Getting the message

15 Oct

A good politician will always stay on message, no matter what is going on around him or her. When you run for office you look for something that resonates with the public and then hammer it for all your worth at every opportunity, whether it’s in front of 3 people or 3,000. It’s Politics 101. Every day, there’s a new person discovering you for the first time. If your message is simple and consistent, you may get their vote. If the message changes frequently, those voters will never latch onto you. Beer companies do this well.

Duke Aiona appears to have settled on saying Neil Abercrombie has been ineffective in his many years in Congress. For Abercrombie, he says the 8-years of the Lingle-Aiona administration was one of frustration and it’s time for a change. Expect these positions not to change much in the next month unless one side really messes something up and there’s your new message.

While the two candidates do agree on some things, their main thrust is to point out what they think are the many failures of the other guy. Don’t expect a sophisticated discussion. That would be getting off message. A few more debates between now and the general election should muddy the waters further.

Elections are funny things. There are usually two ways to go about finding your message. For some politicians, mostly in smaller local races, it’s their gut instinct – what they hear from the folks on the street. But smaller races rarely involve experienced politicians and the message can change on a daily basis depending what they read in the paper that day. Things like this drive a campaign manager crazy as long term plans are being made for flyers and ads.

In bigger races it’s more a matter of what the polls and focus groups say. Find something people want to hear and stick with it, unless of course, the other side makes a major mistake or some new dirt on the candidate surfaces.

I’ve sat in “kitchen-cabinet” meetings that went on for hours as the candidate searched for a slogan that would carry him or her to victory. Slogans usually work for household cleaning products better than political campaigns. How many versions of “It’s a new day” or “Time for a change” have you heard over the years?

In the end people vote for you because they met and liked you, or they like what you say you’ll do, who’s first in the polls, or they don’t like the other guys or – if all else fails – whose name is first on the ballot.

This is the dance that politicians do. “I wasn’t responsible for what happened yesterday. But if you vote for me, I promise to fix it tomorrow.” If nothing else, elections measure whether voters have long memories or short memories and how well the candidate stayed on message.

Elections often don’t lend themselves to serious conversations. Public forums are limited in number and format. Candidates and campaign advisers want to keep the message simple (and negative) because they believe that elections are decided by voters who don’t pay all that much attention.

But it would be helpful this year if voters heard more than slogans and words repeated over and over again.

People just want to know what candidate has the common sense, experience, intelligence and good will required to get the government moving again.

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