Sunday, September 21, 2008

Die Hards

It’s always interesting that many people can hold completely contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time. This usually is not hypocrisy. Often it’s just a matter of dominant narratives holding their influence despite all facts to the contrary.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Steve Driehaus, who’s running for Congress in Ohio’s First District. At one point the topic of debates came up and he had a very enlightened perspective: Debates are not about issues, they’re about connecting with the audience.


Driehaus happens to be running against a 14-year incumbent. The issues are clearly on Driehaus’s side in this decidedly purple district. He’s also got the advantage of being scary smart. But what he’s running against isn’t so much an agenda as a habit. For most of two decades, voters in his district have been thinking of the incumbent (who never invited me to a meet-up and therefore shall remain nameless) as a nice guy, if ineffectual. It’s hard to overcome that narrative.

(Aside: my friend Marsie says I don’t handle rejection well. Go figure.)

In my local government class in college I had an instructor who pointed out that a challenger campaign faces two obstacles. This is important because it’s true for challenger brands, too: You are asking the voter NOT to vote for the guy they know. Then you still have to move them to vote FOR your candidate.

Dominant Narratives die hard.

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