Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Running on Principle vs. Running to Run

The general election is just a little over two months away and as area campaigns take shape, strategies are developing as to the best pathway to victory. As the election season heats up, we at Kaw & Border will be observing what strategies conservative candidates and their hired consultants employ -- and in the end, which of these strategies are most successful.

This is particularly important because conservative candidates have long been uncertain of whether to run on a conservative platform when the mainstream media tells us that conservativsm is unpopular. This conventional wisdom leads to a mix of stealth candidacies or "show" campaigns where candidates run on more innocuous themes like biography or experience instead of the issues that the voters claim to -- and do -- care about.

It is our opinion that too often well-intentioned conservative candidates get caught up in this so-called "wisdom", often echoed by their consultants, and find themselves in a mindset of "running to run", rather than running on a real agenda that will motivate supports and inspire the electorate to vote for you. When too many candidates run to run, you end up with a political system that frustrates the electorate -- one where the next election is always paramount over standing up for what is right, and when standing up for what is right is perceived as politically risky or, as we have heard some legislators put it, "not in line with what my district wants."

Other candidates, however, employ a different strategy -- one based on the idea that issues win elections and that the purpose of campaigns is to sell those issues to the voters. These issues, of course, must be defined, marketed, and re-marketed, because of the dedication of the liberal mainstream media to misrepresent conservative principles -- but in the end, in most cases, running effectively on issues will win the day and be more successful in the long run. This has proven itself in elections over the past decade, demonstrated by the victories of known conservatives like Mary Pilcher Cook, Lance Kinzer, Kay O'Connor, and others -- all of whom are known as conservatives and some of whom have won very competitive races where the opposition was quite aggressive.

One particular area where this divergence in campaign philosophy plays out is in campaign literature. Conventional wisdom dictates that these pieces be thin on issues with basic, nondescript phrases like "efficient government" and "quality education" and a "vibrant economy". The alternative view argues for delving more in depth and proclaiming specific issue positions, even on perceived controversial topics such as abortion and gun control. It is our view that the latter strategy is, while possibly more difficult to employ, is more beneficial in the long run.

First, as mentioned before, it helps motivate core supporters. The fact is that most people get involved in the political process because they were motivated by an issue, a candidate, or both. There are extremely few who just get involved for the political game. This is particularly true with conservative voters and activists. While one's biography may play a role in inspiring devotion and support, that support is likely to be deeper when coupled with a set of issues which the person believes in.

Secondly, when campaigning on an agenda, one becomes less susceptible to political winds. When one runs on general themes, they are more likely to be swept up in political transitions. On the flip side, when one runs on specific core principles and their respective electorates are aware of them, they are less likely to be swept up because voters will separate that person from the party as a whole. This is most evident in the mere fact that most legislative districts, both at the state level and nationally, are safe -- because they are drawn to encompass conservative voters or liberal voters. This results in candidates who thus are less afraid to run on issues and thus , their voters are generally happy with them. It is in swing districts where you often see candidates trying to run on biography or general "nice" themes, trying to capture perceived moderates or certain niches of voters, and thus there is no stability in their electoral fortunes for the future.

Third, conservativism is not just a poltical movement, it is a philosophy. As such, it should be the goal of conservative candidates to "work for the cause" and when one campaigns on conservative principles, they are advancing that cause. When a candidate runs on "issue-empty" themes or biography only, they are more just advancing themselves. Of course, the desire to win in politics is heavy and of course ,that's the goal of elections. However, the view that being thin on issues is the way towards winning is short sighted and does not see how advancing the cause, when done so effectively, actually aids in victories in individual elections.

Finally, it is simply more honest. A quality political system depends upon the voters having an accurate portrayal of what a candidate believes and doesn't believe. As a result, such a system demands more candidates which will proudly run on these beliefs. That doesn't mean a conservative candidate must tell the voters how you'll vote on every single issue -- what it does mean is that candidate will share their principles so the voters have an accurate guide on how they will vote if elected. The good news is that conservatism is a set of core beliefs, giving conservative candidates an advantage when debating their more issue-devoid opponents.

So, in the end, conservative candidates must answer the following question -- are you running to be something OR are you running to do something? Those fitting the former are a dime a dozen while those fitting the latter are the ones who are truly remembered -- and in the end, most successful on winning on election day.