Brown v. Shaheen: What Can You Learn?

When you're running for the first time, you won't have a lot of resources and you'll need to take advantage of what you have. One resource is other campaigns - follow them closely and take away the best of what they do, and avoid the mistakes they make. The point of this series is to help first-time candidates do just that. Shoot me an email if you want help with your race. 

Context of the Race

2014 Cook Index for New Hampshire: D+1
Polling when Brown entered the race (April 2014): Shaheen +9

This is one of my favorite races to follow because of all the Senate races in 2014, you can see most clearly in New Hampshire how much a well run campaign can effect an election.

Shaheen is a first-term Senator who ran for Senate in 2008 as a popular Governor in New Hampshire. When Brown entered the race in April of 2014, Shaheen's popularity was very high and she held a nine point lead in the race. Here's a preview of the race from FiveThirtyEight, a data-driven sports & politics analysis blog, when Brown announced. FiveThirtyEight essentially dismissed his candidacy. 

Brown had a serious achilles heel entering the race. He's a former U.S. Senator - from Massachusetts. Among the 'deadly sins' of running for office, being a carpetbagger is near the top. Few voters view a candidate moving to their state to run for office as a positive. 


Scott Brown's message is a little less intuitive than most of the Senate Republicans running this year. Like the others, he does talk about his opponent being an Obama supporter. But unlike his opponents, the central message of his campaign is that "Scott Brown is one of us." 

Brown moved to New Hampshire before soon before announcing his run, and he needed to neutralize the "carpetbagger" accusation. Because he's among the best retail politicians running for office today, he's one of the few capable of shaking that image. 

When I check out someone's political website, I look first at the "About Me" section to see what the candidate most wants voters to know about him. It took me a few seconds to find that section on Brown's website because instead of being titled "About Me" or "About Scott" like it is on most sites, it's called "The Browns." He's a family man, and he wants you to know that. 

Here's how the section begins:

Scott Brown was born September 12, 1959 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Scott’s parents met when his mom was a waitress at Hampton Beach and his dad was an airman at Pease Air Force Base. They met, fell in love, and a year later Scott was born. When he left the hospital, he went home to his first house on Islington Street in Portsmouth.

He doesn't lead the section about himself with a resume or why he's more qualified to be Senator. He starts with a story about his parents and how they New Hampshire [read: I'm not a carpetbagger].

The rest of the section is similarly about who Scott Brown is: he overcame childhood abuse...he played college basketball...he joined the Army National Guard after being inspired by their response to disasters...and he first got involved in politics to serve as town assessor. 

Here's a recent ad titled "Gail," the name of his wife:

Notice a couple of things about this ad: first, the camera is shaky. They use the "shaky camera" to give the feeling that it's a home video, the way television shows like The Office and Friday Night Lights do. It feels a little more relatable. And while Scott is there in for the entire ad, he never talks. He just looks at the floor, acting slightly awkward. It's the way we all would act sitting next to somebody praising us for two minutes. Then when you expect him to talk at the end, he just kisses his wife. 

Scott Brown is not a candidate for the United States Senate, he's just a regular guy who wants to help his community. And while that image will play well anywhere, it's particularly suited for New Hampshire, a state where voters are used to Presidential aspirants coming to diners and town halls to ask for votes, one by one. 

Most of the Senate Republican candidates this year want to nationalize their races. They want to tie their opponents to Obama, and make the race a referendum on Obama's performance. Brown does regularly talk about Shaheen voting with Obama 99% of the time - but the central message of his campaign is far more local - Scott Brown is one of us. He's likable, and he uses his likability to connect with voters and to dispel the image that he's a carpetbagger. 

Senator Shaheen's message is that she is "a tireless advocate for New Hampshire with a record of making a difference." She contrasts her love for New Hampshire with Scott Brown's recent relocation to the Granite State. From her website: 

Jeanne Shaheen has always put New Hampshire first. As a state senator, governor and now as a U.S. senator, Jeanne’s commitment to the Granite State has been unwavering.
Scott Brown just moved to New Hampshire and is trying to distract from his record of supporting corporate special interests by basing his entire campaign on one Washington, DC survey.

And here are a couple of her recent ads: 

Notice the first line of each of these ads: "They don't call us the Granite State for nothing..." and "Here in New Hampshire..."

Shaheen wants to connect with the voters by emphasizing that she is from New Hampshire, she is New Hampshire through and through and Scott Brown is from Massachusetts. 

The two competing messages are: "I'm Scott Brown. I'm just like you, and you kind of like me, don't you? Also, my opponent is a lot like Obama."

And for Shaheen: "I've been a tireless worker for New Hampshire, and I'm from New Hampshire. And my opponent is a carpetbagger from Massachusetts."


Take a look at how the race has changed over time: 

Image via RealClearPolitics

Image via RealClearPolitics

This graphic tells us all we need to know about whose message connects better with voters. But it's not just about the message - it's about the messenger. Both candidates want to connect with New Hampshire's voters and convince them that "I am one of you." Shaheen has the advantage - she's from New Hampshire and Brown has only recently moved there - but Brown has closed a 9 point deficit to her.

Why? Because he's a better messenger. Take a look at this clip from their debate last week. Shaheen interrupts Brown while he is in his closing remarks. Rather than get upset, he politely tells her to go ahead and finish what she's saying. Then he politely chastises her for interrupting him while he was courteous enough to let her speak unopposed during her close. 

If voters go into the polling booth next Tuesday thinking about who they would rather go out for a beer with, Brown wins hands down. And that's why he's been able to close a 9 point gap and make a long shot race competitive. 

Takeways for your campaign

So, how do be like Scott Brown? How can you be a better messenger? 

When crafting a message, people running for office often look at the most important issues to voters. That's important, but you have to cross that list with issues that are most important to YOU. Not just the issues you agree with voters on, but the ones you are passionate about. When you talk to voters from a place of true conviction, you come across as more sincere, and voters see that. 

The second way you can improve as a messenger is to take some time to think about why you're running for office. Does it sound like fun to be on the city council, or is there some deeper reason you originally chose to run? I'd take some serious time to think about that without distractions - go to a coffee shop with pen and paper and write out exactly why you want to be the Mayor or a City Council member or State Representative. 

The third way to improve as a messenger is to practice. Whether that means joining Toastmasters or just practicing your stump speech at home, practice makes perfect. The better you know what you want to convey, the better you'll get at delivering that message to voters.

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