In this month’s turnabout election that swept Democrats out of office and Republicans into power, one race stands out as a dramatic exception: Harry Reid, the incumbent Democratic Senator of Nevada and Senate Majority Leader, beat his Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle, despite her lead in the polls right up until Election Day.
How did Mr. Reid do it? Many theories abound. An analysis in Politico listed ten factors:
• Plan ahead
• Build a machine
• Turn out the base
• Work the Hispanic vote
• Stay focused, forget loyalty
• Cultivate friends in high places
• Co-opt the opposition
• Pick your opponent
• Nibble at the margins
• Trust your own polls
There is one other reason that, with all due respect, has nothing to do with Mr. Reid’s efforts, but with Ms. Angle’s biggest blunder: She ducked the press.
Nicholas Lemann, who had written a 7500+ word article about the Nevada senatorial campaign in the New Yorker the week before the election, summed up the results in a 300+ word post-mortem analysis. He gave credit to Rebecca Lambe, whom he called Mr. Reid’s “secret weapon” or “ground game” specialist who helped get out the vote, but Mr. Lemann also pointed to Ms. Angle’s evasiveness: “she was … skittish about engaging in the conventional aspects of politics. For the past few weeks, when she thought she was sitting on a lead, she has been almost invisible except over the airwaves [in paid advertisements].”
The epitome of Ms. Angle’s media aversion was manifested in a famous YouTube video in which she bolted away from Reno camera crews, refusing to be interviewed—or answer their questions.
Ms. Angle’s one-way information transmission takes the “co” out of “communication.” And she was emulating her influential Tea Party endorser, Sarah Palin. Ms. Palin’s outbound-only tactic was best described by the knowledgeable John Heilemann, author of the bestselling book about the 2008 election, Game Change. In a current article in New York Magazine titled, “2012: How Sarah Barracuda Becomes President,” Mr. Heilemann writes, “she does not engage with the free press, she does not answer questions when she speaks, her communication is done in 140-character bursts on Twitter or on a Facebook post.”
Mr. Heilemann’s article notwithstanding, Ms. Palin is not (yet) officially running for office, but Ms. Angle was, and the tactic—in the face of Mr. Reid’s aggressive campaign—backfired. Ms. Palin’s one-way transmissions (which will be the subject of a subsequent blog) cannot be fully evaluated until she throws her hat in the ring.
There is a clear message here for politicians and an even stronger one for presenters. To gain the confidence—and the votes—of their constituents, politicians must earn the right by being open to any and all questions. While voters have become tolerant of politicians’ evasions, customers and investors never tolerate such behavior from business people. For anyone and everyone seeking to persuade others, they must be travel a two-way street. Evasion is not an option.
Keep the “co” in “communication.”