In a campaign, you need to frame the debate. The election is going to be about something, and you want to decide what it is about.
In The Art of Political War, David Horowitz's adaptation of Sun Tzu, Horowitz talks about framing the debate in this way:
Politics is a war of position. In war there are two sides, friends and enemies. Your task is to define yourself as the friend of as large a constituency compatible with your principles as possible, while defining your opponent as their enemy wherever and whenever you can. The act of defining combatants is analogous to the military concept of choosing the terrain of battle. Choose the ground that makes the fight as "rigged" in your favor as possible.
But be careful. American politics takes place in a pluralistic framework, where constituencies are diverse and often in conflict. Therefor "fairness" and "tolerance" are the formal rules of democratic engagement. If you appear mean-spirited, nasty, or too judgmental, it will make the task easier for your opponent to define you as a threat, and therefore as "the enemy."
I'm not a fan of the overused comparison between politics and war. But Horowitz explains the idea of positioning better than I can.
Example: if you have a great record of job creation and "jobs" is an issue the voters care about, make the election about job creation.
If you have a law enforcement background and crime is an issue the voters care about, make the election about crime and safety.
Let's say your community is growing rapidly and your voters want to preserve some semblance of what their community used to be. If you've lived there for forty years, you want the election to be about who knows his community best.
How does this work in practice?
First, focus your campaign message on an issue that plays to your favor. Repeat that message over and over. Your opponent will try to do the same thing in debates and in his campaign ads.
Then use wording that helps shift the focus back to your message. You can use these phrases while debating your opponent, giving your stump speech or even in your ads.
Try the phrase:
"let me tell you what this election is really about..."
That will help you get the conversation back on your message.
Another phrase that works and lends itself well to telling a story is:
"the moms and dads in my district tell me that what is most important to them is..."
Follow that up with a story about a voter you talked to that helps make your message connect with voters.
Use these phrases in a way that is comfortable for you. If it feels cheesy, alter the phrase to feel more like something you would say.
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