is definitely "Costco Country."
giant retailer, which hawks merchandise at
supposedly "near wholesale" prices,
understands and exploits the fundamental mentality
of the American consumer: Most do not, and often
cannot, make a decision.
marketing research apparently validated that
premise. On a table with a dozen brands of
ketchup, all priced within a few cents of each
other, consumers were asked to make a decision.
More than half couldn't, and didn't make a
Costco's marketing plan is simple: Sell only one
brand, eliminating choice. Sell it ridiculously
cheap, eliminating price resistance. Sell it in
big lots, so consumers have to buy a vast quantity
to realize "savings," and make a tidy
let's apply this premise to politics. On Nov. 6
voters must choose among 100 or more candidates,
including retention for judges. If consumers can't
choose a bottle of ketchup, how do voters pick a
answer: At least 80 percent of the voters simply
choose a brand name, Republican or Democrat. The
reasons range from ancestral to habitual to
Chicago, one is "born a Democrat," much
as one is early socialized to be a Cubs or White
Sox fan, and such allegiance is never questioned
or renounced. For more than 90 percent of African
Americans in the country, voting for a Republican
is akin to racial treason. Hard-core conservatives
(about 35 percent of the population) and hard-core
liberals (about 25 percent) view politics as
economic or social warfare and always vote
Republican and Democrat, respectively.
the party label is a no-brainer. One need not
think, choose or justify.
to the remaining 20 percent is a bit trickier.
These are the chronically undecided voters, the
one-issue voters, the
I'll-vote-if-I'm-not-too-busy voters. They want a
candidate with a touch of class, with poise, charm
and a sense of humor. Likeable and incorruptible.
Not too opinionated, or argumentative, or
controversial or overly cerebral. In short, the
picture of perfection, but not condescending or
arrogant. A nice person who's rich enough not to
want to steal the store. They want the equivalent
of every woman's dream of "Mr.
Wonderful." Good luck.
serious candidate has a political pollster and a
political consultant. The pollster tells the
candidate what the public -- meaning the 20
percenters -- wants to hear. The consultant tells
the candidate how to say it. Scripting every word
and gesture is obligatory.
how does the politician close the sale on the 20
percenters? The options are to go positive or to
there's the "comfort zone" offense.
Think Rich Daley. Lots of warm and fuzzy
commercials about what a great job he's done, how
indispensable he is, how he loves his city. That
combats voter fatigue with the incumbent, but it
works only when the candidate is well known,
reasonably well liked and passably competent, and
has an it's-time-for-a-change opponent. It was
especially effective for Daley when he had a black
there's the "huge issue" offense, which
is rare. Think the 2006 Stroger-Peraica race for
Cook County Board president. After Todd Stroger
was appointed to replace his ailing father, Tony
Peraica ran a "no nepotism" campaign and
got 47 percent of the vote. Generally, the
differences between candidates are minimal:
Nobody's for raising taxes or nuking the
terrorists. Everybody's for "taxing the
millionaires and billionaires" and for the
there's the "catchy slogan" -- and say
as little as possible -- offense. Think of past
presidential races: Woodrow Wilson in 1916
("I have kept you out of war"), Dwight
Eisenhower in 1952 ("I like Ike"),
Richard Nixon in 1972 ("Four more
years"), and Barack Obama in 2008
("Change we need").
Democratic consultant James Carville once said,
campaigns are all about "KISS," which
means keep it simple, stupid. If you can't
plausibly enunciate a compelling reason for voting
for you, then propound a multiplicity of reasons
to vote against your opponent.
voters enter the polling booth, they don't want to
grapple with solving Einstein's theory of
relativity. They want to briefly do their
"civic duty" and get on with their
lives. With a hundred choices, it's a lot easier
to vote against somebody.
brings us to the epitome of modern campaigning:
Negativity means electability. Go positive, but be
bland and unspecific; go negative, and be
inflammatory. Demonization works. It's much
easier, and much less dangerous, to unsell your
opponent than it is to sell yourself. Articulate a
dozen specific stances and somebody will find
fault; rip your opponent as an
"extremist," or a "tax raiser"
or "dishonest," and some of the 20
percenters will react favorably.
