Defying the Odds

What do you do when your candidate is a long shot for the win—largely unknown, with no clear strategy against the popular incumbent? Maybe it’s time to turn to a rat.


What do you do when your candidate is a long shot for the win—largely unknown, with no clear strategy against the popular incumbent? Maybe it’s time to turn to a rat.

 

That’s what Fred Davis, a Republican media consultant, did to help Sonny Perdue win the Georgia governorship. Davis was a little-known state senator who had just switched to the Republican Party, vastly outspent in a state unfriendly to Republican candidates. Davis went to bed one night, needing desperately to think up a message that could take down then-Gov. Roy Barnes. He woke up with a start and wrote down a script that he kept, word for word.

 

The ad cast Barnes as a giant rat—King Roy—stomping through Georgia, climbing skyscrapers and terrorizing the state. It was never aired on television, but the sheer audacity of the image captured the media’s attention, helping it become the dominant story of the race. Perdue won by six points.

 

Davis, who is the chairman and founder of Strategic Perception, Inc., says Perdue’s win reveals why working for a long shot candidate can be so fun—it gives you a chance to jump outside the box. Davis was a panelist for the “Defying the Odds” session of Campaigns & Elections' Politics magazine's Art of Political Campaigning conference today.

 

Ben Ginsberg, national counsel to both Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns and a key player in the 2000 Florida recount, gave four rules for candidates facing long odds:

 

Don’t get paralyzed when you’re way down. Don’t grab onto the standard assumptions. Don’t fall so in love with your reading of the situation that you miss an opportunity. When the odds look the longest, the people in your organization matter most.

Dane Strother, owner of Strother Strategies, showed how not fretting can help you when you’re behind. All he needed was a little research.

 

Strother worked for Barnes, this time in the 1998 gubernatorial race. With a little opposition research, Strother found the skeleton in the closet of Republican opponent Guy Millner, a local businessman.

 

That skeleton turned out to be the silver bullet, Strother said. He uncovered the story of Millie Novell, a business associate who disapproved of what she saw as less-than-honorable practices by Millner.

 

Strother cut an ad that featured Novell, expressing her worries about Millner—and it proved to be the spot that brought him down. Barnes won with 53 percent of the vote. Which goes to show that with a little research and a little fun, even a long shot can win.

 

Lani Lester contributed to this story.

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