|Challenger Melina Kennedy|
But while Kennedy was not the perfect candidate for the times, she still could have won, and easily so. Let's re-examine the strategy her campaign used, starting first with the primary.
The importance of money to political campaigns is often misunderstood. The media focuses simply on how much money is raised and how much is left. But the HOW AND WHEN MONEY IS SPENT is every bit as important as total dollar amounts.
Campaigns have "windows" during which voters are paying attention. Contrary to what some people think, primary competition is not always a bad thing and spending money in a primary is not always bad. A primary, especially a primary with competition, is a window when voters are paying attention and learning more about the candidates. With two opponents in the primary, both of whom had some name ID but lacked the resources to compete, Kennedy had the perfect situation. She should have spent money in the primary window running strictly positive ads about herself, defiing herself without any interference by the Republicans. By the time, the primary was over, voters would have thought her to be a terrific candidate and made it easier for her to later run "negative" ads without her being defined as negatively as she was.
Kennedy's not spending money in the primary might have seemed smart. But it wasn't. Spending that money leading up to the primary would have been a great investment for the general election.
|Mayor Greg Ballard|
After that initial general election positive stage, she should have gone after Ballard on specific issues. Don't let anyone say otherwise, a challenger who does not criticize an incumbent, especially an incumbent Mayor, has no chance of winning. Elections involving an incumbent are a referendum on the incumbent. A challenger does not beat an incumbent unless he or she says why the incumbent should not be re-elected.
How should Kennedy have gone about picking issues to address? The campaign at this stage should have hired a media or public relations outlet that empaneled a focus group. A focus group is a group of maybe 15-20 individuals picked at random from the overall electorate. The focus group would include Democrats, Republicans, and independents, men and women, people of all races/ethnicities and ages. The media outlet first asks the focus group both direct and open-ended questions about the perception of the Mayor and his challenger.
Why do that? It's because any message works better if it fits into a pre-existing perception about the candidate. For example, there is a pre-existing belief that Ballard is a "nice guy." While some people who have worked with Ballard suggest otherwise, a challenger is not going to be able to use a message the acceptance of which depends on the conclusion that Ballard is not a "nice guy." It's hard-wired into the electorate that Ballard is a nice and sincere man.
The focus group, however, would have revealed pre-existing beliefs about Ballard that opened up avenues to attack. For example, before the election, I doubt the focus group would have called Ballard a "strong leader" and likely would have agreed with the statement that he is too influenced both those people around him. That could have been a theme that Kennedy played on when it came to selecting specific issues for telling voters why Ballard should not be re-elected.
The focus group members should have also been asked their opinion on specific issues. My guess is almost the entire focus group would have been against the Mayor's decision to give the Pacers $33.5 million and would have been pretty animated in their feelings. To only a slightly lesser degree, I think the 50 year parking meter contract would have been an issued that stirred opposition from the focus group, especially when told (the truth) that 70% of the parking meter revenue over the next 50 years is going to a Texas company. Same too with respect to the Broad Ripple parking garage, which taxpayers pay to build and is given away to Keystone Construction. Finally, the CIB actual and proposed tax increases too would have raised people's ire in the focus group (Ballard proposed increasing the alcohol tax, the food and beverage tax, the rental car tax, the hotel tax, the ticket tax), especially if raised in a specific fashion and tied to more tax dollars given to professional sports.
All these issues relate to the specific theme, i.e. that Ballard is a weak leader who is manipulated by people around him. You don't want to make the argument that Ballard is a bad guy - people refuse to believe that - but rather that he is a guy overwhelmed by the job and is dominated by people around him. You contrast that with Kennedy, making her to appear to be someone smart and in control, someone who is willing to say "no" to the insider fat cats who dominate the Ballard administration.
At the "negative" stage, Kennedy never developed a message that fit into a pre-existing view about Ballard. She never went after the leadership issue. The issues involving corporate welfare which would have most moved the focus group against Ballard, went untouched by Kennedy, probably because she really isn't that against what Ballard did. It could have also been because of WHO Kennedy received campaign contributions from. A perfect example is the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars she received from the Simons family. Is that money really worth it if because of it she has to take one of her best issues - the Pacer $33.5 million taxpayer gift - off the table?
Kennedy finished the final days of the campaign as she should have, with a positive message about her. But by that time, the election was over. She had not defined herself or Ballard.
Neither the Kennedy or Ballard campaigns had a coherent, overall campaign strategy. That mystifies me. These campaigns spent several million dollars yet they didn't seem to follow market-based, campaign strategies that are well-known to people in the industry.