Poorly Played Hands

Sent out two days before Thanksgiving, the email was so busy hurling invective, it never once wished people a Happy Thanksgiving.

I haven’t wanted to really turn this site into a personal forum on a campaign I’m running, if only because the opposition was making a daily habit of reading it and I didn’t want to slip up and give away some juicy something. But, with the campaign over in less than twenty-four hours, I have a few things to say.

If you want to learn how not to run a campaign, look to this race I’m in and the opponent my client is running against. It’s been totally bizarre.

First, we’re in a runoff. The guy is running commercials that never even say “please vote for me on December 5th” or a variation thereof. In fact, they never even mention the runoff. I realize he’s low on resources, but still — you can have someone graphically add to the television commercials.

Second, never, ever, ever say about yourself that you are the “best qualified and have the most experience.” In the commercials I designed, we do say that, but we let third parties say it. My candidate, Tripp Self, only said, “I’m Tripp Self and I’d appreciate your vote on December 5th.” The commercials did reference the date of the general election, but we changed them.

Now, you are probably asking why.

The answer is easy: in national focus group studies on campaigns, participants were shown commercials of individual candidates. Some candidates bragged about themselves while others had third parties brag about the candidates. The result? The candidates who bragged about themselves were always seen as arrogant, condescending, and aloof. This measuring stick held up through repeated focus group sessions over several years. If you are running for office, never brag about yourself, use your spouse or others to do it.

And another thing — never buy your voter list from the Secretary of State. While Georgia has one of the better ones, it is never fully NCOA’d (checked against the National Change of Address database), cleared of dead voters, etc. There are many professional companies that do a much better job. Sure, you pay more up front, but you’re not sending mail to dead people or knocking on the doors of people who don’t vote.

That leads me to one of the serious issues of this campaign and runoffs in general. Do not refight the general election in a runoff. Just get people out to vote. In this race, I dug deep and found the 13,558 people in the Macon Judicial Circuit who have the highest propensity to vote in a runoff — I did it with my professional voter list based on past patterns of behavior for the individual voters and I used a more liberal standard than I probably could have.

Those 13,558 people got three mail pieces, a knock on the door, and a phone call. And I can verify using the metrics I established that every single one of those people did, in fact, get three mail pieces and a phone call. Roughly two-thirds got the knocks at the door. (Oh, I also weeded out people most likely to vote for the opponent based on church directories, precincts, known supporters, etc. — no need helping the opponent)

While we’re getting out the vote, the opponent has been refighting the general election. He was out trying to tell people he was the most qualified, etc. when he was behind by 17.2% of the vote. Point A: If you are behind by that much, you probably aren’t going to win anyway. Point B: If you are behind that much, clearly the largest percentage of voters who voted did not have a problem with the front runner’s qualifications.

When it really counted — when the opponent finally went negative — he sent out what can only be described as a snide email *to his email list* saying that he was the most qualified and my guy was just some chump who was scared of federal court. The message conveyed the original sense of arrogance that his commercials and campaign trail demeanor had established and it blew up in his face. Sent out two days before Thanksgiving, the email was so busy hurling invective, it never once wished people a Happy Thanksgiving.

It also caused a prominent attorney in town, whose husband is the chair of the local GOP (a faction our opponent spent lots of time trying to woo), to write a letter to the editor of the paper. It also caused the local paper to write a story that focused on the email. The newspaper story and the letter to the editor appeared on the same day, doing nothing but buttressing the impression that the opponent is arrogant. The story contained this gem:

Ennis sent out an e-mail this month describing Self’s supporters’ views.

They also think I should not have ‘twiddled my thumbs’ by both handling and overseeing class action employment discrimination cases, Superfund cases, Federal Tort Claims Act cases, and False Claims Act cases, when I could have put my energies to much better use by handling a couple of divorces, a few land-line disputes and road wreck cases, and defending a few defendants charged with aggravated assault,” Ennis wrote.

Ennis denies the e-mail was meant to criticize Self, though Self has worked divorce cases, criminal cases, land disputes and a variety of other cases.

In fact, I suspect Ennis had nothing to do with the email. And, though a cursory look at the results from the general election provide ample evidence that there is no way on earth he could ever win the runoff, his email only reinforced the view that his campaign was desperate (already highlighted by snide letters to the editor that my client was trying to buy the race because he raised so much money from so many people) and the candidate was arrogant. (An irony here is that the reporter had been sympathetic to Ennis’s claims of greater experience until his campaign sent out that email shattering what had otherwise been a very civilly conducted race)

I’ve wanted to hold my fire on this race. But there are a lot of things that the various candidates did that were good or bad and I intend to highlight some. We made our share of mistakes, but nothing fatal. This campaign serves as a good lesson and has the added benefit of having been nonpartisan, allowing me to try out a few things that might not have worked in a partisan race. I’ll have more later.

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Erick Erickson

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1 Comment

  • I am not a political consultant, but I do know that the majority of people that voted in the general election would not know who the candidates for Bibb County Superior Court Judge were. Thus, the selections are made at random or by name recognition from the candidate that advertised the most.

    The percentages of the runoffs will not come into play as much when the two top candidates have their serious voters turn out. I think it will be a very close election. Those flip a quarter voters will not be voting.