Monday, November 24, 2008

How the Democrats Can Win the Mayor's Office in 2009

Despite absolutely dominating the Common Council and maintaining a big presence in all other municipal offices, the Democrats still can't seem to overcome Republican mayor Tim Stewart. The road ahead is not easy. Stewart, despite a lot of shady business, has a broad coalition behind him, including the "Democrats for Stewart" who helped provide his sweeping victory in 2007. But the Democrats have many reasons to believe that this could be the year. The key to victory: Find a candidate that can build a stronger coalition than Stewart. Democrats out-number Republicans in New Britain by nearly 4:1. There is no reason why the right candidate can't rally the City behind him. Over the next few articles, I will be presenting a series of campaign strategies plucked straight from the Democratic victories on the national level in 2006 and 2008. Today I present what I consider to be the most important factor of all:

Find a candidate who stands for something.

Democrats everywhere should thank Bill Frist. In 2005, in the midst of a Senate showdown, Frist gave away the secret of Republican success when he said of the Democrats: "They stand for nothing."

You can't run a successful campaign if you don't represent something in the human heart other than a set of policy proposals. That is because, despite the 18th Century ideas about Reason and the human mind to which Democrats continue to cling, people are not rational actors. They don't make decisions about who to vote for based on logic. They make those decisions based on their values, and then they use reason to justify those decisions.

It is no accident that Republicans always talk of values. They know it is the key to victory. Yet Democrats shy away from talking about their values because they are afraid of sounding like their moralistic counterparts. But they don't have to. Think of Barack Obama and what he just achieved. Remember the early criticisms: "He has no specific ideas, it's all a bunch of talk about Hope!"

That was the whole idea. Obama did have specific proposals, some of them very good. They were available on the website for all interested parties to see. Beyond that, he didn't waste too much time discussing them, because he knew that no candidate can win an election based on policy. Instead, when he had the public's ear, he talked about his values. His liberal values. He stood for something.

Similarly, George Bush stood for something as well. Perhaps the reason we found him so revolting was how openly he talked about his Conservative values. He spoke little about the specifics of his policies, which we mostly atrocious even by Conservative standards. It didn't matter. His values won him the White House despite John Kerry's intellectually nuanced positions on every issue backed up by white papers and statistics.

The reason Jim Wyskiewicz fell so flat in 2007 was because as a candidate, he represented the same core values as John Kerry: He wasn't his opponent. And so he was eviscerated at the polls. Today, the City sees a mayor and his two stalwarts who stand for some kind of vision for the City up against a big clump of Democrats who stand for not caring much for the mayor and calling him out on all his abuses of power and shady deals with private contractors. The problem is, where would the Democratic vision be without Tim Stewart to find so appalling?

Jason Jakubowski may have failed. But a very young and inexperienced challenger came close to taking out a popular incumbent because he ran his campaign on a vision for the future of the city that spoke to our Democratic values: Project Hope. Sound like someone else we know? He came up short because he never set the public at ease about his liabilities. A more seasoned candidate with a slightly longer resume could take that success even further.

I'm calling on all Democrats to ask themselves the question: What are our values? What do we need our candidate to stand for? I'll even submit a few to the group for consideration: Prosperity should be shared among the people rather than concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. Healthcare is a right and not a privilege. People of all genders, races, ethnicities, orientations, and creeds should equally valued and welcomed in our society and given the same opportunities to succeed. Those who have benefited the most from society should give the most back. Just food for thought.

Then we need to communicate those values to the people, which will be our next topic: "Take Charge of the Message."

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