and struggles?
Do the current crop of Senate candidates have issues? Darn right they do. And they have nothing to do the interest group issue questionnaires they are filling out.
One of them has to avoid being perceived as Senator Sycophant, the slick, spineless lapdog of the fat cats who will do whatever it takes to advance himself, even when it means cheerleading for an ill-connceived, incompetently run war.
One of them has to figure out a way to avoid being perceived as Senator Snake, a snarling shyster too wealthy to understand most people’s struggles, and too severe to warm up to.
One of them has to figure out a way to avoid being perceived as Senator Sophmoric, a dorky smart-ass carpetbagger class clown with a long history of employing the type of naughty name-calling that might give us all another bad spell of Jesse PTSD.
And as they deal with these issues, Senators Sycophant, Snake and Sophmoric will all have to avoid political consultants over-programming them, and using cookie-cutter ads to water down their humanity and legitimate personality assets.
Most of the people who work on campaigns are into THE issues, so this focus on personality and humanity doesn’t come naturally. But candidates ignore THEIR issues at their own peril.