Here’s a message for California Governor Gavin Newsom:
You are not going to stave off the recall with television commercials.
It’s a fundamental precept of election campaigning: identify your voters and get them out to vote.
You don’t do that with television commercials. TV is a tool primarily for persuasion and in this election no one needs to be persuade when it comes to deciding which side they favor. TV commercials can be tools for motivating voters to cast ballots, but in the case of the anti-recall commercials I’ve seen so far they probably are doing more to motivate recall backers than opponents.
The difficulty for Newsom is that Republicans, though a tiny minority of the electorate, are far more motivated than Democrats. Republicans made up the vast majority of those signing petitions to create this election. Republicans know it’s virtually impossible for them to win a regular statewide General Election in California. But this isn’t a regular election and the lower overall turnout offers Republicans delicious opportunity to make mischief. Every voter in the state will receive a ballot in the mail, so it will be easy for Republican voters, frustrated by their almost hopeless numerical minority position statewide, to shove a stick in the spokes of the process of government by voting in large numbers to throw out the Democratic governor.
The anti-recall campaign has aired two television commercials that I have seen so far. During the time those commercials were running public opinion polls shifted from the recall looking like a long shot to where it now looks like a close call.
The first commercial features scenes of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the federal Capitol. It didn’t tell Democratic and independent voters anything they didn’t already know, but it served to enrage Republicans, many of whom believe Donald Trump won the election, it was stolen, and Jan. 6 was justifiable.
The second commercial features U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren telling us the recall is a waste of public funds for partisan purposes. On the list of lightening rods for Republicans, Warren probably ranks in the top five. So every time a Republican sees that commercial it’s a reminder of how important it is to vote. And that isn’t good for Newsom.
These commercials aren’t going to convince anyone to vote against the recall. Instead, the anti-recall commercials should be giving voters reasons to retain Newsom as governor. The message should be: Keep Gavin Newsom leading for California. Tout the state’s success in combatting COVID under and compare the state with Florida and Texas, where one third of the new virus infections in the nation have occurred. Boast of how the state’s economy is recovering from the devastation of the virus. Show doctors and nurses praising the state’s efforts to quell the virus.
Ultimately, the effort to defeat the recall will come down to who votes and who doesn’t vote. That’s true, of course, in every election. But it’s even more true in an untraditional, low turnout election. You can convince people that ousting Newsom is a bad idea with TV commercials, but to get them to vote will require good, old-fashioned shoe leather.
You’re not going to change the minds of those wanting to vote for the recall so stop wasting time and money on that. The single focus of the anti-recall campaign needs to be getting people already opposed to the recall to cast ballots, something most polls show is not a priority for them.
By now the anti-recall campaign should have an army of paid workers and volunteers recruited and trained to go door-to-door to collect ballots from Democrats and make sure they get turned in. Live phoners – not robocalls – should be ready to alert voters that those Democratic Party representatives will be coming around and stress why it’s important to vote. Social media can help with this task.
It’s a get-out-the-vote campaign, not a competition for who can produce the best TV commercial to enter for an award at the next American Association of Political Consultants convention.
A boots-on-the-ground operation should be poised now and ready to go when ballots are mailed to voters. But it isn’t. Is it too late to organize such an effort with the election just more than five weeks away? Probably. But the campaign has plenty of money. If the effort gets a total commitment and hires enough organizing staff, crews can be hired, Democratic clubs and volunteers activated and some semblance of an operation can be launched.
It needs to start at the top of the campaign team and so far we don’t see any indication they will head in that direction. Every Democrat in the state will have a ballot in his or her hands. The task is to get them to fill it out and cast it.