|Before I proceed, I must certify that I am not qualified to even broach this subject. My qualifications are this. I have worked on one successful state-level campaign, and several other campaigns that either weren’t successful or ended before the vote. I have never been involved in party politics beyond the precinct level. My best qualification is that I have been watching Utah politics for about 7 years. And I read with great interest the posts at Utah Policy Daily on how to run a campaign. (Sorry no link, but they have started charging a subscription fee.)
Now that I have certified that I have no real expertise on how to win a campaign, I am going to prove it. Because I believe I know why Tim Bridgewater lost in the June primary.
I mean no offense to anyone on the Bridgewater campaign and I don’t wish to offend that the Lee campaign either. That’s in part why I have taken so long to post this analysis. Hopefully, a month has been long enough for most wounds to be healed. But the fact is that Bridgewater lost this race, more than Lee won it.
This is mostly evidenced by the fact that neither campaign managed to drive a lot of people to the polls. It was a terrible turn out, and that was because neither camp managed to motivate their base. Actually, let me reword that. Neither camp managed to build up a solid enough base.
While the lack of a base of supporters is part of Bridgewaters loss, it isn’t the key, because Lee failed there too. There are two keys to Birdgewater’s loss. The first is that the Bridgewater camp started to believe more in themselves, then they did in their message. The second key is that they chose to run a counter-negative campaign.
This is probably going to be very hard to explain, so I hope you will be patient with me as I lay it out. Often times on a campaign it can get easy to start believing that everything that you say and think is going to be accepted by everyone else. This doesn’t happen only in campaigns it happens in a lot of interpersonal interactions. Where you fail to communicate, because you aren’t able to express yourself to the person you are talking to it. If you are married you have probably experienced this.
The post-convention Bridgewater campaign fell into this trap. They failed to see what their campaign or message would look like to those on the outside. They thought that they needed to convince people that they were right, and not let the message do it for them. Many of the mailers came across as we are right, so you have to vote for Bridgwater. Of course that wasn’t the exact message. But it sounded like that to those not involved in the campaign.
I am not saying that they shouldn’t believe in the message (or platform) of their campaign. What they need to do is be careful at how they send that message to the public. To a certain extent the mailers and information that they sent came across wrong. People didn’t come out feeling like they were informed as much as they were coerced. The campaign was too interested in convincing people that they were right, rather than communicating what they stood for.
Let me put this another way. In order to win a campaign you want to tell people what your platform is. You don’t want to try and convince them why your platform is right. You need to let people know what you stand for. Let them convince themselves. If they are going to disagree with you, let them. They won’t vote for you know matter how much you coerce them. Let the message speak for itself.
The second reason that the Bridgewater campaign failed was the move away from being the nice guy in the race to being the attacker in the race. And this is probably more relevant than the first key.
After the convention, I was tempted to write a post predicting who would win and why. I never wrote it, because frankly, the whole Senate Campaign was starting to bore me. The essence of that post would have been that the candidate that came across as the nice guy would win. Based on that, I would have predicted that Bridgewater would win the campaign.
Unfortunately for Bridgewater, they didn’t stick with the nice guy campaign. Instead, they decided to counter attack Lee’s negative messages. Rather than coming across as the victim like the ads were intended, they came across as hypocrites. I know that many people were left scratching their heads. They wondered how to believe that Bridgewater is the better candidate when he tells them not to vote for Lee because he is running a negative campaign, and in the same mailer they throw negative jabs at Lee.
I heard from many people that this is the reason they were hesitant to vote for Bridgewater. Some of them did vote for Bridgewater, but some of them didn’t.
It has caused me to speculate why a campaign might choose to run a negative campaign. And I could only come up with one reason that I felt a negative campaign was justified. Simply put a negative campaign helps to solidify your base. However, while the Bridgewater campaign had several people leaning towards him. They wouldn’t call themselves part of his base. They were just a voter (as opposed to being a supporter). When the campaign went negative, many of these voters were forced to make the decision to become a supporter. And I think he lost a lot of those.
Again, I want to reiterate, that I do not wish to offend either the Bridgewater or the Lee campaigns. I personally think that they were both very poorly run campaigns. I wish the best to Lee for the rest of his campaign. I will most likely vote for him. But I won’t become one of his supporters in 2010.