“Open up dialogue, not a monologue.”
June 18, 2014
Every election cycle, we see a new crop of candidates delivering the same old rhetoric— promising change, vilifying their opponents, calling for a “shakeup” in Washington. The word ‘change’ gets thrown around frequently; so much so, that it has practically become synonymous with the status quo. This begs the question: how can a candidate distinguish his or herself when ‘change’ has effectively become a cliché?
For Dave Brat, it was not a matter of reinventing the wheel. Instead, ‘change’ meant reverting back to campaign basics: shaking hands, knocking on doors, and listening to voters. Brat recently made headlines by defeating Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th district Republican primary. His win certainly came as a surprise. Brat only spent $122,793 on his campaign, while Cantor’s team shelled out $5,026,626. Even more shocking, Cantor reportedly spent more on steak dinners than Brat spent on his entire campaign— a whopping $168,635.
While these numbers are shocking, most experts agree that Cantor’s real mistake was prioritizing his role as Majority Leader over his job as a district representative. He ran his campaign out of Washington, and as a result, his outreach efforts came off as impersonal. Cantor allocated most of his funds to television and radio ads, essentially delivering monologues to his constituents. Moreover, on the day of his primary, Cantor was at a Starbucks on Capitol Hill raising money for the Republican Party. Brat, on the other hand, focused his efforts on field work, talking to voters face-to-face. Congressional primaries are notorious for having low turn-outs— people do not vote unless you give them a compelling reason to— which is dangerous for an established politician like Cantor.
In the end, Brat defeated Cantor, not by promising ‘change’ in a conventional sense, but by contrasting his outreach methods with those of his opponent. At the core of each campaign are personal connections. While Cantor should have returned home more often, some of his responsibilities on the Hill made it impossible. Those “in Washington” obligations are the reason why Tele-Town Hall was started in the first place— to facilitate frank and open conversations with your district when you cannot leave the Hill.
John Shepard – Associate