Ever since I kicked my first political envelope at age 12, I have been passionate about politics. I look forward to every campaign season. I speculate who will qualify, pour over campaign literature, attend forums, devour polls, analyze campaign finance reports, and eagerly await election returns.
Somehow this campaign season is different. Although early voting begins Saturday September 30 and continues through October 7, a high number of voters – more than 30 percent by several accounts- have still not decided who they would support. Early voters- including many chronic voters- now make up twenty percent of total voters. Candidates who fare well in early voting are more likely to win.
Yet many voters and donors characterize current candidates especially “lackluster.”
“There have not been any kind of inspiring campaigns and no real effort to engage the voters,” said UNO pollster Dr. Ed Chervenak who has pegged undecided voters at 33 percent. “The campaigns seem to be narrowly targeting likely voters instead of engaging the entire candidate community.”
In the era of never-ending social media posts, over-sized direct mail pieces, slick TV spots and third party attacks, old fashioned voter engagement is still key.
“Voters want candidates to make a personal connection and take that second to chat,” explained Chervenak. “Those few moments are still very important to voters. People need to be pushed. They need to be convinced. They need to be asked to show up on Election Day. ”
It’s just not voters who are unsatisfied, the donor pool also is feeling fatigue. Donors prefer to give money to candidates who they can relate to, agree with in issues and believe they can do business with.
“All candidate ‘X’ wants is my money. He doesn’t care about my views on the issues,” said one Business Council member recently. Several deep-pocketed lawyers who regularly donate well beyond judicial races also have described the current pool of candidates as anemic. One lawyer told me his reluctant choice for mayor was “the first among unequals.”
Some campaigns have devoted considerable time, energy and resources reaching out to voters through listening tours, candidate forums, churches, senior centers, parades, and other feel good events. Meet-and-greets can be an especially effective tool when hosts become influencers in their communities. Several female candidates have developed strategies to specifically target that all-important constituency.
“I can’t go to the grocery store or the cleaners without people asking me who they should vote for,” said one former elected official. “Many people are more focused on their District Council races and might vote for a mayoral candidate — or not — as an afterthought. Voters doubt that candidates can bring real change; that their vote is going to make a difference. The Sewerage and Water Board, crime, potholes and bad streets have shell-shocked them.”
Whether voters are enthusiastic or not, vote they must beginning this Saturday at four locations including City Hall, the Algiers Court House, the Voting Machine Warehouse on Chef Menteur and in Lake Vista. Strong early voting will lead to a strong overall turnout and give winning candidates a clear mandate. See you at the polls.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.