Based on the results of November 2nd, there is probably little that can be said as to what the soon to be ex-Congressman from the 3rd congressional district could have done to defeat incumbent Republican Senator David Vitter. With a pointedly anti-Obama wave of Republicans sweeping the nation, any blue-dog Democrat stood an outside chance at best. However this consultant has to wonder if certain missteps by the Melancon campaign ultimately sealed Charlie’s fate, regardless of any political climate.
While hindsight is always 20/20, these are just three of the critical mistakes that Charlie’s inner circle should have caught, and should serve as a lesson to anyone trying to run for political office…
All politics is local, except when it’s not.
We all know the saying referenced above. At the end of the day voters will vote based on what the issues that they feel affect them the most. It’s a fundamental concept that dictates most human behavior and in politics this usually translates into candidates trying to connect with voters on the local level. This is why most platforms include bullet points on crime and cost of living- issues that typically poll high with voters. Charlie’s issue however, is that while he attempted to brand himself as the homegrown candidate, he woefully neglected the national issues that voters perceived to be a direct threat to their livelihoods. The best example goes back to the very beginning of the health care debate in Louisiana. Every Congressman and Senator in Louisiana held at least one town hall to discuss healthcare. Except Charlie Melancon. For a candidate trying to make the argument that he is more in touch with his constituents than his competition it was ironic, if not downright hypocritical, to stay away from the fray. I have to assume that this is a decision that he may regret, because it ultimately displayed ignorance in what voters cared about this cycle.
Supporting the President… sort of…
American politics works in dichotomies. You’re a Republican or a Democrat. You voted for a bill or you didn’t. While we can argue about whether or not voters understand or appreciate the nuances that sometime arise in the Beltway, each election usually provides the same lesson: You have to pick a side. Melancon should have understood that you cannot rate an unpopular president with an “A” (even if just for effort) and try to criticize him for unpopular policy like the deepwater moratorium. Sure, being a Democrat, Melancon had to make sure he didn’t upset his base and his financial backers but it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. In other words, focus on making sure your message is what voters want, and worry about the fallout with your buddies outside the state later.
On the other hand, let’s assume that Charlie truly supported the president and publicly distancing himself completely would be too much of a compromise of his fundamental beliefs on policy. If that’s the case don’t be apologetic and don’t waffle. You’re not going to out Republican a Republican (especially David Vitter) so change the discussion, which leads me to critique, number three…
If know you have to go negative, do it first.
Negative campaigning is one of the biggest trick bags for any campaign. There are countless elections that are won and lost because of negative campaigning that went awry. However there is one fundamental rule that seems to hold true. If you know you have to go negative, make sure you’re the first out the gate. In Melancon’s case he allowed Vitter to pound away at him for over a year on issues like healthcare and the stimulus. The negatives on Vitter were no secret, so waiting until the last moments of the campaign to use them allowed Vitter to frame Charlie and make his message look more reactionary than informative- which may have been the ultimate death nail.
It’s possible that this is all academic; perhaps the biggest mistake was running against a red meat Republican during a climate that heavily favored the embattled Senator. Maybe there was nothing the Cajun Congressman from Napoleonville could have done to win, but the mistakes on the campaign trail were glaring and should serve as a lesson to those that run in the future.