As the election cycle moves quickly toward the especially interesting 2012 Presidential and statewide efforts I thought it would be particularly important to highlight what this writer sees as the most important factors, traits, and characteristics of a successful campaign. Last year in a similar article I emphasized the four major “traits” consistent with “A Winning Personality.” For anyone to be successful over time the four personality features discussed included 1. Being Consistent, 2. Becoming the Best Listener You Can Be, 3. Never Disregard or Dismiss Someone or Their Viewpoints, 4. Be Yourself/Present Your Own Traits. Obviously these traits will be especially important if anyone is going to be a successful candidate. However, there are also some very critical “traits,” or “characteristics,” that relate directly to a successful campaign for office.
As a regular commentator on News 12 New Jersey’s Power and Politics I have had the opportunity to identify some characteristics that standout and separate some candidates seeking public office. The four characteristics that are essential are identified as: 1. Establish Your Position On a Particular Issue, 2. Determine What is the Major Force Behind Your Drive for Office, 3. How Will You Court Independent Voters and Possibly Moderate Republican and Democratic Voters???, 4. What Pitfalls Must Be Avoided.
Establish Your Own Position. It is important to realize noone is perfect and noone can have all of the answers. Also, most issues have two or more sides, but somehow you need to measure the different aspects of each issue and come down on the side that makes sense for you. If you are not specific and tend to be “general” and avoid decision making on a particular issue it will almost always come back in a negative manner. Voters like to know where you stand, and in some cases why you made your decision. In the 2010 Congressional races I saw Rep. Leonard Lance debating his challenger and he was specifically asked about his position on Iraq and Afghanistan. His response was immediate and to the point and he commented in a succinct and meaningful manner. He said that he did not believe in “nation building” and thought that the emphasis by some on “winning” and “establishing a democracy” was troubling to him. Congressman Lance argued for a specific exit strategy. This I thought was a great example of someone taking a position he believed in and in doing so stood up for himself. Another recent example of being specific, and standing up to the issue, comes from NJ State Senator Raymond Lesniak who stated that anyone attempting to overhall the New Jersey “teacher tenure” system should have a detailed plan for the “evaluation” process. He said without an “evaluation” plan all the criticism of the tenure system is questionable since politics will surely enter into the decision making with regard to each “teacher review.” This stance earns him a great deal of credibility because many are critical of the tenure system and rant, or rave about it, but few have taken a position that is at the heart of this issue. In short, voters like to identify with someone taking a position that makes sense.
Determine What Is the Driving Force Behind Your Drive for Office. In this regard, could there ever be a better example of campaign success than what Chris Christie did in his run for governor? Essentially, he made his entire effort around the “property tax relief” issue and he deliberately made all other considerations secondary. All discussions related to the teachers union, social issues, were all directly or indirectly related to reducing property taxes. If deciding to run means being fiscally conservative be sure to bring to the table the specific cuts you mean to implement. One recently elected congressman wailed that he was a fiscal conservative, but he wants to keep all U.S forces in Iraq, and Afghanistan until “victory” is achieved, not increase the age for social security, “preserve Medicare,” and go back to “market based” health care insurance (insurance companies in charge). In the long run he may find re-election difficult. On the other hand, if your campaign highlights social causes/issues and you are more moderate to liberal in nature, be sure to emphasize what in fact you stand for, why, and what result you want to achieve. Voters like specifics that are logical and not contrived.
How Will You Specifically Court Independent Voters and Possibly Moderate Republican and Moderate Democratic Voters. Most experts and pollsters agree that the success of many campaigns depends on attracting independent voters who make their decisions on the “candidate” not the party. What will be your approach in this regard to maximize your chances even though you have a well defined conservative, moderate, or liberal agenda??? Perhaps a good example of someone who ran a successful campaign (even though she lost) was Mayor Anna Little who became a very tough foe for Congressman Frank Pallone. While she remained conservative in many respects, she presented herself as very pleasant and thoughtful, while also emphasizing a “new” tax code in the United States. She essentially outlined a plan to get rid of the IRS (many certainly like this idea) and have a tax on consumption. Basically pay a tax on what is purchased. This would also in many ways eliminate or at least diminish the underworld “cash” economy (no one paying taxes here). This writer thinks this was a great way to set up a “bridge” to other voters, who may not be as conservative as she was, but none the less attract their interest and support. In this regard, there should be some way to present yourself to “other” potential voters unless your district is extremely one sided.
What Pitfalls Must Be Avoided. First and foremost it is extremely important to “be yourself” and present yourself with your own personality. Under no circumstances should you try to be someone you are not. Many will have trouble being an Obama, Huckabee, Reagan, or Clinton. However, former Governor Tom Kean, without an overwhelming dynamic personality, has always been comfortable “in his own skin” and is extremely well liked by Republicans and Democrats.
Beyond the personality considerations it is important to carefully analyze the three factors noted above. Simply mentioning that you are for the “constitution” or for “budget constraints” is not enough to be a “winner” in the long run. Decisions need to be made and a strategy placed in play that represents what the campaign is all about. Attempts to be vague, general, non-specific, and limited in scope usually results in a lack of confidence and failure. There are some examples of individuals winning in spite of themselves but most often this is not the case. Perhaps the best example of what not to do in this regard is former Vice President Al Gore. He changed how he presented himself with different looks, changing his style (and seemingly his positions) to hopefully become someone other than himself in the 2000 election. He effectively defeated himself.
Once again, this advice may seem simple and is not complicated, but it is extremely powerful.