Political strategies for the closing weeks of a campaign

The general public can more or less go about their business as the campaign season winds down toward Election Day.  They cannot easily avoid the TV commercials and mailings delivered to them, but in many cases at this stage those registered to vote (new registrations are now closed out in New York State) have decided who they will vote for; and also, for that matter, whether they will even take the time to vote.

For candidates on the ballot this year, and for their campaign teams as well, the situation is different.  They need to, as objectively as possible, (which is to say, nearly impossible), decide how they will use their available time and resources, financial and people, to finish up the campaign.  They need to assess what their chances are and how, when, and where to use those resources.  TV and radio ads and mailings are mostly set by this time. Get-out-the-vote work takes priority.

Over the years I have seen a wide range of campaign settings that offer excitement; despair; hope; OMG, what’s happening here; and an occasional Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  Here are some perspectives on where things stand for the competitors in Election 2022.

Abandon all hope

This category of campaigns does not occur as frequently as it used to.  In days gone by party organizations, even if they decided that an opposing party incumbent was unbeatable or the party enrollment numbers were too challenging, would still nominate someone to contest the election.  The candidate in such instances was usually a party official or someone occupying an appointive position.  That type of person is harder to recruit these days.

There are, however, some obvious exceptions.  I offer as case in point the candidacies of Joe Pinion, Michael Henry, and Paul Rodriguez, who are all on the statewide Republican ticket in New York this year.

We have a chance if…

There are many campaigns that are on the margins of viability.  The candidate and his/her party recruit people, volunteers or sometimes paid, to help with various campaign tasks.  The party and the candidate work hard to raise money, often far and wide, to pay for advertising and mailers.  They spend a great deal of money trying to raise money.  The candidate makes a real effort to do direct public contact campaigning and to attend all sorts of public events that get them exposure to the voters.  They are anxious to debate.

The “what if” question is playing out this year in many elections that are rated as toss-ups.  It explains the six or eight emails and texts I receive every day from Democratic Senate candidates Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada); Tim Ryan (Ohio); and Cheri Beasley (North Carolina).

Sometimes a campaign goes off on a tangent on an issue or voter demographic that they think will put them over the top, only to have the issue backfire on them.  In such a case, the viability of the candidate might just disappear.  Take for example a congressional race in New York City where the Democratic candidate, who previously occupied the seat, is filing an ethics charge against the Republican incumbent for allegedly using an official House podium at a campaign event.  If true, that’s a no-no, but it hardly ranks as a major issue two weeks out.  It’s called grasping at straws.

We are sitting pretty, but how do we make sure that we don’t blow it?

Finally, there is the category of campaigns where everyone, including the candidate, expects to win.  I emphasize the word “expects”because things do not always turn out the way they want.  Think Carl Paladino in NY23.  The candidate rarely got out with the general public and the campaign staff did their best to limit press contact with the candidate.  They claimed to have a poll showing them winning big.  They expected to win.  But a candidate’s history can rear its ugly head, like the audio of Paladino speaking highly of Adolph Hitler, which was discovered through some aggressive candidate opposition research from an interview that preceded the election campaign.  It worked for the dark PAC that funded the negative ads that helped Nick Langworthy win the primary.

We are watching this type of scenario play out in the United States Senate race in Georgia.  On paper the Republican Party and Donald Trump thought they had a lot going for them with former football star Herschel Walker as the candidate.  Neither the party nor the former guy seemed to have bothered to do their own opposition research on Walker to determine what might come up that would derail their candidate.  So they have been left with either saying they didn’t know or choosing to ignore such things.  Lies about a supposed past public safety job; or a successive business past; or just how many children Walker fathered have gotten in the way of the campaign.  And then there is the matter of having the candidate failing to disclose to his team that while he was staking out a strict anti-abortion position, his history seems to show him financing one or more abortions for women he knew.  The party must realize that they are now stuck with an unqualified candidate.

More often than not, a fatal blow to someone’s well-positioned candidacy is self-inflicted, leaving the candidate’s party and supporters needing to decide whether to take the honorable way out by walking away from the candidate, or to stick with and defend the undefendable. Enter Newt Gingrich, who has suggested that Walker’s behavior and lack of smarts is due to having taken too many concussions while playing football.

For those out there who are engaged in the final decisions on behalf of themselves or the candidate they are supporting, I offer some advice:  choose wisely and good luck!  We’ll check back with you on November 8.

Early voting

The early voting opportunity begins in New York State on October 29 and runs through November 6.  You can vote at any convenient voting location in your county.  Locations and hours of operation in Erie County can be found here https://www.elections.erie.gov/pdfs/EARLYVOTING%202022General.pdf .  These are the dates and times in Niagara County. https://elections.niagara.ny.us/app/uploads/2022/09/Early-voting-GE-22.pdf

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