Dick Durbin and Rod Blagojevich. In 1996 Durbin,
then an obscure Springfield congressman who had
conveniently switched from anti-abortion to
pro-abortion rights to run statewide, ripped his
Republican opponent, Al Salvi, as an
"extremist," particularly on the issue
of gun control. Instead of selling himself, Durbin
unsold Salvi, and he won by 655,204 votes.
now-disgraced Blagojevich, who raised $25 million
for his 2002 campaign and another $25 million for
2006, had his ads all over television blasting
Judy Republican Baar Topinka with the line,
"What was she thinking?" Topinka wanted
to cut state spending, and the governor demonized
her, winning by 367,416 votes, an increase from
his 252,080-vote win in 2002. Blagojevich, with an
uninspiring and insipid tenure, gave voters no
reason to vote for him, but he gave the 20
percenters a vague but persuasive reason not to
vote for Topinka. Blagojevich got 1,847,040 votes
(52.2 percent of the total cast) in 2002 and
1,736,731 votes (49.8 percent) in 2006. Republican
Jim Ryan got 1,594,960 votes (45.1 percent of the
total) in 2002, and Topinka got 1,369,315 votes
(39.3 percent) in 2006.
a look at two 2012 contests, where untruths abound
and negativity flourishes:
U.S. House District: Incumbent Republican Joe
Walsh seems determined to bring Chernobyl, the
site of the Russian nuclear facility meltdown, to
the northwest suburbs. Walsh, a relentless
campaigner who was making significant progress in
his underdog campaign against Democrat Tammy
Duckworth, is in a meltdown mode, and his
toxicity, bordering on radioactivity, is now
dating from mid-October showed him inching ahead
-- an astonishing achievement in a newly created
district in which Obama got 61 percent of the vote
in 2008. Duckworth's campaign had been largely
negative to that point, harping on Walsh's
"extremism" and Tea Party voting record.
Her positive ads were pablum, replete with such
bromides as "standing up for Illinois."
Her comment that "things are better now than
4 years ago" and her close ties to Obama gave
Walsh an opening for attack, provided he stayed on
the economic message and made the race a
referendum on Obama's policies.
didn't. At a recent debate he said that he's
against abortion, with no exceptions -- not for
rape or incest and not even to save the life of
the mother. Then he tried to explain himself,
mumbling about ectopic pregnancies. As such, he
violated a cardinal political rule: Never explain
and never apologize. If you do, you've lost.
Duckworth's television ads blasting Walsh's
"extremism" have credibility. The
hard-campaigning Walsh, who is viewed by his
backers as gutsy and principled, now seems wacky.
He has progressed on the political spectrum from
conservative to extremist to crackpot. "Too
extreme, with no exception," blare
Duckworth's commercials, and a new ad barrage rips
Walsh as a deadbeat, claiming he owed $117,000 in
past child support, although the case was settled.
Super PACs seem much enamored with Walsh, and the
Now or Never Super PAC reportedly will spend $4.3
million in anti-Duckworth television ads. Because
she is demonizing Walsh, and now by demonizing
Walsh's Super PAC backers, over whom he has no
control and whom the media claim have pledged to
"bury" Duckworth, money is flowing fast
and furious into the Democrat's coffers. Obama
will win the district 53-47, but the 20 percenters
will now break for Duckworth by 60-40. Walsh will
U.S. House District: Enough already. That's the
attitude of the well read, upscale,
disinformation-intolerant voters in the North
Shore district, where Republican Bob Dold won by
4,651 votes in 2010.
been deluged with negative ads during the 2006,
2008 and 2010 campaigns, when the Democratic
candidate was Dan Seals and Mark Kirk was the
incumbent, voters in 2012 are in an irritable
mood. Dold is no liberal, but Democrat Brad
Schneider's attacks him as being a Tea Party
congressman, for voting to defund Planned
Parenthood, for favoring oil drilling in Lake
Michigan, and for gutting Medicare due to his
support for the Wyden-Ryan bill.
are lies. Voters know it, and they resent it. Dold
has responded in kind, blasting the uncharismatic
Schneider for alleged tax dodges and highlighting
his quote that we "should borrow all
day" to solve the fiscal mess.
hath no fury like an independent voter insulted.
Obama won the district with 62 percent of the vote
in 2008, but Kirk was re-elected by 14,906 votes,
meaning that one in five Obama voters opted for
will be deja vu in November. Many independent
voters will make a statement by voting Obama-Dold.
The Republican will be re-elected.