SUTTON'S PLACE: A place for current trends in campaign messaging and strategy

May 1, 2014 | By Steven Sutton

Many graduates of Leadership Institute (LI) political training have asked if LI provides any follow up to the sessions on strategy and messaging.  To provide for a way to continue your education in this important area, LI will provide a new feature and service --- an occasional commentary called "Sutton's Place," written by LI's Vice President of Development Steven Sutton, on current campaign messaging and strategy.


Welcome to Sutton's Place...a small slice of campaign strategy and messaging heaven.  The purpose of Sutton's Place is to continue the education you received at a Leadership Institute training school.  Hope you find it interesting, educational, and complimentary to your LI training.

We start off the first of these commentaries with an article which appeared recently in the Washington Post entitled, House Democrats plot strategy against long odds to win back chamber.

Click here for the full Washington Post article.

This article reports on an "annual retreat at a resort on Maryland's Eastern Shore."  Both major political parties have these annual retreats, but the Democrats appear to actually discuss strategy and messaging in a disciplined way that results in attempts by their leaders and rank and file members to coordinate and implement a strategic message that they articulate to voters. 

As the article reports, House Democrats developed and refined the following theme for the 2014 elections:  As stated by Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee...the DCCC, the Dems will champion "building an economy that works for everyone and not just special interests."

Other Dem Members state:  "The majority is supposed to...move us forward..."  There's that word again..."forward."

"If Republicans shirk their responsibility...we're ready to lead."

"Dem unity will give voters a clear choice...More obstruction...or get something done."

You can see the beginning of a clear theme, but there are some big problems with it.

It will be very difficult for Dems to make the case that they will "lead" when their political leader (President Obama) has shown himself to be the weakest leader/President since Jimmy Carter (now there's an interesting way for the GOP to message back on this).

Another problem is that the very high "wrong track" polling numbers suggest that Americans don't want to be led in the direction suggested by the left. 

And another problem is that this message is unlikely to sufficiently motivate the left's base to come out to vote this year, and that is the challenge and goal for the left.  

Negatives (such as fear) are more powerful motivators.  The above themes are simply not strong enough to motivate their base.  That suggests (once they realize this) that things will get much more confrontational/negative as Election Day nears. 

This retreat was held earlier this year (in February).  I sense a shift in the left’s strategy since then (more on that in a future Sutton's Place article).


Prior to joining the Leadership Institute, Steven Sutton was a chief of staff in the House of Representatives for more than 14 years, where he specialized in setting up Congressional offices for four different incoming freshmen Members. He has also managed numerous political campaigns from city council to U.S. Congress, specializing in challenger campaigns. As a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Steve has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering with many interesting stories to boot!

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Leadership Institute does not oppose or endorse any faculty opinions such as Steve’s thoughts above, or any legislation, candidate, or elected official. LI offers more than 41 types of training programs, works with more than 1,589 conservative campus groups on colleges across the country, and helps employers connect with conservative jobseekers. Since the Institute’s 1979 founding, more than 146,000 conservative activists, students, and leaders have been trained. Graduates include members of Congress, state legislators, local officials, media personalities, and conservative organization leaders. For more information, please visit: www.LeadershipInstitute.org