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Ken Plum: Reflections on the elections

“Oh, no!” many may exclaim at the idea of hearing any more about the elections. But I believe it is instructive for the future to consider what happened and why.

As residents of a battleground state, Virginians were inundated with telephone calls, television ads and slick mailers. Interestingly, the guys who spent the most money did not win. Virginia is a state that had just a few years ago elected Republicans to its top three statewide offices, majorities in the House and Senate, and 8 of its 11 Congressional representatives. Yet President Obama won the state handily. And former Governor Tim Kaine won a seat in the U.S. Senate even though 30 million in outside dollars were spent against him. How can this happen? Some of my thoughts on the question follow.

Respect for the electorate is critically important in elections. The notion that a campaign of 12 months of half-truth advertising as was run against Senator-elect Tim Kaine would be effective shows a disregard of the intelligence of the voters. The over-the-top ads created a negative attitude on the part of the electorate for the persons running the ads. For its part the Kaine campaign ran television ads for 12 weeks rather than 12 months that overwhelmingly featured the candidate speaking directly to the voters on what he intended to do in office.

Slick political mailing pieces are no longer effective. Voters can spot them instantly, and they go into the recycling bin. They are slick to the touch or some may say slimy, very colorful with a grainy photo of the opponent and a family picture of the candidate. The opponent is always a bum; the candidate has the answer to all the district’s problems. Political consultants continue to push this advertising because that’s the way it has always been done, and the consultants make lots of money on producing, printing and mailing them. In contrast, the Obama and Kaine campaigns made effective use of social media.

Demographics have changed, and no campaign showed a greater awareness of these changes and their impact on voting than did the Obama and Kaine campaigns. Messages were tailored and directed to different constituencies very effectively. In contrast, I got about a dozen Romney mailings, including requests for contributions. Obviously, there was something wrong with their targeting.

Campaigns need to change to reflect the intelligence of the voters, who they are, and how they get their information. Voters need to be congratulated on cutting through the static of the campaigns, sticking it out in long voter lines, and electing strong leaders. But voters need to take responsibility every year for being involved. It is incongruous that the same voters who helped elect President Obama and Tim Kaine also voted for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the ultraconservatives in the General Assembly who passed the anti-woman legislation last year. We have a chance to rectify those mistakes. Next year we elect another governor and House of Delegates members. If everyone who voted this year votes next year in the same way, we will have a positive change of direction in Virginia.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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