Romney's mailer is possibly the smartest thing he has done in the whole campaign. I haven't written anything for this site in a long time. Since before the switch to the new style for the site. Mostly it was a function of not being such a youth and having my time eaten up by the adult obligations. However the Romney Lyme Disease mailer intrigued me enough to write a short piece on it. It is actually representative of out of the box and clever campaigning which is something Romney has failed at so miserably since he started running for president 8 years ago.
The mailer caught my eye because it reminded me of an article I read addressing an argument made by someone I consider to be a very smart and forward thinking person. Bill James. The article written by Sam Stein at the Huffington Postwas concerned primarily with how candidates could survive against opponents with overwhelming monetary advantages. This hardly describes Romney one of the richest and best funded candidates of all time. That is, if you don't believe that he is running out of fundraising options because his downers are maxing out left in right. Regardless, the key take away from the article is that candidates can gain an advantage by going asymmetrical in the issues they target.
Beyond that, James suggested a candidate run on a platform distinct from either major party (anti-drug war, pro-gay rights). Or a candidate could obsess over an issue completely off the beaten path. As an example, he highlighted deer-related car crashes in his home state of Kansas. "No one talks about people hitting deer with their cars as a political issue, but in Kansas" it could work, he said.Is it a coincidence that both Romney and this hypothetical Kansas campaign feature deer issues? Probably. Both have a great deal of rural territory. However the idea of asymmetrical campaigning as a way to reach voters could be the deciding factor in a close race. I am sure there are plenty of these issues floating around the country. California has an issue with West Nile. Few people ever become truly sick but the signs are everywhere and it is in the public consciousness.
"If a candidate for office starts talking about thinning the deer population or investing in barriers to reduce the number of deer on the highways, the other side will probably just ignore him, because they're not going to know what to say about it," he said. "But there is a chance that the issue will resonate with voters in an unexpected way."
"In Kansas, we are pretty anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood," said Burdett "Bird" Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who happens to live down the street from James. "I'm not sure we are going to go for contraception for deer."
But, as is usually the case with James, a closer look at the numbers suggests that the unconventional may be true. According to the Kansas Department of Transportation's latest data, deer were responsible for 15 percent of all car crashes in 2011 -- 9,153 crashes in total. Twice, people were killed; 293 times they were injured.
"It is a popular subject in Kansas," conceded Rex McCommon, a Transportation Department official.
Romney should hardly start making his campaign about school uniforms or go the full Mark Penn and gear everything he does to micro targeted demographics. However finding smaller more region specific issues to target in mailers or ads could be a good way to activate some voters who haven't yet started paying attention or are looking for any justification not to vote for Obama.
As with anything he does though Romeny probably ruined the effectiveness by failing to actually provide any solutions and sticking to marketing speak. Still as far as actual ideas go the Lyme Disease targeting was probably one of his best and least offensive ones.