Case Study: Choose your battlefield

Wise campaigners make sure they choose the battlefield

Wise campaigners make sure they choose the battlefield

Richard Nixon was a great campaigner. I spend more time studying his campaigns and Lyndon Johnson's campaigns than any others to learn from what they did well. 

In 1950, he was a young Congressman looking to take another step forward in his political career by running for U.S. Senate. The seat was open, and Nixon faced Helen Gahagan Douglas in the general election. Douglas was a former Hollywood actress who also a sitting member of Congress (and, incidentally, Lyndon Johnson's mistress). 

While California was more conservative at the time, the registered Democrats still outnumbered the registered Republicans. Nixon needed independent and democratic votes to win.

What Nixon did was choose the issue on which they would debate throughout the campaign. Nixon, who was nationally known at this point for having challenged Alger Hiss, a beloved figure on the left who ended up serving time in prison for being a Communist spy. 

Douglas, on the other hand, had been criticized by more conservative Democrats in the primary as "the pink lady," implying that she was soft on communism. 

Nixon's strategy was to make the race about a single issue: Is communism a threat? 

Once the stage was set, it was nearly impossible for Nixon to lose. Douglas simply accepted the race on Nixon's terms, and lost. 

In your race, this may be simple. Few candidates for city council think through the campaign in this much detail. There's a good chance your opponent will simply accept your characterization of what the election is about. 

You can make it about what you want it to be about. If you have questions on how to do that, shoot me an email and we can discuss your race. 

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