Political Strategy: Time To Play Offense

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In football, they call it peaking too soon. In politics, they call it a mismanaged campaign strategy. Call it what you will, but if the current trending beginning to surface in recent polling continues to expand and multiply, the Democrats may be scrambling to explain why they failed to capture control of the House or the Senate come November 8th. Adding to my concern is the fact that the Democrats continue to revise and adjust their national message even though the election is less than two months away. At the same time, the GOP is in full campaign mode with a clear and concise message that can be voiced in short, simple sound bites. I may be a cynic, but I’m having a deja vu moment.

Two articles caught my attention today. First, a Washington Post article offers a view into ongoing Democratic efforts to refine and deliver their comprehensive, yet cumbersome message. I was struck by the article primarily because it detailed yet another new Democratic slogan with revised priorities…one that I hadn’t yet heard…and if I haven’t heard it, there isn’t a chance that a sufficient number of voters has or will hear it before the November election.

The second article is the latest Zogby poll. While the data isn’t enough to conclude that the Democrats are on the precipice of squandering what appeared to be an insurmountable advantage, it does seem to support other recent polling indicating that the midterm election is tightening and that the Republican strategy is achieving a favorable movement of some key polling numbers.

From The Washington Post:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the woman who will become speaker of the House if Democrats get lucky in November, began her weekly news conference yesterday holding up a red-white-and-blue brochure.

“I hope you all received ‘A New Direction for America,’ ” she said, standing at a lectern that bore the same slogan. She called the manifesto “a compilation of many of the initiatives taken by our House Democratic Caucus that encompasses our new direction for all Americans.”

Among the party’s campaign slogans this year: “Culture of Corruption,” “Culture of Cronyism,” “Do-Nothing Congress,” “Rubber-Stamp Congress,” “Together, We Can Do Better,” “Together, America Can Do Better” and, most recently, “Six for ’06.”

For those keeping score at home, Democrats arrived at “New Direction” yesterday by downgrading one of the “Six for ’06” issues (health care) and upgrading three others (honesty, civility and fiscal discipline), for a total of eight items on the contents page.

I just don’t get it. Democrats will never gain traction on an issue if they continue to determine important issues from the latest focus group or the most recent polling data. In contrast to their Republican counterparts, Democrats seem to chase issues rather than attempt to define them. Perhaps the GOP decision to focus on primarily one singular issue…the war on terror…will prove to be a miscalculation and a return to the well one time too often, but if the new polling is accurate and indicative of voter trending, its working as it did in 2002 and 2004.

Further, Republicans have mastered the art of pivoting from their primary topic enough to draw its connection to other relevant issues…culminating in a comprehensive narrative that may well be a fabrication but it has all the elements of an easily understood and seemingly logical rationale. From their focus on the war on terror they explain the Iraq war, they discount the deficit, and they tout economic progress in spite of the impact of 9/11 and two costly wars.

The GOP understands simplicity and they recognize that voters ultimately spend very little time studying the issues and the positions adopted by the two major parties. They find a message that is short and simple, they repeat it incessantly, and they stay with it till the end. Doing so gives voters the impression that they are both decisive and principled…traits that resonate with busy people looking for strong leadership on issues they haven’t the time to address.

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