5 keys to Success in a Campaign

Now that Labour Day has passed, voters begin to turn their attention to one of the ultimate fall  'sports', and that is politics. Here in Ontario, as well as a number of provinces across the country, that means the looming elections. With the October 6th Ontario election as a prime example, let's examine the "keys to victory" for the winning Party.

1. Control of the Issue
Pundits claim that there is no real 'defining issue' in this campaign. However, as often as not, an issue does emerge which galvanizes the voters and drives them to the polls. Unfortunately for the Ontario PCs in the 2007 election, the issue which emerged was their support for expanding taxpayer support for religious schools. Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals leaped on that like manna from heaven (no pun intended) and drove it relentlessly to victory. The old saying, "he who defines the issue will win the war" is a truism that should always be front and centre for all campaigns. In this election, Tim Hudak must make "change" the issue.

With his ad buy in full gear, Dalton McGuinty is already trying to make change 'scary'. Expect to hear Mike Harris named as often as Tim Hudak. For Andrea Horvath, she needs to position the NDP as the vehicle for change in the way politics is conducted. The Opposition parties must remember that their real role is to continually hold the government's feet to the fire. In other words, to make the Government the issue. They need to ensure that, while they must have a solid plan with a clear alternative to the status quo, they don't need to over-reach on the policy front

2. A Focused Campaign with a Clear Strategy
Every campaign today has a 'daily script' and the ability to stay on script is essential to a coherent campaign. Local candidates often account for 5 to 10% of the vote; however, if they mess up with controversial comments, then that serves to derail the overall campaign for one or more days at a time, throwing it off message.  The war rooms will be watching like a hawk to nip that kind of controversy in the bud. This will be the first provincial election in Ontario fought in the Twitterverse, so every embarrassing moment will be spread instantly like wildfire.

3. Shape the Ballot Question
It is critical to the swing voters that they ask themselves the right question when they walk into the ballot booth. The fight for the ballot question begins at the outset of the campaign, and all of the campaign should be focused on driving it home - through social media, and the traditional  media; at the doorstep; in the campaign literature and ultimately over the backyard fence.

4. Credibility of the Leader
All elections revolve around the Leaders. The ability of that leader to communicate vision, strength, credibility and -yes, likeability - are critical to success. Mike Harris transformed himself into a "Helluva Guy" [known as the HOAG factor] with whom voters could identify and rely upon. In this election, Dalton McGuinty's likeability factor has been questionable at best, while Tim Hudak is still unknown to many voters. This leaves the Liberals with an opportunity to fill-in-the-blanks as Stephen Harper's campaign did to Michael Ignatieff in the last federal election. Andrea Horvath is also largely unknown and will have to do all she can to get media-and voter- attention.

5. Exceed Expectations in the Debate
It looks like there will probably only be one debate, and the Premier's people will no doubt want it no later than mid-point in the campaign in case things go wrong and he needs time to recover. Hudak's campaign will want to hold it later and bet that Hudak can exceed expectations and gain momentum through Election Day. Although there is not always a clear-cut winner declared; nevertheless, the goal is to avoid a memorable error (John Turner's famous 'I had no option' in the 1984 federal election debate comes to mind), but to exceed media and pundits' expectations that can trigger momentum at the doorstep. There is no doubt in my mind that the debate can be a powerful key to winning an election. So expect to see considerable time devoted to it by all candidates.

We'll re-visit the campaign from time-to-time to see how these 'keys' play out. In the meantime let the games begin!

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