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The Upcoming Election: Competitive Selling Strategies

For those of us who are students of competitive selling, every day of this presidential race is a crash course in competitive strategies and tactics. 

As I write this, the polls (right or wrong) say that the Republicans have closed the lead the Democrats had been holding.  McCain slowed Obama’s momentum and has created some of his own.

Here are some of my observations about what has happened to alter the balance of power toward McCain. My comments relate to the strategies, tactics, and approaches employed by the candidates, from a sales strategist’s point of view.  I’m not endorsing either, nor pretending to be a political pundit.

  • Obama (and a lot of other people) knew that McCain was going to attack him, and attack hard.  McCain attacked hard.  When Obama finally defended himself, it was too little, too late.  Also, Obama didn’t (and doesn’t) employ surrogates effectively to defend him or attack the McCain ticket, which is typical in political battles such as this.  Obama generally does it himself.  Biden, who should have jumped into the fray when Palin attacked Obama (likely a Karl Rove tactic), didn’t.  Obama fell for the trap—got distracted and went off-message.  Mishandled.

  • McCain selected Palin as his VP choice. Knowing she hadn’t been thoroughly vetted and issues could arise, Republicans (McCain’s surrogates, including Guiliani, Thompson, and Romney) proactively attacked the media immunizing the public against what may be uncovered by the media.  Then they can say, “See, we told you the liberal media is anti-McCain/Palin.”  A textbook competitive immunize tactic, but well-executed. 

  • Republicans continue to highlight McCain’s imprisonment, torture and overall military service as a critical decision criterion for the election.  Unable to attack on that point, Obama is at a disadvantage.  Advantage Republicans

  • McCain hijacked Obama’s “change” message, transforming himself and Palin into change candidates.  This caught the Democrats completely off-guard.  My take: Smart on McCain’s part.  Mishandled by Democrats.

  • McCain completely, and quite effectively, distanced himself from not only Bush and Cheney, but his own Republican party.  The “Maverick” moniker continues to gain traction.  Even with this going on, the Democrats are unable to make an issue about the fact that Palin’s speech was written by a former Bush speechwriter or Karl Rove’s ongoing advice to McCain, connecting McCain back to the Bush White House.  Advantage Republicans.

  • Republicans continue to keep Palin from the press.  Democrats stamp their feet and complain how unfair it is, but the fact is, the Republicans are getting away with it.  One Charlie Gibson-type of interview every 10 days or so, a town-meeting or two, plus the VP debate, and Palin is home free with a minimum of potential risk.   Gutsy, but effective. 

  • The Republicans have effectively removed “the issues” as a decision criterion for electing this president, pushing instead the characters of the two nominees as mavericks, change-agents, experienced, competent, for the people.  Effective so far.

  • McCain and his surrogates (yesterday it was Guiliani) continue to attack Obama for not participating with McCain in the town hall meeting tour that McCain has proposed.  Obama’s camp said he didn’t participate because it would have prevented him from having total control of when and where he would be campaigning.  That would have been a good plan, except Obama never had a strong message as to why he wasn’t participating so the Republicans are pressing the issue.  Mishandled by Obama.

What should the Democrats do?  I’m interested in your opinions.  Comment below or send me an email.  Use an alias, if you’d like.  I’ll protect your privacy.

I’ll offer up some suggestions of my own shortly.


2 Responses

  1. Very nice analysis. I’d have a surrogate go after the fact that McCain folded under pressure in 2000 in the South Carolina primary. It’s a very ugly story, but I actually looked at McCain as a possibility in 2000, buying into the whole maverick thing, but after he folded from the Rove attack, then coddled up to Bush in 2004, I lost all respect.

    So, here’s the attack:
    Bring up the 2000 smears by Carl Rove & his agent in South Carolina
    Point out that McCain was completely devasted by the attacks and his campaign disintegrated (do you want someone who folds under pressure as president?)
    Show how he stopped being a maverick and started supporting all Bush’s policies in 2004 and on as he began running for president (country first?)
    Could you even be in the same room as Bush, Rove, and his agent in South Carolina (who is running McCain’s campaign in SC this year?) after they smeared you (used prostitutes, was a traitor), your wife (drug addict), and daughter (lligitimate) — obviously, McCain will sacrifice anything to be president.
    I think it’s tricky, because it’s very ugly http://tinyurl.com/2nvqo5 but these same scuzzy guys like Rove are now running McCain’s campaing and he and they should be exposed.

    Also, does it make sense to keep pounding on Palin not being credible? It’s kind of amazing that she keeps saying ‘I told Congress to keep the money’ when in fact, she did take the money.

  2. I’m much in agreement with your analysis.

    Biden yesterday used the analogy of going to a doctor who was guilty of malpractice to going with McCain/Palin/Bush. I like analogies. I think people can relate well to them.

    I just received an email that I would love to forward to the marketing team at Obama headquarters which, in my opinion, can be used similarly:

    You are The Boss… which team would you hire?

    With America facing historic debt, multiple war fronts, stumbling health care, a weakened dollar, all-time high prison population,
    skyrocketing Federal spending, mortgage crises, bank foreclosures,
    etc. etc., this is an unusually critical election year.

    Let’s look at the educational background of your two options:

    -Occidental College – Two years.
    -Columbia University – B.A. political science with a specialization in international relations.
    -Harvard – Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

    -University of Delaware – B.A. in history and B.A. in political science. -Syracuse University College of Law – Juris Doctor (J.D.)


    McCain :
    -United States Naval Academy – Class rank 894 of 899

    -Hawaii Pacific University – 1 semester
    -North Idaho College – 2 semesters – general study
    -University of Idaho – 2 semesters – journalism
    -Matanuska-Susitna College – 1 semester
    -University of Idaho – 3 semesters – B.A. in journalism

    Now … which team are YOU going to hire ?

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