The Blog


12:00 AM, Oct 21, 1996 • By MIKE MURPHY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Memorandum to: Bob Dole

From: Mike Murphy

AS YOU WILL RECALL, I was in the business of giving you paid advice until Don Sipple and I resigned in early September. We were frustrated with the campaign, and they were frustrated with us. But you deserve to win -- and you still can. So here's some free advice.

What you need is a good three-week blitz campaign. That means a simple message, a focused effort, and plenty of risk-taking.

The bad news is that Clinton has stolen the middle. The good news is that you can let him have it. Sure he is faking it, but there is not enough time, nor enough media honesty, to undo his year-long thievery. Look at it in reverse: You are safe, since you and Clinton agree on the popular stuff -- world peace, welfare reform, balancing the budget. So make the election about two very big differences: Only Bob Dole will cut your taxes. And only Bob Dole tells the truth.

In every election, you need to figure out what central questions you want voters thinking about when they enter the polling booth. In this election, the questions should be these: Do I want a tax cut? Do I want a president who tells the truth? If those are the questions, the answer will be Bob Dole.

So here's how to win:

One. Stop all the useless polling and focus groups. Dole for President has polled and focus-grouped its way to disaster. Any poll taken today will give the same toxic advice: Be more like Clinton. Worse, polls and focus groups are behind the really numbskull ideas, like "mention the Internet in your big debate close." You deserve better. End the madness, ban the polls and focus groups, and remember: Good campaigns move polls, they don't surrender to them.

Two. Order the door taken off every office on the 10th floor of headquarters. Create a culture more like a campaign and less like the Kremlin.

Three. Stop traveling to the wrong places. You should put your time and the campaign's money in the true swing states: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. Spending limited media money and candidate time in near-base states like Florida and Arizona isn't a strategy: It's a surrender. It wastes time and money on states you will win anyway, if you win. I can just hear the Clinton troops howling with laughter every time Dole for President sends another half-million to Florida. Sure, the polls -- making trouble again -- show you slightly behind in these base states. But if you fall into the trap of spending in your base, a national loss is guaranteed, since it defunds the vital swing states. So, play to win, and let the national free media, Kemp, the debates, surrogates, and the like deliver the base states. If you can't come back enough to win the base states without big investments in time and money, it is over. Gamble to win, not to lose.

Four. Turn operations in those swing states over to the governors. Ridge, Engler, Whitman, Voinovich, Sundquist, and Wilson all know how to win their states better than your campaign does. Surrender event and schedule control to them for the last three weeks. Give them authority over all radio advertising, telephoning, and direct mail in their states.

Five. You only need three 30-second spots; one for each of the two big questions, and one comparison spot to remind everybody about the other guy. Run nothing but those three spots until the election. Don't go in for tit-for- tat on small issues with Clinton; that will just grind you down on defense.

Spot One should make it crystal clear Bob Dole will cut taxes 15 percent. Avoid the silly complications of the message that foolish focus groups have forced on your earlier advertising. I know: Nobody yet believes in your tax cut. It's true, they don't. Polls always show voters disbelieving political promises. They didn't believe Christie Whitman or John Engler at this stage either. But look at what voters actually do, not what they tell pollsters. People vote for tax cuts. And they'll believe you enough by election day if you continue to hammer the message home.

Spot Two should remind us all that a president must tell the truth, and Bob Dole does.

Spot Three should compare: Clinton is against cutting taxes and does not tell the truth; the only candidate who will cut taxes and tell the truth is Bob Dole.

Six. Produce three half-hour "man in the arena" TV shows, one for each of the remaining Sunday nights on the networks. You answer questions from a real audience; not a circus, but not a softball contest either. You should risk hard questions; it's the only way to hit a real home run.