The "October Surprise" Is A Terrible Campaign Strategy

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, reported yesterday that Senator Kay Hagan recommended a North Carolina judge for a federal appointment weeks before that judge ruled on a lawsuit that involved her husband's company, Hydrodyne Industries, LLC. 

From the story: 

Just a week after Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.) recommended a North Carolina judge to President Barack Obama for a seat in the U.S. District Court, the judge ruled in favor of a company partially owned by Hagan’s husband.

Superior Court Judge Calvin E. Murphy ruled the case in favor of Hydrodyne, setting the table for the Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority to pay millions in damages to companies including Hydrodyne.

It's possible that Hagan's opponent in the campaign for North Carolina's Senate seat, Thom Tillis, was unaware of the story before this week. But if the campaign did it's research, it should have known Hagan recommended Murphy for the appointment. 

That's important because if Tillis did know - and waited until now to leak the story to the Free Beacon - it's a poor campaign strategy. October surprises don't win elections. 

The goal in using your opponent's record to help you win is to define your opponent, not to attack them. One strategy Tillis has used throughout the campaign is to convince voters that Hagan is taking advantage of her office for personal gain. See this ad on Hagan's husband receiving stimulus money:

The appointment story re-emphasizes this ad. But waiting until October to bring it up is a mistake. 

By October, voters have been seeing ads for months, and they get fatigued by it all. By now, new information is often chalked up to "playing politics," and it's less likely to be believed. 

When you define your opponent rather than attack them, you start early. This appointment should have been discussed months ago, and then repeated in debates, television ads and media interviews over the course of the campaign. When voters hear the accusation, coupled with the story that Hagan's husband received hundreds of thousands of dollars in stimulus money, it begins to define who she is. 

So for your campaign, if you have some great surprise you want to spring on your opponent at the last minute, don't. Talk about it early and often, and define them rather than attack them. 

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