Tuesday, October 27, 2009

With Bob McDonnell likely to win the Virginia gubernatorial election next week, most pundits are (and have been) saying opponent Creigh Deeds' mistake was going negative. Others are attempting to paint this election as a referendum on Obama.

But I think the big (unreported) story isn't Deeds going negative, but the way McDonnell fought back against those negative ads. He didn't try to ignore them, he didn't try to (weaselly) respond, he took them head on... and he turned them against Deeds in a way that minimized their effectiveness.

Deeds claimed that McDonnell was hostile to working women - and McDonnell responded with some forceful ads featuring working women who attested to McDonnell's strong track record of dealing with women in the workforce and support for the careers of his own daughters... a powerful rebuttal to Deeds' claims.

Deeds claimed that McDonnell was a throwback to the middle ages - and McDonnell responded with (conservative leaning) editorials from Virginia papers that claimed that Deeds was making things up... another powerful rebuttal to Deeds' claims.

By doing so, in basically calling Deeds a liar, McDonnell planted the seed among voters that Deeds was just making things up, that he wasn't to be trusted, that the voters were safe in ignoring Deeds' claims (as well of the claims of Deeds' supporters such as the Washington Post).

And finally McDonnell responded with commercials that claimed that the only strategy Deeds had was to go negative, that Deeds had nothing positive to offer Virginia voters. Thus, each time voters were exposed to another negative Deeds ad, McDonnell's commercials reminded them that Deeds had nothing but negativity to offer voters (sort of a 'yeah, here he goes again' impression).

Republicans ought to know that the preferred campaign strategy for Democrats is to try and demonize GOP candidates... and too often, the GOP response is weak, weak, weak. McDonnell showed that there is an alternative... and an alternative that can pay huge dividends elsewhere.