Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sheriff Candidate Emmitt Carney a Victim of Poor Strategy Employed by Republican County Chairman

Days before the election, local politicos have began suggesting that the race for Marion County Sheriff is tight. Abdul reports that Marion County Democratic Chairman Joel Miller was snarky toward him at a Democratic rally and concludes this has to do with supposed internal Layton polls showing Republican Emmitt Carney in a statistical dead heat.  Abdul and Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully (via Twitter) offer up more proof of a close race, that Layton has started running a negative ad against Carney.

Emmitt Carney
As far as the Layton-Carney race being close, well that's a bunch of nonsense.  It may be closer than the two other county races, but close?  Hardly.

One thing I learned about Marion County politics is that within the last week before the election it is a tradition for candidates who have comfortable leads to lie to their followers saying internal polls show the race is very close.   A similar tradition is, for candidates who are well behind, to lie to party workers that internal polls show the race has tightened.  Candidates do this to motivate the grass roots workers.  If Layton announced that he had the election in the bag, would Democrats be motivated to help him on Tuesday?  Not nearly as much.  So when Abdul talks about Layton "internal polls" showing a close race, I have no doubt that's exactly what Democratic grass roots workers are being told. But it is a gross exaggeration of the status of the race.

Abdul also mentions that Carney is "showing up in places a lot of Republicans don’t usually go i.e. urban neighborhoods, and he has been well received.  Carney has also had billboards up in predominantly black neighborhoods.  (He’s African-American by the way)."   This goes back to the Establishment GOP theory that if Republicans put an African-American on the ballot he or she will automatically get black votes.  In my 28 years of being involved in Marion County politics, I've seen that tried numerous times and not one time has it worked.

As far as the "negative" television ad that Layton began running just recently, that Layton ad was in direct response to brutal direct mail pieces attacking him put out by the local Republican party.  Politics 101 says you have to respond to negative attacks.  To not respond as a candidate when you're sitting on a big pile of money would have been political malpractice.  Layton's response ad accused Carney of making false claims (without getting much into  details) and suggested he was running a dirty, negative campaign.   I remember a friend in politics once telling me that the candidate who first accuses the other of going negative always wins the election. There is a lot of truth to that.

Now let me address specifically the Carney strategy, or more accurately, the strategy of Marion County Republican Chairman Kyle Walker.  Knocking off Sheriff Layton required the implementation of a well-orchestrated campaign.  Politics 101 says you divide races up into stages.  Here is a basic format:
Stage 1 - Introduction:  Candidate's biography and qualifications are laid out for the voters.
State 2 -  Plan:  Candidate sets out his or her plan for what the candidate wants to do if elected.
Stage 3 - Compare and Contrast:  Candidate sets out why voters should not vote for opponent. This is especially needed when running against an incumbent.  This stage often features "negative" ads.
Stage 4 - Positive: The last week of the campaign, the candidate pivots away from negative, contrast pieces and goes back to feel-good biographical ads and hit the theme of the campaign.   The candidate wants the last impression the voter has before going to the polls to be a positive one.
Stage 5 - Turnout:  The last few days of the campaign, the focus is on turning out the party's voters.
While Carney might have been engaging voters in neighborhood meetings, Marion County's population is so large there is no substitute for doing #1 and #2 via the media or direct mail.  But Walker didn't do that.  He instead went directly to Stage #3, sending out highly negative, slick direct mail pieces attacking Layton.  Carney has not been introduced to the voters.  His plan for running the office has not been presented. The first impression voters will have of Carney is to associate him with brutally negative attacks on Layton. 

I think Walker probably does know basic campaign strategy outlined above.   Rather, his last minute attacks on Layton seems not about helping Carney, but more about trying to convince others that he's doing his job to get Republicans elected in Marion County.  Certainly eyebrows have to be raised that Walker didn't bother to field candidates in 8 of 15 house races in Marion County, including in three districts that are at least mildly competitive.  Instead of being focused on 2014, Walker has spent his time obsessed with settling a political score by recruiting a candidate to run in the primary against Councilor Christine Scales in May 2015

The person I feel for the most though is Emmitt Carney.  He is a very impressive candidate who undoubtedly thought Walker and other local Republican leaders were sincere in wanting to get him elected.  Instead Carney is being used by party officials who wanted a highly-qualified African-American candidate to lead the county ticket for appearances sake, but who weren't actually willing to do what was necessary to get Carney elected.

For another good take on this race, see Jon Easter's Indy Democrat blog.

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