Candidates take 'courthouse crowd' strategies as they try to lock up scarce votes

04/12/2011 09:03 PM

In a low-key primary season so far, the candidates are concentrating on “the courthouse crowd,” which might not be a bad strategy in a low turnout election, said political strategist Jim Cauley.

Cauley has run Democratic campaigns and raised money for candidates for the better part of the last two decades. He’s probably most famous for running the 2004 campaign for Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, elected to the United States Senate.

He ran Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s campaign in 2007. And he said Beshear appears to have the advantage

“Part of the reason I think Steve (Beshear) has the edge right now is the powers of incumbency, which it brings with it the fundraising,” Cauley said Tuesday on Pure Politics.

Beshear recently started running radio ads in rural markets even though he doesn’t have a primary opponent. Beshear’s ads followed closely a media buy from Republican David Williams.

“If you had all the money in the world to do everything you want to do, meaning…you don’t have to choose between mail, phones and TV, meaning you can do it all. You want to do everything,” Cauley said. And that means running ads in the primary even without an opponent.

“I think right now if you’ve got the resources, why let them go up by themselves?”

In other statewide races, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes seems to have the edge over her opponent, recently appointed Secretary of State Elaine Walker, Cauley said.

“Grimes … has a step ahead. And maybe that’s because she actually had her campaign set up before Elaine Walker even got in the race,” he said.

And Cauley said Williams is the obvious front-runner in the Republican primary against Phil Moffett, a Louisville businessman, and Bobbie Holdsclaw, the Jefferson County Clerk.

Cauley isn’t expecting a big turnout for the race and says the campaign visuals are lacking right now.

“I don’t see much out there. I don’t see any signs,” Cauley says. “Nowadays I’ve been going on their Facebook pages. And kind of tracking their races and seeing where they’re stopping and what they’re doing.”

And it’s the hardcore base voters that candidates are courting just a few weeks before the May primary.

“Most candidates are in the courthouse crowds, out shaking hands,” he said. You’re going to have to talk to five of five voters. If you’ve voted in the last five of five primaries, you are a hard core primary voter.”

Cauley said the ticket of Williams and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer need to avoid a runoff at all costs, but added that Williams’ front-runner status hasn’t changed since he got in the race.

“The (Phil) Moffett campaign just doesn’t seem to me that they’re reaching out beyond their limited base. If you can’t get your message out past your base, you’re going to have trouble,” Cauley said. “Unless Moffett comes up with a reasonable amount of money… $300,000, $500,000 he needs to have some sort of presence with which to make that happen.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I failed to catch during the interview that the legislature eliminated the runoff elections in 2008. Thanks to PageoneKentucky for pointing that out. I actually covered the debate throughout the 2008 General Assembly session for the Lexington Herald-Leader, but it totally escaped me.)

- Summarized by Lanny Brannock, interview by Ryan Alessi


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