Campaigns matter

Campaigns matter.

For political hacks, that pithy statement is so obvious, it hardly merits saying. But, as two of Canada’s biggest cities contemplate surprising changes at the municipal level, it’s worth considering why the “campaigns matter” cliche is now even truer than before.

In any successful political campaign, you see, three things matter the most: Discipline, organization and a clear message.

In Calgary, the winning campaign of Mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi — and, in Toronto, the looks-to-be winning mayoralty campaign of Coun. Rob Ford — had an abundance of all three.

Nenshi and Ford have different policies, and wildly different styles.

But both men have run classic “outsider” campaigns that have left political veterans nodding their heads in approval. Their campaigns rolled out with military precision, rarely wavering from their key message: “Cutting red tape” with Nenshi, and “respect for taxpayers” for Ford.

“When you’re hunting bear,” the Liberal legend Romeo LeBlanc once said to me, “don’t get distracted by rabbit tracks.” Nenshi and Ford haven’t been distracted by rabbit tracks.

Now, some of the commentariat have suggested Nenshi’s win was entirely due to the Internet. The former business professor knew his way around Facebook and Twitter, the pundits claim, and that’s why he won.

“Social media engagement,” intoned one excited Calgary Herald account, is mainly why “Nenshi and his Purple Revolution came almost out of nowhere to easily win the mayor’s chair in [last] Monday’s election, snaring 40% of the popular vote.”

Um, not quite.

The notion any campaign can be successful solely by making use of the Internet and its progeny — Facebook, Twitter and fancy websites — is just plain silly.

Ask Howard Dean.

Dean sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2004. He made impressive use of the Internet in his campaign, out-fundraising and out-organizing any of his competitors in the primaries.

Dean and his lieutenants raised an astonishing $50 million, mainly online. And he signed up, and mobilized, thousands of youthful supporters in the same way.

But his Internet wizardry wasn’t nearly enough. His campaign collapsed in January 2004 when Dean let loose with the now-infamous “Dean scream,” in which he sounded not unlike my dog Roxy — when someone inadvertently trods on Roxy’s tail, that is.

Internet-wide, Dean’s bizarre, garbled shriek became known as the “I have a scream” speech. The Internet started Dean.

It ended him, too.

In Toronto, the punditocracy — opining from their Deepest Annex wine cellars, perhaps, as they peruse the Sunday New York Times — have advanced the theory Rob Ford has been winning because “people are angry.” That’s right, angry.

One windy column in the Toronto Star — which, most days, closely resembled a George Smitherman campaign pamphlet — huffed: “…what’s most disturbing is just how self-destructive the anger has become. It’s shocking to see the number of Torontonians willing to cut off their nose to spite their face.”

Shocked. The Star is “shocked,” folks.

I spoke to a few hundred Ontario Liberals at the annual general meeting last week, and none of them were “shocked.” As an experiment, I asked them what they thought about this insightful notion that anger — in Ford’s Toronto, or even with the Tea Party types down south — is somehow new and unprecedented.

How many of you have encountered angry voters when you’ve gone canvassing door-to-door in past campaigns? I queried. Every single hand shot up.

Anger schmanger.

Rob Ford hasn’t been ahead in the polls for weeks simply because voters are ticked off. They’re always ticked off about something or the other.

No, Ford has dominated the 2010 Toronto mayoralty marathon because he, and his team, have been disciplined and organized — and because they have religiously adhered to their populist kill-waste-at-City Hall message.

If Ford wins Monday night, his campaign managers deserve the Order of Canada for somehow persuading the notoriously loose-lipped Etobicoke councillor to abandon his taste for shoe leather.

At every mayoralty debate, in every interview, Ford has seldom strayed from his “respect for taxpayers” mantra. His campaign managers, meanwhile, have been busily working to identify — and get out — their vote starting Monday morning.

The Internet — and anger — are important, true. But they do not, on their own, a campaign make.

Campaigns matter. Ask Nenshi and Ford.

—Kinsella blogs at


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