How can a politician campaign to win your vote? I have been grappling with this issue recently because the stakes in the November election are so high.
Although I know what I’d like to hear from a candidate, I wonder what answers to the question I’m asking are most likely to lead to the results I believe are necessary in November. Please help me by providing your thoughts in the comments below.
First, what I’d really love to see was nicely detailed by my blogging friend Jill Dennison. In a playfully dead-serious post throwing her own hat into the ring for President, which you can read here, she wrote the following:
“One thing I know, and it will be the cornerstone of my campaign, is that I will not sink into the mudhole that is so prevalent in politics today. I will not respond to hate, and I will not engage in name-calling, screaming & screeching, or telling lies. I want honest dialog, civil discourse, I want conversations to mean something, not just denigrate the other party. I want us to have a dialog about the things that matter to all of us, like healthcare, jobs, the minimum wage, gun regulation, education and much more. I want to remember to whom I owe my job – not the party, not the wealthy, but the average voter.”
Jill’s post got me pondering how a decent, well-meaning politician (and yes; there are still plenty of them) breaks through the name-calling and all the awful stuff—especially in this election, now that some very extreme candidates have won their primaries and will be vying with some very sensible ones.
How can you have dialogue and civil discourse while your opponent is throwing mud?
Many people have long complained that the Democrats “bring a butter knife to a gun fight.” In the critical swing state of Pennsylvania, one of the most important gubernatorial races imaginable is under way: Josh Shapiro, the state’s current attorney general, who’s been fighting against phony claims of election fraud since 2020 and supports women’s reproductive rights, is facing Doug Mastriano.
Shapiro, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, was criticized for an ad he ran that was interpreted as deliberately elevating Mastriano by highlighting his extremism, presumably because he felt Mastriano would be an easier candidate to defeat than his Republican primary opponents.
Shapiro’s campaign maintains that Mastriano was leading in the polls when they ran that ad, and they felt it was important to reveal who he is early.
Mastriano is so extreme that he’s almost off the charts. Insurrectionist extreme. He was an actual participant in the January 6th Insurrection, believes himself to be a prophet called upon by his god to save our country from the Satanic Democrats, and has promised to appoint a Secretary of State who will decide the election—regardless of how Pennsylvanians vote. He also opposes abortion—with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant woman.
How do candidates counter proponents of the Big Lie? A number of people have suggested, quite reasonably, that Shapiro should refuse to debate Mastriano because you shouldn’t dignify the lies by arguing with them–or even appearing on the same platform. Tengrain’s MockPaperScissors blog had a brief discussion of this point.
Do you agree?
I tentatively disagree: I can envision Mastriano depicting Shapiro as a coward who owes the voters the courtesy of sharing a stage with Mastriano and saying what he thinks. Mastriano is a slick salesman type whose demeanor and tone belie the ultra-radical content of his ideas.
I don’t think Shapiro should rely upon voters’ easily seeing the dangers in a Mastriano win. I’m hoping Shapiro will appeal to voters’ heads and hearts.
I like this direct, no-nonsense tweet:
“We will not rest while a woman’s right to choose, a worker’s right to organize, and our right to vote are under attack. It’s on us to step off the sidelines and get in the game to fight for them. The general election has begun.”
Another approach by a Democrat running against a candidate espousing extremist views appears in Ohio, where Rep. Tim Ryan is seeking the Senate seat against JD Vance, a guy who ridiculed Trump not long ago but has since groveled before him, fully adopted his rhetoric, and probably won the nomination because of the former guy.
Here’s a Tim Ryan ad that is wholly designed to characterize his extremist opponent, albeit mostly through a third person—Marjorie Taylor Greene. Does it work?
Another Ryan ad takes a different tack: traveling with his young son, a good actor who feeds Dad all the right questions, Ryan focuses on the problems of working class Ohioans and how he plans to combat them.
Do you think a politician needs to combine these two approaches: the tough definition of his extremist opponent and a positive presentation of his own vision for the people?
Finally, here’s “Never Quit,” an ad by Stacey Abrams, running once again for Governor of Georgia. I will note that I’m an Abrams devotee. I think Georgia will be lucky to have her and if she wins, she’ll soon be on the national stage. (I do worry, though, because she’s running against the incumbent who has control of the votes, disqualified many of her voters last time, and has overseen adoption of some really tough voter suppression laws directed at people of color and young voters.)
“Never Quit” is to me a masterful ad that appeals to Georgians across the spectrum. What do you think?
Hope and fear are the two factors that seem paramount in appeals to voters. Republicans certainly use the fear factor as much as they can. Unfortunately, appeals to fear work, though I wish they didn’t.
Not incidentally, here’s an interesting note: the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll in May, 2022, found that fear of the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade has tipped their findings about voters’ preferences.
Before the leaked Alito draft, 47% of voters nationally supported the Republican candidate, while 44% supported the Democrat.
Now, with 64% of Americans opposed to the court’s likely action, 47% of registered voters say they’ll support the Democrat in their Congressional district, while 42% support the Republican.
Half of voters say they’re more likely to vote in November—with 66% of Democrats saying the potential demise of Roe has increased the likelihood they’ll vote, compared with 40% of Republicans who say that.
So it may be fear of a radical Supreme Court’s decision and direction that saves the Democrats from what had been widely regarded as the certainty of huge losses in November.
And that could mean preventing our embattled democracy from going over the precipice.
It makes me nuts that we don’t have vastly higher numbers of people expressing their intention to vote in any election, let alone this particularly crucial one.
Of course there are lots of considerations affecting your feelings about a candidate, but the way they campaign matters. Please let me know what you think of the ads above and how a politician can appeal to you–and win.