Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Avoid Getting caught Under the Dome

"I would say that we may have underestimated the anti-incumbent mood."

-- U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas), cnn.com, June 8, 2010

After reading this, we were wondering where the Senator has been living for the last year – in a cave?

A strong anti-incumbent, anti-establishment and anti-Washington sentiment has been brewing for over a year, manifesting in real political movements and some partisan driven groups.

The Senator's comments reflect a common affliction with many office holders, they develop an "under the dome" mentality, which is when their sphere of influence and perceptions are based on what a small circle of capitol insiders say and feel. Incumbents lose touch with the real needs and concerns of the people they represent. This mentality drives incumbents to feel everything they do in the Capitol is important to the voters back home while ignoring the local (small) things they must do back in their community.

Elections are won by candidates who remain in touch with the core needs and values of the people they represent and recognize that serving in a governing body is an honor and not a right bestowed upon them. They must recognize their job is to advocate for the people they represent, not a small group of capitol building advocates. Elected officials must advocate the issues and values in the legislature and beyond that connect with the voters in their communities, states, Districts. Incumbents should always be actively engaged in their communities when not required to be in session or the Capitol – this will prevent disconnections exemplified by Sen. Lincoln’s comment. Unfortunately, too many of our elected officials retreat to the safety cocoon of the Capitol and lose touch with the realities of what happens in their communities.

This is why we advise and push our incumbent clients to remain fully engaged in their communities throughout their term and to not focus exclusively on their work in the Capitol. This engagement includes aggressive earned and paid communications before the traditional campaign season, significant personal activity in their community among the voters – walking, Town Hall meetings, small groups / coffee meetings, as well as simply doing their job well – holding regular publicized offices hours, returning phone calls, taking care of problems with constituents no matter how big or small, etc. This also includes periodic polling to maintain a real pulse on the constituents they represent, identify opportunities and challenges and devise political and policy strategies to address these challenges.

Incumbents who remain engaged in their community will know the needs and concerns in their community that must be addressed and catch changes in attitudes. They will not have to climb out from their safety cocoon and be awaken by an anti-incumbent election.

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