Our closely watched Tennessee Republican primary and in some cases, general election, is now past. The candidate I supported and worked for, Lisa Nidiffer Rice, won the winner-take-all Republican primary May 6 and was uncontested in the August election for Criminal Court Judge Part 1. Lisa had signed me to an exclusive agreement with her so I (gladly!) got to watch this August race from the sidelines. Here is my “outsider’s perspective” on the public relations that went into winning and losing our local races.
1. Y’all come! That’s NorthEast Tennessee to the core. When some people decided to exclude others, including their current state representatives, from a shindig featuring the governor, it didn’t sit well with the voters. Instead the voters made those “excluded” feel welcome where it counted: at the polls. My husband, a native of Erwin, Tennessee, is as down-home as they come. I recall him saying last week (in reference to a certain candidate) “Candidate ___ is a member of the cucumber-sandwich-and-white-wine-for-lunch-crowd.” Ouch! A pollster couldn’t have hit it more squarely on the head.
2. Hard work and planning pays off: Congratulations Katie Baker, a newcomer to the field of Washington County commissioners who was truly omnipresent! Katie knocked on doors and went to every event she possibly could. I had coffee with Katie and my advisory board member Nancy Dishner when Katie first decided to run and was very impressed with her intellect and her genuine willingness to work for the people.
3. Communications skills are HUGE: I watched one of the winning candidates masterfully use his opponent’s campaign to his own advantage. He created a #noinvitationrequired hashtag when he was snubbed from the aforementioned party and regularly used his opponent’s own words to his advantage on Facebook.
4. Money doesn’t always win: Untold thousands of dollars from outside interests were poured into a campaign to unseat three Tennessee Supreme Court justices, alleging they weren’t’ “conservative” enough for the Volunteer State. In the end the judges, who were ethically restrained from advertising for themselves, prevailed. The big money lost.
5. Do not ever overlook Carter County! Carter County is pivotal in any local election. Carter County folks hold voting up with motherhood, apple pie and Friday night football. There just isn’t anything more important than going to the polls. The day I voted early in Carter County, I drove my mother (a native of New York State) through the gauntlet of Carter County electioneers. She was stunned. Never had she seen anything like the encampments of eager, sign-waving campaign supporters. In examining poll results it appears at least one highly contested multi-county race was made/broken by Carter County voters.
6. Name recognition goes a long way: In two consecutive elections I have watched someone with tremendous name recognition (because they or a relative had previously held office,) win. It’s simple: In politics and in life, you build a personal brand.
Do you have comments to add about what you’ve seen work effectively in campaigns, particularly at the local level?