Engaging on Social Issues

In a year when almost every pollster in the nation was saying, “Only talk about jobs and the economy,” a significant portion of our paid communication never once mentioned jobs or the economy. We knew this was the way to win based on Quinn’s general election pollster Mark Mellman’s careful research. It all went back to our character and values-based media, which was about making Brady unacceptable to voters on key social issues like education investments and guns.

Our first ad in the Chicago area highlighted Brady’s vote to allow guns in or near schools. But it wasn’t just about guns. It was also about what type of person would take such a vote. To the Democratic base, the spot was about a candidate who seemed extreme—a candidate who didn’t seem to care about homicide or violence in the city. On another level, the spot was about the fact that Brady had a very different set of cultural values. 

We reprised a variation of this ad in the final five days of the campaign, defining Brady on his vote against a ban on the sale of guns to convicted spouse and child abusers. Among women in the Chicago area, this tested as the top reason to cast a vote against Brady last November. But we didn’t want to run the ad in the general market. Instead, we blitzed all of the women’s programming on cable networks throughout the Chicago media market in the final five days with no response from our opponent. It was especially effective with persuadable women voters in suburban Cook County and the surrounding suburban “collar” counties—voters any Republican statewide candidate needs to win over to be victorious.

We closed with a positive spot, but even there we made sure to include key social issues. Direct-to-camera Quinn said, “I won’t cut our schools, I won’t cut our police and I won’t cut our veterans to give a tax break to the wealthy.”

Breaking the Rules 

Outdated assumptions account for most campaign fatalities. But the Quinn campaign showed a willingness to break the rules. Despite being on the ropes, we stayed off the airwaves until the very end. And once we finally went up, we didn’t lead with our top-testing negative, nor did we combine multiple issues in every ad. 

In many instances, we only bought cable in multiple downstate markets while our opponent was attacking us on broadcast television. We wanted to advertise more heavily in the Chicago area—where our voters lived. We took on social issues when everyone said all we should be talking about was jobs and the economy. We used innovative media strategy, blitzing women’s programming on Chicago cable stations in the final days, and targeting key African-American voters in downstate Illinois on cable programming. We didn’t run a heavy direct mail campaign in small communities.

We also refused to respond directly to all but one of Bill Brady’s attacks. And when we did respond, we did it calmly and firmly, linking our response ad directly to Pat Quinn’s values and character. We turned the response into a powerful positive statement, and our tracking polling showed that the ad turned the tide.

In the end, Real Clear Politics named Quinn’s victory as one of the biggest upsets in the country this past cycle—the only governor’s race to make the list. Governor Quinn never gave up and he had the courage to let us break the “rules,” when no one thought we had any chance of winning. Advice and counsel by the governor’s brother Tom was invaluable during the toughest decisions. We were also aided by the great team of Mark Mellman on polling, David Rosen on fundraising, Trish Hoppey and Hal Malchow on direct mail, and Dennis Gragert and Robert Dietz on research. Together with an incredible campaign staff, key supporters, a great campaign chairman, and a truly admirable candidate, we all pulled together to bring this one home. 

Joe Slade White was the general election media consultant for Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 and is the president of Joe Slade White & Company. Ben Nuckels was the general election campaign manager for Quinn. He is currently the vice president of Joe Slade White & Company. They can be reached at contact@joesladewhite.com