What It Takes to Win - Candidate Specific Strategic Advantages
A relatively heated conversation (granted, between what appears to be between myself and two people) regarding money and congressional candidate Samm Simpson taking place on my last posting on the 10th CD inspired me to give my view of some of the key aspects of a winning campaign.
When I first meet with a candidates to discuss their campaign, my first question is "Why can you win?"
Invariably, they misunderstand this question - as I believe the Samm Simpson supporter on the aforementioned post did.
A candidate will usually answer this question by describing why they are right on the issues. But I didn't ask why you are right, I asked why you will win and that is a very different question.
Part of the answer is about being "right" - by which I mean having positions that are in line with those of the district, but mostly it is about the strategic advantages a candidate brings to the campaign.
One of my early mentors, a hard core field organizer, told me that a campaign, ultimately, comes down to this strategy - you find the people who are going to vote for you and you make sure they vote. Everytime I asked a question, he would shake his head and say "you find the people who are going to vote for you and make sure they vote." Ask a third time and he would make a comment to effect that this must be the slow class. By finding the voters who are going to vote for them, he meant identifying universes of registered voter ("universe" in political speak simply means a set of people meeting a certain description - such as "independents" or "women with school age children") who would support your candidate if they were presented with your candidate's message.
My point is that a strategic advantage is one that brings you closer to the basic goal of getting more votes than the person in second place.
As blogging conceit, let's examine each of the three major challengers to Bill Young to see what strategtic advantages they possess.
Samm Simpson's main advantage is that she ran two years ago. She has some name recognition, though less than you might expect, because she lacked the funds to run a competitive campaign, so she didn't have the resources to (repeat after me) find the voters who were going to vote for her and make sure they voted. She won approximately 1/3 of the vote in 2006 and presumably she can count on that same 1/3 in 2006, so only has to find another 15% or so. This could be a decided advantage, but it is likely that the 1/3 were simply folks who inclined to vote for the Democrat under any circumstance that year (and 2006 was a Democratic wave year, so that number might have been higher than usual). However, there is no doubt that having run before is a good way to get into position to win two years later (a number of the winners in 2006 were candidates who had run in 2004).
Max Linn's strategic advantage is money. As an independently wealthy man, he has the ability to self-finance (my own sense is that he can, if he chooses, loan his campaign up t0 $500,000-$750,000, though there is the possibility that he may choose not to, which doesn't leave him with much of an advantage). As noted earlier, finding those voters and getting them his message will take money - a lot of money. Linn does have the potential for having a early leg up to getting his message out. Also, like Simpson, Linn has run before, but because he ran as a Reform Party candidate for governor in 2006 and got almost no earned media, he doesn't bring much of a base with him.
Bob Hackworth has the best profile for the single reason that he is already an elected official. Dunedin is not a particularly large town and much of it lies in the 9th Congressional District, but being an elected official means that, like a former candidate, there is a certain number of voters who had voted for him in the past (human nature being what it is, they are also likely to vote for him in the future). Unlike Simpson, he also has a history of winning, even if only in Dunedin - and voters (and donors!) like a winner. Dunedin is a relatively prosperous town and being an elected official generally provides a good early base for raising money.