Skip to comments.The Pre-Mortem: Where John Kerry Went Wrong
Posted on 09/16/2004 7:27:20 AM PDT by tellw
As any political strategist will tell you, messaging is everything in political campaigns. Its the candidate who gets his message out there in front first -- who sticks to it and keeps hammering away at it -- that will ultimately win the race. In the George W. Bush vs. John Kerry match-up, one campaign has stuck to consistent, clear messaging, while the other is still very much trying to find itself. And that is precisely why this political strategist is predicting a victory for President George W. Bush on November 2nd.
Key campaign messages need to be in the can long before any door-knocking, party conventions or stump speeches ever take place. They must be hashed out and debated, and then tested to death in focus groups in order to find out how they resonate with the public. When the rigorous process is complete, these messages become the candidates platform, and every advertisement, piece of literature, or candidate speech must be geared toward burning these messages into the brains of voters.
Certain key themes dominated the Republican National Convention: safety, security, leadership, integrity, compassion. Every example and anecdote presented by the various speakers served to illustrate one of these notions. By the time Bush took the stage himself, each one had already been driven home repeatedly. He didnt have to explain what he stood for, because the consistent messaging throughout the entire four-day TV advertisement had already taken care of that for him.
Bush is now leading Kerry in public opinion by 5-10%, depending on which poll you happen to be looking at. But even when the two candidates were in a virtual dead-heat -- with Kerry even slightly ahead -- the Bush campaign didnt change or alter its message.
The Kerry camp, however, is in deep trouble. Despite nearly 20 years in the Senate, no one really knows what John Kerry stands for. If you dont believe me, ask any 20 people on the street the same question. In a recent Time Magazine interview, Kerry says, The trail of broken promises and reversed decisions of this Administration is unlike any I have ever seen at any time that I have been in public life, and I'm going to draw that picture as clear as a bell. In other words, the race is headed down the final stretch, and John Kerry is still psyching himself up and doing visualization exercises. At this rate, maybe hell actually have his messaging ready for 2008.
I have no idea whose brainchild it was to have Kerry base so much of his campaign on four months worth of military service, but the issue seems to register lower on the Richter scale than filmmaker Michael Moore doing a set of jumping jacks. Service to ones country is to be highly commended, but it certainly doesnt translate into election wins. If it did, Kerry wouldnt be standing there representing his party in the first place--Democratic primary candidate and decorated former General Wesley Clark would be. George H.W. Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during WWII, and he was beaten in 1992 by draft-dodger Bill Clinton.
The Kerry campaign is now scrambling to find an effective message to cling to, but its too late. Signs of trouble include the recent drafting of Clintonites specializing in damage-control, such as former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart and presidential assistant Joel Johnson. The ship is sinking and these guys have been brought in to bail water with teaspoons. When your campaign announces, as Kerrys has, that youre getting the most extreme liberal in the Senate to stump on your behalf, you know the games over. The only boost Ted Kennedy is going to cause is on some poor scale somewhere along the campaign trail. But then I suppose the DNC is like the basketball coach whose team is down by 40 points with a minute to go, and figures he may as well play a few benchwarmers. Whats the harm now? Lets make it all about participation! Bring back Howard Screamer Dean-er, too! That guy was fun. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH!
Once youve been thrown off your front foot in a campaign--and off your message, if youve ever had one--youre toast. A perfect example of this is the June 2004 campaign by the Conservative Party of Canada against the reigning federal Liberal Party. The Liberal government had been drowning in scandal since it was revealed that $100 million had been paid to Liberal-friendly advertising firm cronies in exchange for little or no work. Canadians were livid, and it seemed quite feasible that the scandal could bring down the government. All the Conservative Party had to do was capitalize on the issue and paint themselves as a more fiscally responsible alternative.
The Conservatives kicked off the month-long campaign in a dead-heat with the Liberals. Key messages of fiscal accountability, good governance and ideological moderation were making their way out to the masses, and were resonating. Because the Liberals were on the defensive, they were hamstrung in communicating their own platform.
