Iowa Caucuses: Battles won, Wars lost


by Peter Watts

Here come the caucuses, and I don’t mean the mountain range between Europe and Asia. This is the process by which the US Republican Party will choose the individual who faces-off against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

The past months have seen candidates spreading their message like farmers spreading silage in the Fall; generously, fragrantly, and in every direction. Wednesday January 3rd will yield the first results in the form of the Iowa caucus.

For the Presenters’ Blog, it’s too much of an opportunity to pass-up. Every so often between now and November, when the whole process crescendos to a conclusion, we’ll drop in to see what learning points the participants have laid out for presenters.

For this first visit, I’d like to focus on two particular candidates while they are still in the race: Mr. Rick Santorum and Mrs. Michele Bachmann.

Santorum and Bachmann are hard-right social conservatives. Their demongraphic, and yes I did mean to spell it that way,  is the hardcore religious-right, an audience motivated by purity to a bible-based value set. Santorum and Bachmann have therefore competed to out-do each other in condemning everything and everyone that isn’t in straight agreement with the bible. For that matter, they’ve spent most of their time simply condemning anyone who isn’t straight.

Their focus has been to pursue a niche in the market, and make it their own. From a public speaking point-of-view they win full-marks for “know thy audience”. Here’s the danger though: In seeking to appeal specifically to one audience segment, both have lost sight of the bigger picture. They have made themselves highly electable to a specific group, while making themselves unelectable to the wider population.

Furthermore it’s possible that in future primaries such as New Hampshire, electorates could respond with a backlash specifically against these two candidates. If we reach a point where even other Republicans are motivated to go to the polls simply to reject Santorum and Bachmann, then the size of the challenge facing them in the November election becomes fully apparent.

Let’s compare their approach to that taken by two other candidates, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Both these candidates, while having ticked the “faith” box, have avoided elevating social values as their number one topic. Instead they have sought to merely avoid offending the values voter. By this means they remain viable to the wider electorate without unnecessarily creating opponents to their right.

So, for the first Presenters’ Blog talking point of Election 2012 I’d like to propose:

Know your audience and seek its support, but don’t do so in such a way that you create passionate opponents where they needn’t have otherwise existed

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