There are roughly 100 days until we vote and I can’t remember when I have been less enthusiastic about an election. The pundits tell us the House of Representatives is already gone – gerrymandered out of contention by Republicans. In the next breath they tell us the prospects for hanging on to the Senate are shaky at best for Democrats. This is accepted wisdom on both sides of the aisle; as it is on Fox, CNN and MSNBC.
So, since campaign strategists all believe the same old campaigns run by the same old people in the same old way is a losing proposition for Democrats, what spectacular new campaign surprise do you think the national party has hatched to turn those predictions around?
For half a century, liberals have been unable to turn out an energized midterm electorate. Not that they haven’t tried. That’s where Rock the Vote came from. Each and every election they have been successful at registering hundreds of thousands of new voters at college campuses and black churches and even military bases. But for all that effort, these new would-be voters never show up at the polls in anything close to the percentages of the older, whiter voters who reliably turn out for the Republicans.
So, since campaign strategists know the same old get-out-the-vote effort, run in same old way has always led to disappointment, what spectacular new get-out-the-vote surprise do you think Democrats have hatched to get a different result?
I don’t think there is anything in the offing either. But there should be.
If Democrats believe they are going to lose the House going in, and if they think the voters they are registering aren’t going to show up, why stick with the game plan you predict will be a loser? They have 100 days. Do something different. Something unexpected. Something to get people talking.
Give people a reason to vote!
If I were running the Democratic National Party there would be a national election strategy. I’d call this year’s campaign: If You Don’t Vote, and every candidate, and every left leaning interest group would be asked to be part of it.
The campaign would start on Labor Day with a #IfYouDon’tVote Twitter hashtag and Facebook page, a YouTube account and website, all of which would appear at the exact same time that three different 15 second TV ads aired on the three broadcast networks’ evening newscasts. The ads have to be on the edge, something the Republicans are going to react to loudly. Since it’s Labor Day, I’d put Herman Cain’s picture superimposed over a Godfather’s Pizza logo. Then as he morphs into a young mother in a pizza-maker’s apron, with a babe in arms and another hanging onto her leg, I’d have this voiceover message:
One the the greatest things about being American is that anyone can succeed. But no one should be able to get rich by paying his employees a wage so low taxpayers have to provide her food assistance and health care. If you don’t vote, we can’t change this.
Ad number two could be an older worker with his arm around his wife in front of a home with a For Sale sign and the voiceover:
Because of the banks. he lost his job, his pension, his house. And now congress has taken away his unemployment benefits. If you don’t vote, we can’t get them back.
Ad number three could be a first-grade girl in pigtails with an empty lunch tray in front of her and the message:
Republicans will go to any lengths to keep women from exercising their right to choose, but once the baby is born, they oppose offering that child so much as a carton of milk. If you don’t vote, we can’t make sure hungry school children are fed.
The surprise of those ads alone should garner a lot of free airtime the following day. Republicans would be busy defending against the charges, so already they are off-stride, unprepared and have been taken out of their game plan. Republican candidates are now forced to either explain why Democrats are mischaracterizing their position, or to defend their party stances, and either soundbite is loser.
But those ads are just our opening salvo. Even as that dialogue is happening and the Republicans are squealing “Unfair!”, the If You Don’t Vote campaign is attacking elsewhere.
Day Two, every Democratic House Candidate puts out one If You don’t Vote hardball ad in his local media market, striking at the weakest point of his opponent. Here in Michigan it might be:
“If you don’t vote, Terri Lynn Land will turn pregnant women into unwilling incubators for the government.”
Terri Lynn is not going to like how that ad frames her anti-choice stance, so she will very quickly be out on local TV news defending herself. That’s why it is important for her Dem opponent, and all the Dem opponents, to have a rebuttal ad already posted on their own website (and all the If You Don’t Vote outlets) with the proof of their charge: Here’s what she said. Here’s how she voted. Here’s a clip of her speech. There is now a very real probability some alert journalist is going to show her the rebuttal ad that she hasn’t yet seen, and ask her to comment off the cuff.
Because of this unprecedented national campaign strategy striking in all 50 states at the same moment, by day three, the news media is going to be speculating about If You Don’t Vote, giving it free airtime probably in every news block. Republicans will be off their game plan, which has always been the same for both parties: In the last two months, attack ad, attack ad, attack ad. But suddenly we would have Republicans playing “D”. Not a good posture for them, as they tend to come off as whiney.
Day four, the issue groups begin to launch their attacks.
Mother’s Against Gun Violence:
If you don’t vote….children who could have been saved by a background check are going to be shot to death in their classrooms.
Clean Water Action:
If you don’t vote….they are going to frack your well dry.
Freedom To Marry:
If you don’t vote…two parent gay families will not be allowed to both adopt their own children.
You get the idea. Hundreds of left-leaning groups would post If You Don’t Vote issue ads on their own websites and upload them to the campaign sites. New ads – print, video, and news interviews of Americans who have been victimized by Republican policies telling their stories, would all be posted there where they are easy to find. New If You Don’t Vote ads need to come in without any let up, every day in September.
In October 1, we choose a new slogan, maybe #WhyI’mVoting and every Democratic candidate for state office issues an ad using the new slogan about whatever local issue is on the front burner in that state. Hit them by surprise a second time where they aren’t expecting it.
The attack has to be relentless so Republicans never recover their equilibrium. They might not like the way Dems frame the issue, but we’d be talking policy. Responding with the kind of of personal attack ads called for by the Republican campaign playbook would make them look evasive and petty.
Meanwhile, the congressional democrats will be throwing weekly issue protests on the Capitol steps, offering promises of the progress they would make if they only were able. The best issues would be the ones where Democrats now have the polling advantage but are blocked from passing legislation by the lobbying of minority groups. Immigration. Background checks. Equal Marriage. Expanding Medicaid. Living Wage. Choice. Separation of Church and State. Building Infrastructure.
The Democrats in state legislatures would do the same in their districts and their state capitols inviting local interest groups to demonstrate about their issues. On the district level, might I suggest Dems use some of that wasted negative ad money to splurge on ice cream or hot dogs. Maybe cider and donuts near Halloween? When you invite people over to ask for a favor, you treat them like friends.
Could nationalizing an off-year campaign overcome the Republican advantage? I don’t know, it’s never been tried, because politicians so rarely aim at anything more adventurous that eking out a 2 point win in their own districts. In the present political climate, even if those members win in the small picture, the big picture – a functioning congress – is still lost to the American people. A true win would be changing the makeup of the congress, and the only way to do that is to make unlikely voters interested enough, or maybe just hopeful enough that things could change, that they decide to give voting a try.
If you already plan on losing, why bother playing the game?
Feature Photo via Art of Dino Facebook
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.