You can’t win a political campaign without momentum. With momentum, campaigns roll to victory, without it, they linger into
defeat. It is surprising, then, that so few campaigns have a comprehensive plan to gain momentum, aiming their tools and strategy toward building this indispensable lifeblood of politics.
One very effective way to give your campaign momentum is to invent something “new”: a word or phrase, an image, a concept or idea. This tactic is extremely effective because it makes your message worth talking about, makes your candidate instantly identifiable, and makes sure that your activists can not only convey your message quickly, but are motivated to do it well. Regrettably, this tactic is also one of the hardest to pull off.
Newt Did It, So Can You
In 1994, Newt Gingrich and his Republican congressional team came up with two new ideas that propelled the GOP to majority status in the Congress for the first time in fifty years. First, Gingrich nationalized the election. Rather than presenting the Republican candidates as individuals running in individual districts as had been done previously, Gingrich unified the Republican team and presented it to the American people as a whole, similar to British parliamentary elections. For the first time in modern American history, the message to the voters wasn’t simply “Vote for Victoria Smith, Republican for Congress” it was “Vote Republican, whoever that maybe.”
In order to get the American voters to quickly understand and adapt to this concept, the Republican came up with their second new idea, “The Contract With America.” The voters were presented with a choice: vote for the Democrats who made you promises, or vote for the Republicans who gave you a signed contract.” The Republican candidates signed the contract, which listed the steps the Republicans would take if they were elected. The idea was novel, easily spread, exciting to talk about, and it worked.
Inventing On the Local Scale
This tactic can and should be applied on the local scale. For instance, a local school board candidate may be searching for a way to get out his message that schools need to be more accountable for the results they produce. He could invent a new “school report card,” and promise the voters that if elected, he would make sure that each time parents receive a report card for their children in the mail, they would also receive a blank report for the school that the parents could use to rate the school, and mail it back directly to the school board. This “new idea” would be useful in generating buzz and momentum for the local school board candidate.
The campaign needs to be careful in planning its new idea to ensure that it is packaged in a way that is acceptable to the voters. Focus groups and polling will tell the campaign if it needs to rethink the way it is presenting the idea, if the image it creates fails or if the idea is simply not exciting enough to generate momentum. They key is to be bold, think outside the box and not be afraid to present an exciting alternative to the voters who are used to hearing the same political messages over and over again.
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