In sifting through the comments on Neil Stevens' latest post, A Surprise Turn in Wisconsin, I’m noticing that many are missing the real story revealed by Tuesday’s Rasmussen results.
That’s a shame.
So here it is.
The fact that Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race is finally starting to get some solid attention is a big deal. As a Wisconsinite, I’m grateful. And yes, Russ Feingold is indeed vulnerable…which many of us have been arguing for the last year.
However, Feingold is not actually all that vulnerable to Ron Johnson.
For starters, Feingold specializes in running against and beating candidates just like the Wisconsin GOP's official choice: wealthy moderates. While the current political environment will likely make it a tighter race, I can promise you that Feingold's got the formula down pat on how to close the deal.
There are other telltale signs that Johnson's won't be the winning horse. Let’s look at the polling closely for a moment in relationship to a couple of other truths.
The latest Rasmussen sample indicates that in a head-to-head match-up Johnson currently only trails Feingold by one percentage point: 45% to 46%.
I know that sounds exciting, but it’s actually not as big a deal as you might think.
Johnson has had a full month now as the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate. He’s also dropped a huge wad—several hundred thousand dollars—on a glut of television ads in the last 10 days or so. But all it’s bought him since last month's Rasmussen data is one teeny-weeny percentage point against Feingold.
Despite all of his supposed advantages, Johnson has failed to move the needle significantly in the last 30 days.
Dave Westlake is another story.
Last month’s Rasmussen sample suggested that in a head-to-head match-up, Westlake was also within striking distance of Feingold, but still trailed him by 9 percentage points: 38% to 47%.
Yesterday’s data for the same match-up shows that Feingold hasn't budged in the past month. Westlake, however, has surged by 3 percentage points, reducing the gap to 6 points: 41% to 47%.
That, my friends, is MOMENTUM.
And Westlake is the only one in this race who's got any.
Again, that’s a 3 percentage point gain over the course of a month, with:
- No party endorsement
- No big money
- No television or radio advertising
It appears that the people of Wisconsin may be seeking—and finding—something different than the usual fare. Westlake's grassroots campaign is striking a solid chord with voters in this state.
It's instructive to look at what Westlake has done differently.
First, he's opted to be a real constitutional conservative—instead of yet another in the multitude of middle-of-the-road moderates this state's GOP adores and repeatedly foists on the electorate. Westlake has intelligently DIFFERENTIATED himself from competitors on both sides of the aisle. He's given people a clear reason to choose him over anyone else.
Solid Personal Connection
Second, Westlake actually got in the race early enough to take his campaign to a far deeper level than anyone before him has ever done. He has personally CONNECTED with voters, building trust and loyalty that extends well beyond the surface draw of t.v. ads and campaign literature. He's given people all across the state the opportunity to know him so that they can actually believe—not just hope, but believe—that he'll hold to the conservative principles on which he's chosen to run.
Strategic Definition and De-Commodification
Third, he's REDEFINED campaign logic and largely DE-COMMODIFIED the campaign process. In taking the focus off money, he's redirected it to communicating a solid message via low-cost but highly effective means. He's done what Americans are supposed to do best: He's demonstrated true entrepreneurship. He's thought out of the box and worked tirelessly to bring his vision to fruition.
His approach is paying off.
In these hard economic times, voters appreciate Westlake's highly original, frugal, common-sense approach. Many frankly find it obscene to spend millions on a campaign these days, and they're making a reasonable projection: If a candidate is this creative; if he can successfully stretch a dollar on the campaign trail; if he doesn't engage in extravagance and waste just to get elected, then he's likely to apply the same ingenuity and prudence in Washington.
Consistency and Persistence
Consistency counts for much. Westlake's conservative campaign choices line up with his conservative campaign message.
Over the last few months, we've seen one grassroots candidate after another on the national scene gain a decided foothold—and then an advantage—in their respective races. Dave Westlake clearly has his foothold. And at present he has the momentum that Johnson and Feingold both lack. He's on track to be this election cycle's next big surprise.
Those who've, up till now, so glibly pronounced Westlake to be unelectable may wish to adopt a more measured stance...quickly.