It’s a widely held, and pretty accurate, theory that every Liberal believes themselves to be a communications expert, and are overly focused on the air war to the near virtual exclusion of where elections are primarily fought (and won): on the ground, face to face and door to door.
I think the Conservatives had many motivations and goals when they released their personally-negative attacks ads yesterday. I don’t know if setting the cat among the Liberal pigeons was one of them, but it may well have been and I’m sure they wouldn’t object if that’s one of the results.
I’m seeing many Liberals frantically demanding the party “forcefully respond” to the Conservative attack ads. And I’m reading many media pundits and other assorted “experts” counseling it is “critical” that the Liberals respond to the Conservative attack ads, or the sky will fall and what not.
Respond how? These experts have no ideas or suggestions. But the Liberals had better respond, er, um, somehow! Or else bad stuff, etc.
Of course, these are the same experts that routinely chide the Liberals for being too focused on the air war and not, oh, let’s say, touring 20 target ridings across Canada and recruiting an impressive roster of star candidates.
Which, incidentally, is exactly what the Liberals have quietly been doing. After a summer spent on the road, Michael Ignatieff followed it up with a series of “Open Mike” town halls in the fall. And right now, he’s on a whirlwind tour of 20 target ridings across the country.
At the same time, the Liberals are quietly recruiting an impressive roster of so-called star candidates (I dislike the term, but whatchya gonna do?), as Steve noted on the weekend. New Liberal candidates (or nomination contestants) include former Military Police Complaints Commission chair Peter Tinsley, and former McGuinty cabinet ministers Peter Fonseca and Marie Bountrogianni, to name but three.
We’ve seen a more confident and comfortable Ignatieff getting a very positive reaction on the ground, as people see he’s not the caricticure of Conservative ads. We’ve seen positive reaction to focused Liberal policy announcements on pensions, health and home care, and education, to name but a few. And we’ve seen the Liberals begin to articulate a clear choice between themselves and the Conservatives (fighter jets and prisons vs. health care, education and pensions) and begin to set a ballot question (are you better off after five years of the Conservatives?).
It all adds up to the Liberals doing the hard work on the ground that they need to do if they’re going to have success in a future election campaign. Will it pay off right away in poll movement? Probably not. I wouldn’t expect to see much poll movement before the campaign; this is laying the ground work you need to have future success, and be in a position to capitalize with opportunity presents or opponents mistep. As long as we’re within striking distance going into the campaign, I’m happy. We need to be patient.
And that’s my non-expert advice for Liberals here: stay patient. We’re on the right track, and the work we’re doing will pay dividends in the long run if we stay focused. Let’s keep executing on our strategy, and not get distracted by reacting to Conservative ads and going on defence.
If someone has some ideas for the critical “forceful reaction” that is being called for, I’m all ears. But I’m not sure our own negative ads are called for right now, nor would our own positive ads necessarily be effective (although I could be convinced).
I still maintain, though, that the best way to counter the negative caricature of Ignatieff that the Conservatives portray in their ads is for him to keep going out there, meet Canadians, and prove that caricature wrong. Surpass their lowered expectations, provide a credible alternative, and we'll do well.
And in the mean time, keep skating...
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