Belief is a powerful thing. Belief is the foundation of optimism, it creates expectations and belief leads directly to action. Believe me when I tell you that belief is really the only thing that gets anything done.
A political campaign or initiative would never get anywhere without strong philosophical beliefs and the optimism that comes from believing you can make an impact. The great irony is that belief binds the vast majority of activists far too closely to their candidate or cause, diminishing their ability to execute effectively.
I know this because is used to apply to me and because I am seeing a great deal of it in a Bellows for Senate campaign that is struggling to find a narrative that will connect with persuadable voters.
I spent four years at Colby learning from some of the country’s top political scholars and best classroom teachers. I graduated 20 years ago with the belief that I could change the world. But it was the lesson in political futility I learned a few months later in the hallowed halls of the Portland Expo that best positioned me for success as a political consultant and operative.
I trailed a few feet behind Susan Collins at the Portland Beer Festival as the largely unknown candidate for governor worked the crowd in her trademark color of red. Sticking with one color was not so much a fashion choice as an attempt by Collins to build a brand. I do not think it helped much, but it certainly did not hurt.
Or so I thought.
A true believer in the Collins crusade, I was working around the clock to advance our electoral cause. Staffing events, distributing campaign materials and pounding in signs all across Maine.
Most campaign events target political audiences. Events include fundraisers among supporters, candidate forums on issues of interest to the sponsoring organizations, and political party functions where the attendees are assured to be informed voters.
When you are among the engaged it is easy to fool yourself into thinking everyone is. The closer you are to the State House or the more partisan events you attend, the easier it is to be disillusioned. It is astonishing how many people in politics think people are actually paying attention. I am no longer one of them.
In the summer of 1994, my entire life was dedicated to getting Collins elected, and I was absolutely aghast that most people in a big crowd at the beer festival did not recognize my candidate. But what really struck me was a quiet conversation I overheard once my candidate moved out of earshot.
The exact wording escapes me, but the lesson never will. One voter objected to Collins wearing red all the time and whispered that she would vote against Collins as a result. All the work, all the hours, all the effort and yet this citizen, whose vote counts the same as mine, had decided that Maine’s highest office could not be entrusted to the red-emblazoned candidate from Caribou.
The horror of that moment gives me great hope today when it comes to Collins getting re-elected to the U.S. Senate this November.
There are watershed moments that instantly change public opinion. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the banking collapse of 2008 are examples where what we know and believe as an electorate changes in a moment.
Most of the time, perception is formed slowly and steadily over time. The disinterested and disengaged Mainers who did not give Collins the time of day two decades ago have slowly come to understand that Collins is a pragmatic and thoughtful leader. They know little to nothing about how she votes on specific issues but appreciate that she has established herself as a consensus builder and a champion of Maine’s interests.
The challenge for her Democrat opponent, Shenna Bellows, and her supporters is finding a narrative that suggests Collins has failed Maine in Washington and should be replaced. It has to be much more than a single vote or even an entire policy issue to provide the necessary political traction.
One of Bellows’ supporters suggested to me that minimum wage, reproductive rights, equality and pay equity are among issues that would differentiate the candidates and resonate with voters. While I respect strong points of view, the issues listed here are too complicated and inconsequential to serve as the foundation for a winning campaign against a popular incumbent like Collins.
I would like readers to believe my past association with Collins keeps me from offering suggestions to the Bellows campaign. While past allegiances might keep me from publishing a plan in the newspaper, the truth is, I do not have the foggiest idea how to lay a political glove on Collins.
Bellows is an inspiring young candidate with a bright future. But Collins is an overwhelming favorite to win re-election because she simply has no material political weakness. Believe it.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @demerittda