Over the years, I’ve helped create messages for candidates running for everything from Duluth School Board and Duluth City Council to mayor, U.S. Congress, and other offices. It’s been a pretty easy gig because these public servants come from a variety of backgrounds yet have one thing in common.
They all use the same campaign speech. Almost word for word.
About two dozen local candidates will again recycle that speech this summer. You don’t believe me? Listen during the coming weeks to how they weave the following words into their messages.
“Fighting.” Politicians never encourage or coax or persuade. They fight. “I’m fighting for lower taxes!” “I’m fighting for better jobs!” Even, “I’m fighting to end violence!” The halls of power must resemble barroom brawls in westerns. The only one who could have credibly used “fighting” was former mayoral candidate and boxing manager Chuck Horton. Everyone else should fight the urge to use that word.
“Working Hard.” “Dedicated.” “Committed.” Candidates mix and match these impressive words as if they’re playing Mr. Potato Head. They almost never say they haven’t knocked on a single door or that they plan to punch out at 4 each afternoon while in office.
“Together.” First, candidates ask us to elect them to tackle big challenges on our behalf. Then, as a reminder that they’re just like you and me, they say we’ll do the hard work together. It’s almost as if they’re inviting us over for dinner but want us to bring the pork chops, vegetable medley, and some Jell-O.
There are more surefire phrases every candidate uses, but perhaps it’s easier to see how they flow in a speech. Except for filling in blanks to fit the seat for which they’re running, it’s the same speech used by every candidate since the invention of the soap box.
“Hello, friends! I’m _____ and I’m running for ______, because it’s time we gave our government back to the people. I’m committed to working hard as I fight to improve ______ and stop _____. I’ll roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, look to the future, and go the extra mile. It’s time for a positive change to old-fashioned values, modern thinking, and proven leadership. For our children.”
When it comes to running for Duluth mayor, there’s one more thing successful candidates have had in common for the past 50 years: a short name. There are only eight letters in Gary Doty. Same with John Fedo. Bob Beaudin: just 10 letters. Emily Larson and Herb Bergson: a still-tidy 11 letters each.
Donny Ness must have been aware of the short-name requirement and should have felt comfortable with nine letters. But to be safe he changed his name to Don to keep anyone from running against him for reelection.
Unless this other former mayor changes his name to Ed and runs again, though, no one will ever top Ben Boo.
From short names to long shots, I’m looking forward to seeing how the current races play out. I encourage you to vote in the Aug. 13 primary — because candidates really do work very hard to make a difference. All of them have a fighting chance.
Steve Greenfield of Duluth owns and operates Greenfield Communications (GreenfieldComm.com), a public relations, advertising, public affairs, and research firm with offices in Duluth and St. Cloud, Minn.