Campaign Message Tips: Stay on Message Even When It Is Personal
Staying consistent with your campaign message is not easy. When first entering into politics some people may tell you to “never take it personal,” referring to the awful things people may say about you or your issues. "Stay on Message" "You need to have campaign message discipline" - is something you hear over and over again but that is easier in theory than reality.
If we lived in a world that was devoid of feelings and emotions then this could be possible, but luckily we do not. We want our representatives to have an emotional attachment to their constituents and the issues affecting them. There is, however, a time when we must try not to take it personally and battle a brick wall that will never move.
When running for office, you are going to encounter voters and especially reporters who are going to ask you questions that, as a proud progressive, may give you cause to explode into a tirade listing all the reasons that line of questioning is obviously inappropriate. It is in these instances that we need to calmly take a breath and determine if this is indeed a teachable moment, or if this person is merely trying to get a rise out of you. If it is the latter, no matter how much you would like to give that person a piece of your mind, this is an opportunity to pivot back to your campaign message and move on. You need to remember that you are in control of steering the conversation and the potential story that comes from your answers. If we react the way they would like, then the story ends up being about a blow-up and not about the pertinent issues to your constituents.
“Responding” to these questions should be part of your campaign plan. These pointed, and often inappropriate, questions are usually directed and asked of “non-traditional” candidates such as women, people of color, LGBT people, people living with disabilities, etc., because society and the media feel the need to hold us to a higher degree of scrutiny. For example, women are often analyzed for their appearance or asked about how they have time to manage a home and a career. LGBT people are sometimes asked how their sexual orientation or gender identity will affect the way they serve and the agenda they push. Now, we all know that men’s appearances are not held under a microscope, nor are they asked about their home life, and in the same regard, straight people are not questioned on how their love for the opposite sex will affect their choices and votes. However, reporters can only report what you actually say, and as hard as it may be, it is important that you pivot your answer back to your campaign message.
Here is an example of how a gender-biased question can be turned into a teachable campaign message moment:
Reporter to female candidate: Do you think you will have time to serve the community and still have time to manage a household and raise your children?
Example pivot answer: Being a mother and managing a household has given me a great perspective that I think this position needs. I know what families across this district are going through and the need to create more jobs that suit this community and that will last for our children and future generations.
The story that comes from and answer like this will be much different than the story that comes from you berating the reporter on why he doesn’t ask male candidates the same questions or how’s it irrelevant to the duties of the office.
So this is all to say that when running for office there are going to be a lot of battles that you will step into, but it is important to understand that to win the war on Election Day you need to choose when to fight those battles carefully.
Know what your campaign message is and stick with it. Don't let folks throw you off message.