The pundits dubbed this election the “Seinfeld Election.” The so-called “experts” couldn’t detect an overriding national theme. The journalists and consultants decided that issues weren’t important in this election. Instead it would come down to “turnout.” Which party or which candidate could best rally their supporters to show up and vote would win.
The pundits missed a step. Mobilization and turnout requires passion and it is issues that drive that passion. In an election in which turnout mattered so much, candidates that stressed issues thrived. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina signed CSE’s pledge to support personal retirement accounts early in her Senate campaign, and stressed it all year, all over the state. She won even though her opponent Erskine Bowles made her support of that pledge the focus of his multi-million dollar attack ads.
In New Hampshire, Rep. John Sunnunu also supported personal retirement accounts, and he stressed the need for fundamental tax reform. His Senate campaign was marked by a bold, clear economic agenda that included Social Security, taxes and energy policy. He beat Gov. Jeanne Shaheen who repeatedly attacked Sunnunu for supporting the flat tax and wanting to end the Death Tax.
Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) made his congressional race a textbook case of how to use Social Security reform as a winning campaign issue. From day one, Toomey played offense on the issue and focused on educating his constituents about the facts.
By standing for clear principles and effectively communicating their ideas these candidates (and others) excited and mobilized their base. These are just a few examples of how the best candidates this year used a clear agenda as a positive strategy for winning an election. Those are the types of campaigns that generate passion.
CSE has said over and over again all year long that the issues mattered and that candidates that laid out a clear case for less government, lower taxes and more freedom would capture the imagination of conservative grassroots activists. More importantly, CSE has been laying the educational and organizational groundwork in state after state to demonstrate the mobilizing power of these ideas. While CSE cannot and does not endorse candidates for office, those who choose to stress the issues CSE cares about clearly benefited from our year-long educational efforts and our late mobilization blitz. Voters in key states and districts understood the issues and knew where the candidates stood on those issues.
This election season, CSE was active in Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, and Washington directly letting voters know where their congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative candidates stood on key issues such as taxes, Social Security reform, tort reform, and energy security.
In the final weeks, CSE had 30 seasoned political operatives in the field directing an army of volunteer activists to distribute literature, pound yard signs, talk with local media, and track candidate movements. This direct effort was supplemented with phone banks, mail and both radio and television advertising.
In the final month, CSE communicated directly with 1.7 million voters in key states with educational mail, phone calls, flyers and email. Many more heard our message through the 50,000 yard signs and the targeted television and radio advertising in the closing moments of the election season.
On the other hand, the leadership of the Democratic Party led many of their candidates down the path of demagoguery and issue blurring. They decided to make opposition to personal retirement accounts their big “issue” for 2002. The argument they made against the idea of allowing workers to own and control a portion of their Social Security was based on lies and half-truths and designed to scare seniors into the voting booth. It didn’t work, in large part because of the efforts of CSE and other allies in a year-long intensive educational effort to tell the truth about Social Security and personal retirement accounts. The Democrats also complained about the economy, but offered no plan of their own. On taxes, their message was, at best, confusing. In short, the Democrats had no message and as a result, they lacked the motivating passion to electrify their base and turn-on their massive get-out-the-vote machine. They paid a huge price for running an issueless campaign.
So what does all this mean? Now is the time to press for Social Security reform. The pro-reform side not only survived, they thrived! President Bush ran on it in 2000 and won. Dole, Sunnunu, Toomey and dozens of their colleagues ran on it this year – and won. Let’s push to get personal retirement accounts enacted into law. The economy needs a boost, and making the entire Bush tax cut permanent would provide the right incentives for sustained long-term growth. And, now, President Bush has gained the upper-hand in the battle for fiscal restraint.
CSE generated a massive mobilization effort this cycle. If our elected leaders will follow through and push a bold economic agenda, CSE and our volunteer grassroots network will keep working. There is no limit to the passion generated by the idea of less government, lower taxes and more freedom.