Answer: Roof racks, matchbooks and newspaper ads
Question: Name three things no longer used in modern political campaigns
The Donoghue v Doherty state senate race has given those of us interested in politics much to contemplate. You have two capable candidates who have each raised more than $100,000, and the result has been a fascinating campaign to watch from the outside. Even though the real analysis of what worked and what didn’t won’t take place until Wednesday, we can make some observations right now.
In years past, newspaper advertising often was the single biggest expenditure by candidates. That’s no longer the case. Even this morning, just two days before the election, neither candidate had an ad in the local newspaper. That both candidates (who are both employing professional campaign consultants) have neglected this established campaign tool cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps the campaigns anticipate more bang for their buck from other things – like direct mail.
As I wrote earlier this morning, the large-format, full-colored post card seems to have become the primary delivery system of local campaigns in 2010. Chris Doherty used them more than anyone. He seemed to use them in two different phases. Early on, his cards focused on his background and on his position on the issues. This group reminded me of a long story serialized in consecutive issues of a magazine; each built upon the previous one, creating more and more interest each time. Doherty’s second postcard phase, however, shifted to attack mode, repeatedly criticizing Donoghue for various things. The idea, I suppose, was to first define himself and then define his opponent. Whether this was effective will be determined by the voters on Tuesday. Donoghue also sent multiple postcards with all but the last one focused exclusively on her record as mayor of Lowell and as a city councilor. The most recent postcard struck back at Doherty’s attacks on her. A couple of things have made these postcards so popular: high speed, high volume color printers are much more affordable. Database availability allows campaigns to better target voters, making mailings much more efficient.
Both campaigns have made extensive use of the internet with active websites and Facebook pages. With so many people spending so much time online, this kind of web presence is crucial. Both campaigns have also employed telephones and door-to-door canvassing to ID voters. Several folks have reported seeing a Doherty commercial on cable TV which, for a ten year period beginning in the early 1990s, was one of the prime methods of local campaigning. The profusion of channels and the disappearance of the local cable news program (remember “Newscenter 6”?) has made cable commercials less attractive.
Ironically, radio seems to be resurgent in campaigning these days. Both Donoghue and Doherty have commercials on WCAP as does almost every other candidate in a contested race up and down the ballot. It’s funny; the last time I remember WCAP being mentioned in the local newspaper’s political column, it was a disparaging remark about the small size of WCAP’s listenership. The candidates must have different data because they’re all on the radio and not in the newspaper.
Strangely enough, I would advise a candidate to not skip the newspaper entirely. A few ads that complement the direct mail message could still be effective. But maybe I’m just old fashioned: I still mourn the demise of the “roof rack” – the sign-displaying contraption held to the roof of your car with suction cups and bungee cords. Who knows? Donoghue and Doherty both might have ads in Monday’s paper, but even if they do, their absence until now signals a historic change in thinking when it comes to local political campaigns.