From President to state legislature, every campaign is debating this question right now: When do we start? Specifically, when do we start attacking – or “contrasting with” – our opponent?
Eighty percent of campaigns will follow the counsel of the loudest and scaredest voice in the room, which is usually: Wait.
That voice says, “It’s too early. We don’t have enough money.” And this perennial folklore: “People make up their minds late.”
Well, they do if you don’t help them make up their minds early.
Case in point: Donald Trump’s opponents waited to attack him. They figured he’d either implode or walk away. Now he dominates the polls. So they’re attacking him. The result is that voters in Iowa saw 14 political ads during “Wheel of Fortune” last Saturday night.
No one can cut through that clutter.
The best way to win a race is to destroy – or at least badly damage – your opponent early.
That’s what Carter & Co. in the Jesse Helms campaign did to Jim Hunt in 1984. Needless to say, we didn’t wait at all in the 1992 and 1996 races for Governor.
Today, a lot of campaigns look like they’re waiting. They’re ceding the initiative to their opponent. They’re passive, not aggressive.
If you’re in a campaign strategy session and somebody asks, “When do we start?” you say, “Yesterday.”