Friday, September 17, 2010

Lessons from Tuesday's Elections

Every election teaches lessons, and last Tuesday’s primary elections in Rhode Island were no exception. Here’s a brief summary of lessons learned:
  1. An absence of polling data introduces an element of old-school uncertainty to campaigns that is actually kind of exciting – at least for the voters and observers. Independent polls aren’t in the budget for media outlets anymore, so we’re pretty much flying blind. Polls are also difficult to conduct in an era with fewer land lines and people who have less time to answer 15-20 minute questionnaires. For instance, on Tuesday morning it was anyone’s guess who would win races for Mayor of Providence and Attorney General – something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

  2. The fragmented nature of TV advertising has made it too expensive for “down-ballot” candidates (i.e., everyone in Rhode Island except candidates for Governor or federal offices) to afford making a meaningful impression. There are some exceptions, i.e., Gina Raimondo, the Democratic candidate for General Treasurer -- a fundraising powerhouse. But newcomers without personal resources and some name recognition are at marked disadvantage.

  3. With TV less of an option, radio, the web and an effective ground game that gets out the vote take on even more significance. David Segal, an underfunded candidate for Congress, got 20% of the vote in a four-way race with an impressive web presence, effective ground game, enthusiastic, committed supporters and an overall smart campaign.

  4. The U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision has cleared the way for “independent expenditures” - constitutional expressions of free speech by companies and organizations for and against candidates in campaigns which had previously been illegal. But no longer. Nationally, corporations and billionaires are pumping millions into Congressional races, but here in Rhode Island it was organized labor that made the most prominent use of independent expenditures. Watch for much, much more of this as time goes on, until legislatures act to regulate the practice.

  5. Because the participants can be mediocre, and the results are often mediocre – or less -- successful businesspeople sometimes think they can parachute into a campaign and win. They would be wrong. In this election cycle there have been a few examples in Rhode Island where success in business has not translated into success in politics. Here’s my advice for political newcomers: Get the most experienced, savviest help you can find with an up-to-date understanding of what it takes to win in 2010 (or whatever election year you happen to be in), be prepared to spend a great deal of your own money, and absolutely be ready for Prime Time when the curtain goes up. Why? Because politics is a whole different ball game (or plumbing job.)

Posted by David Preston

No comments: