No matter how much money Democrats had this election the Republican wave was going to be too big to avoid a wipeout.
That was the prognosis of two the communications gurus of the Idaho campaigns for governor. Neither Ryan Panitz, who handled communications for Gov. Butch Otter, nor Shea Andersen, who did the same for Keith Allred suggested their efforts were decisive in the election Tuesday.
Both pointed to the national wave for Republicans as lifting Otter to a 59 percent plurality. The two spoke of the campaign at a meeting Thursday of the Public Relations Society of America, Idaho delegation at Berryhill and Co.
Panitz, a former KTVB reporter, came on the Otter campaign as a contractor with the McClain Companies founded by Troy McClain, runner-up on Donald Trump’s first season of “The Apprentice” in 2004. Andersen, former editor of the Mountain Express and the Boise Weekly, went to Allred soon after he announced in 2009 to join the campaign.
For Panitz and McClain, who are not political operatives, they approached the campaign as an integrated marketing endeavor, treating Otter as a brand, not a politician. Their goal was to move the campaign from a reactionary mode to proactive.
That was a challenge we in the media knew since the governor’s own staff for four years had become thinned-skinned about criticism of Otter in the press.
And since Otter had a record of cutting education for the first time in history and other unpopular decisions that Allred was challenging, there was a lot of pressure to focus on response.
“We had to change the whole mindset of the campaign,” Panitz said. “We set standards we don’t follow them.”
That strategy had Allred in reaction mode the final two weeks instead of Otter, Panitz said and helped keep on his message that Otter’s tough decisions were the right ones. Of course the huge spending by the Republican Governor’s Association of an independent attack campaign suggesting the very conservative Allred was a liberal didn’t hurt.
Allred rejected early the political advice and services of high priced political consultants, Anderson said. They recommended he put himself in a small room with a telephone and a list to raise thousands of dollars a day to give him money for 30-second spots on television to get his message out to voters.
Allred hoped to engage voters in longer form with things like Youtube videos.
But once into the heat of the campaign, Allred recognized the power of the 30-second television ads and began making the calls, Anderson said.
But again, even if Allred had millions of dollars more the Republican wave would have overwhelmed it all.
What would Panitz have done if he was working for Allred? Simplify the message.
Voters could not relate to tax exemptions or even how education cuts affected them.
“I want to hear the impact,” he said. “If we won’t make the message simple the public won’t engage.”