So why is Canada now saddled with yet another Liberal government today? Because the Conservative Party was bucked off message and put on the defensive. Near the end of the campaign, the Conservative leaders office put out a media advisory accusing the Liberal leader (Prime Minister Paul Martin) of supporting child porn. Huh? Betcha they didnt test that one in focus groups! It was over the top, and everyone knew it. Moreover, when he was confronted about it, Conservative leader Stephen Harper stood by the statement. Another horrible public relations move.
Then someone cued the knuckle-draggers. One Conservative Member of Parliament publicly opined that theres no difference between abortion and the beheading of American contractor Nick Berg in Iraq. Another Conservative MP said in an interview that a Conservative government would invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to overrule court decisions that it didnt like.
Now if you happen to agree with these sentiments, then good for you. Most people dont. They dont represent the centre of the political spectrum, and in Canada -- as in the USA -- you cant get elected if you represent the extreme. The Bush campaign knows this, and its why you saw Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and political tranny Zell Miller during GOP convention prime-time--not Rick Santorum and Jerry Falwell.
The Democrats still dont get it, as evidenced by the fact that they not only refuse to keep their extremist fringe on the sidelines, but they actually nominated one of them for President, and are now sending out another one for reinforcement. Maybe Ted can take the silver fork out of his mouth and stick it in his limousine liberal friend Kerry, because the guys done like dinner.
--------------------------------------------- (Rachel Marsden is a political and public affairs strategist, columnist and talk show host who has worked in politics and media in the United States and Canada. www.rachelmarsden.com
Hot damn! And she can write, too!
You don't warn your enemy when he's about to make a mistake.
Interesting comparision between the conservatives in Canada and the Dems in America. Not that I am happy for the conservative crack-up in the Great White North. But you can see how the extreme rhetoric has hurt them, just as it has in the Dems.
"When your campaign announces, as Kerrys has, that youre getting the most extreme liberal in the Senate to stump on your behalf, you know the games over."
It's been over since Katie Couric's soft pedal of Bush after the MTP interview last FEBURARY. But, back then, Kerry was announcing TED KENNEDY was going to help, so it wasn't as obvious.
Hubba Hubba.... Who is she, I've never heard of her before. Does Ann Coulter have some competition?
I have to disagree on some points with Rachel. Kerry is going to lose because he is a bad candidate, not because of his message. Sure enough, he has no message, but its been since FDR that America has elected a northeat liberal, and by today's standard's, he would be quite moderate. He had the money and the media influence to get elected in MA and win the democrat primary, but Kerry is finding that he has nothing in common with the rest of America.
Someone start a live thread on Saturday when her show comes on!
A cheesy website with angelfire photo hosting. . .
and absolutely correct in saying Kerry's campaign is the worst run effort in the history of the country (at least in my lifetime).
The post mortum is going to be horrific. There isn't enough Vaporub in the world to stop the stink when they cut into that corpse.
The scary thing is that Kerry, a weak candidate with a muddled message at best, will still get at least 40-45% of the vote!
I also think Bush & co have some problems getting their message out at times, but that's a minor issue. They HAVE a program, it's a GOOD program, and they are miles ahead of Kerry in the ability (and desire) to state their true beliefs.
Face it, the Democrats have a product the public doesn't want - liberalism. They can either stick to their principles and lose, or waffle and hide their agenda and appear insincere and lose that way.
Why does Kerry want to be president? Or, more importantly, what does he want to do? He hasn't been clear. I don't think he knows himself. But if he follows his instincts (and his record), it's far-left governance.
Bad analogy. If Moore could jump it would register high on the Richter scale.
IMHO, part of the reason for this may be to give the Clintonistas a cut of the money.
Many a slip from the cup to the lip. Kerry can still win this thing.
I think Kerry will be creamed in the debates. What can he say that doesn't contradict something else he's said. He is unwilling to deal in hypotheticals, even though that is what campaigning is all about. He places a higher value on getting out of Iraq than establishing a stable government -- a strategery guaranteed to cost additional lives, and lose.
Apparently what Kerry does in debates is MAKE THINGS UP on the spot. I think Bush will be ready for him, though.
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