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Grimes on the Road: Fine Art of Political Advance Team Field Work

(Clinton, KY. 6-23-14) - In this out of the way piece of geography, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrat, proved how she is able to mount a serious challenge against Mitch McConnell, Republican. McConnell, the 30 year senior Senator and Minority Leader of the US Senate, is losing by 3 points in recent polls to Grimes, a new first time Democratic challenger.

Much to the surprise of many political experts in Kentucky, McConnell seems to be more and more off his traditional “winning at any expense” campaign.

Even his almost total command of regional and statewide TV commercials, seem to be backfiring. Research is showing that many viewers in the Jackson Purchase are “muting” the spots. Without sound, all the 30 second TV spots are accomplishing are putting up nice photos of Grimes and spelling her name right.

In her recent Jobs Bus Tour throughout West Kentucky, Grimes staff outperformed the Republican McConnell machine. The staff carried out a well discipline routine in their advance work with attention to details such as:

1. week in advance, traveled the plan route of candidate’s local visit;
2. researched people and their locations that may interact with candidate;
3. mapped positive and negative space locations for candidate’s presence;
4. compiled list of issues important to area;
5. worked with local Democratic Party;
6. prepared contact list for all local and regional media contacts:
7. prearranged media interviews with candidate.

Timing is the physical platform for winning a political campaign. Money can buy the space, but it is doing the right thing at the right time that separates out the winner from the loser in politics.

A small but important example of how the Grimes campaign leaves nothing to chance or how they take advantage of each “space & time” for the candidate can be seen in one photo.

The Alison Bus was parked in such a way that good photographs of it and the candidate, coming and going from the bus had in the background, the American flag, the historic courthouse with its photogenic bell tower.

In short, even before the candidate met any local voters, she already was walking framed in the history of the county at her back. This was a brilliant piece of leveraging the local resources to stamp the political event in home town details.

Governors, Presidents, and powerful US Senators, running for office, employ this kind of advance work. As each of these individuals move through the day or night, all interaction with real people is closely guarded. However, for a first time challenger to this entrenched power structure, advance work is different. It becomes a constantly changing open dynamic platform for allowing people into the candidate’s space.

Mitch McConnell, early in his career, did this type of detail. As a challenger in 1984 against Kentucky Democrat US Dee Huddleston, McConnell ran with a army of people who wanted changed leadership in Washington DC. Now 30 years later, McConnell has morphed into what he ran against: an entrenched Washington DC insider.

Now, in 2014, advance work for McConnell is about security. No one is allowed to come close to the personal space of the McConnell unless they are allowed into an event room. Intense screening and background research goes into anyone getting close to the Senator.

McConnell travels with three sets of SUVs, filled with security teams whose job is to build a physical barrier between the Senator and his voters. The result is a media image of McConnell running scared of crowds. No open debates, no small local community town halls, no impromptu hugging, no signs of individual “warmth” allowed.

With about 12 weeks left in the Kentucky campaign to elect a US Senator, “on the road warmth and caring” is beating “special interests fortress” approach to winning votes.

McConnell is in a place he has never been before. He has a fierce and well funded Democratic challenger. In this election for US Senator from Kentucky, there can be no mistakes in campaigning.

The inside edge of good advance work along the campaign trail could be the work that makes magic happen for a challenger once thought a long shot.


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