My candidate’s opponent just announced he’s dropping out of the primary race. He was caught in a couple lies and then claimed a conspiracy between my candidate and the Democrat incumbent. After going public with his conspiracy theory he decided he did not like the person he had become and dropped out of the race.
First, how do we unite the Party after such an event? Second, we still have a primary to win; both names will be on the ballot. How do we tactfully handle the issue of our opponent forfeiting the race?
This is a fantastic, specific example of a typical PR problem you may approach on the campaign trail. Special thanks to the commenter who posted it so that I could share the answer with everyone. In this situation, we’re dealing with what seems to be a flighty primary competitor now, and anticipating taking on an incumbent in the general. So it’s a double whammy.
Let’s deal with this question one part at a time. The first issue is that your primary opponent has sunk his own ship and is trying to do as much damage to your campaign while he tanks. He’s thrown out some negative information in accusation. How do you handle that?
First thing’s first. If someone points to you and yells “LIAR! LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!” Stop and look at your pants before you do anything else.
Did you in fact have any role in what happened to your primary opponent? If not, relax. Your opponent has already been established as a liar, and no one will be surprised if he’s lying about you, too.
When someone throws negative accusations at you, WAIT and see if the story “has legs.” If you give a knee-jerk reaction and hurriedly put out a press release rebutting the accusation, you’ve just signalled the media that this story may be worth looking into. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot! If your opponent wants to throw out a couple of false accusations before his campaign breathes it’s last, let him. Don’t assume anyone else will pick the story up until it actually happens.
What if you get a call from a journalist wanting your response to the accusations?
This is where we can learn a good lesson from Herman Cain’s PR faux pas. Here’s my recommendation: Tell the truth as fully as possible. Always.
In Cain’s case, there was a grain of truth in the accusation leveled, and denying it completely or not addressing it with the full truth right away allowed the public’s imagination to go wild. If you don’t fill in the blanks, the press or the public will do it for you. I promise.
We’re going to assume that you had nothing to do with your opponent’s flop and aren’t involved in a conspiracy with the Democrat incumbent. I would say the chances are FAR GREATER that no recurring stories will pop up and people will forget the accusations or brush them off as yet another lie completely, especially if it sounds concocted and fake to begin with, which it probably does. The public will DROP the story, and you should too.
Should the press call you up, explain that you aren’t in contact at all with the Democrat incumbent and that you have no knowledge of the events your opponent’s accusations mention. Just drop it.
Now, if you’re on the phone with a media person about the issue, you do have to ROLL with the punches. This is actually an opportunity. You must follow your ‘drop’ response up with the message you want the press to write about.
- Site the failures of your opponent and point out how you are different.
- Redirect the conversation completely. Brush off the primary opponent as yesterday’s news, and outline your campaign message for the general against your Democrat opponent. This is where you can start your effort to reunite the party.
Now let’s address the other parts of your question: “How do we reunite the party?”
The party divides and reunites itself all the time. And if you’re the only Republican candidate, they certainly aren’t going to work against you. The most that they will do is just not help you much, which isn’t that big of a loss, because the ‘help’ the county/state parties usually give is rarely ever worth much.
You need to focus on voters. And 95% of voters are completely unaware of what ‘the party’ thinks or does. Don’t waste any money or time on ‘reuniting’ the party. Just be sure at party fundraisers and events that you make your support for the party clear and openly express your desire to work together with them. Talk the talk, ya know.
It really sucks that your primary opponent will still be on the ballot. But since he’s no longer campaigning, you just need to make sure that you still do all the work you planned to do to get your name out there. When voters go to the polls and see your signs everywhere and have heard your message through the GOTV effort
you’ve already been working on, they are going to vote for you.
And the final part: “How do we handle the issue of our opponent forfeiting the race?”
I’ve seen campaigns that have had to handle similar issues and usually when a campaign tries to explain the issue to voters, it just confuses them, and doesn’t really change the outcome. I say deal with the issue as minimally as possible and shift your focus to being the Republican candidate and running against the democrat incumbent. Go ahead and start your general campaign messaging now. That way you’ll have a strong head start when the incumbent is only just starting his campaign.
Hope this helps – let us know how things shake out!