Continuing our series on how the Democrats can win the Mayor's office in 2009:
Be able to tell our own narrative and define our own candidate.
We cannot afford to start building up the public persona of a candidate in the midst of attacks from Republicans at the start of the campaign. We cannot afford to let The Herald or, worse yet, the comment section on Frank Smith's blog, choose for us how he or she will be defined and accept Republican input in the process. That was how Al Gore lost in 2000. But in 2009, we have weapons at our disposal that had barely come into play for him then.
Try a little exercise to see how a potential candidate might fare at this: Google the candidate's name. Since this is a local race, you may want to add the words "New Britain." What comes up? Do you see a news article admonishing the City Council? Do you see the person's listing on the City Hall website? Or do you see a candidate blog with policy positions, giving him or her a head start framing the coming debate in our favor? Or a presence on MySpace and Facebook providing instant direct access to tons of supporters? In other words, do you see someone who has been defined by them, or someone who has already defined himself (or herself)?
Setting the narrative is key. Once again, think of Obama. He offered the media a compelling story: A community organizer from the mean streets of Chicago going head-to-head with the establishment to become the first black President of the United States. Of course, he had a lot of other factors going for him, but he sold the media a story that practically wrote itself. Naturally, they vastly preferred telling his story over Hillary Clinton's (wife of an ex-President politics her way into the White House via the party establishment). In fact, she made the perfect villain in Obama's story. So did John McCain. Establishing the narrative gives the press the story the want to write, and it gives the public the story it wants to follow; the hero it wants to root for and the villain it wants to jeer.
Right now, the Republicans are winning that battle hands-down. The mayor provides the media with a natural hero of the narrative: Tim Stewart and his two allies defending their vision for New Britain against that perpetual thorn in their sides, the Democrats of the City Council. It doesn't matter that the Council is responsible for most of the good decisions that Stewart takes credit for. The press sees Stewart as the one on a mission. The Democrats are just the impediment. We cannot count on this media to tell our story. A mayoral candidate, and the party at large, needs to understand and see how these gatekeepers of the public consciousness can and should be bypassed this time.
The task before us is to build up a Hero candidate who stands for what the people want to see done, and equally important, recast Stewart as the villain of the piece. We have the ammo to do it, we just have to know what will stick. What makes a better villain, the mayor who fixed up the roads by giving no-bid contracts to his campaign donors, or the Man Who Tore Down Corbin Heights? Attack him on the technicalities, however outrageous they may be, and it won't stick. Highlight where his values run totally contrary to our own, and he won't be able to escape it.
And we have the weapons at our disposal to do just that, so long as we can steer people to them... or better yet, make them seek it out. Next time: "Mobilizing the Masses."