Sunday, August 3, 2014

Campaigning is Different in Rural Georgia

He didn’t shake my hand, she didn't ask for my vote, so I’m not going to vote for him or I'm not going to vote for her. For a long time, I've often-heard this remark by voters in various rural areas of Georgia. That's what I hear now when the name of Michelle Nunn or any other candidate comes up. Political campaigns and races in rural counties have often been decided by just such seemingly whimsical reasoning.

Roy Barnes appearance in rural Berrien County in 2010 during his run for governor
However, if you’ve spent any time in rural areas, then you have some grasp of how small town people and farm folks look at elections and politicians. On the surface, that remark may seem foolish but rural residents reasoning runs much deeper and more serious than that statement may seem. Longtime residents of metropolitan cities here in the state probably think that’s a silly reason for voting or not voting for a candidate. But, having spent the majority of my life in a small town I understand the reasoning. It goes to character.

Yes, it says something about the candidate’s character but it also raises the question of the depth of the candidate’s character. While, metro residents may seem to be more attuned to issues, small town and rural folks put a lot of stock in a candidate who has the gumption and, yes, strength of character, to look a man in the eye, shake his hand and ask for his vote. I know how important this is, I seen it first hand two years ago while working on a campaign for State House. Numbers, of course, play a major role in how a candidate and his campaign people approach the race. If the area to be represented is sizable in both population and/or geographic area, much of the candidate’s appeal will be directed through appearances at events catering to candidates and through advertising and mass media messages to the electorate.

But, a candidate who dismisses the press-the-flesh/knock on- doors approach as too time-consuming, colloquial and lacking depth is usually making a major mistake. And, to think that a voter who wants to look you in the eye probably doesn’t know what the issues are, is usually a misjudgement by a candidate and his campaign workers. A voter who wants a candidate to shake his hand and look him in the eye, can probably tell from the candidate’s reaction if the politician is committed plus confident in his depth of knowledge of the job and the issues. (Again I go back to 2012 when I worked for Thomas Coogle campaign for State House 139...that kind of outreach works!)

Rural and small town folks have always done a lot of handshake business so they generally have a good feel for a person’s sincerity and honesty. Of course, there is a difference between a politician and someone you see and do business with regularly. Naturally, if the pol is local, he/ she understands that they have to face most voters frequently. Maybe they see them shopping every week or go to the same church or hold civic club membership in common.

That kind of exposure will go a long way toward ensuring a candidate’s honesty. He or she knows they have to look the same people in the eye daily or weekly and there are less places to run and hide.

For statewide candidates, especially democratic candidates, this is a MUST! They may not go door to door, but attending those summer festivals across Georgia and during the fall, attending friday night football games offer a valuable opportunity for them to connect with voters. Already I've seen candidates such as Liz Johnson (Insurance Commissioner) visit Coffee County, Chris Irvin (Agriculture Commissioner) visit several rural counties such as Early, Peach, and Crisp Co for example and Robin Shipp (Labor Commissioner) trek to Sumter and several other rural counties since announcing her candidacy.

The Top Two Candidates, Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn need to do more of this as we now are into August, especially Michelle Nunn who really needs to raise her profile in rural Georgia ASAP!

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