I woke-up after Super Tuesday to two emails from the leading US Republican presidential candidates; one from Mitt Romney and the other from Rick Santorum. (Gingrich and Paul must have been too self-absorbed thinking about why Tuesday wasn't so 'super' to spare the time to talk.)
I open Mitt's note first. I really like him and I think he'll be the nominee. The subject line of 'Thanks' is fairly lackluster, but I overlook it. 'Friend', he says, 'Tonight we celebrate because of you.' WHAT? We do? How did THAT happen? I'm living in the UK, haven't donated a cent, and I'm from New Jersey; my primary doesn't happen until June 5th.
The email goes on to thank me for helping his campaign which apparently will ultimately 'restore America's promise'. Not sure what that means. Aren't we an inevitably waning superpower? Doesn't China pretty much own us except for their moral superiority?
I made it to the end, but the entire thing was fairly annoying. For one, let's face it, I'm not Mitt's 'friend'. Don't get me wrong. I'd love to be. I would genuinely like to be invited to his house for supper and chat about our lives' imperfections and what exactly we plan to do about the unemployment rate in America.
In fact, I'm all for Mitt. From the very first primary debate I staked the credibility of my powers of prediction and declared he would be the eventual nominee. Remember that time? That week when everyone was freaking out that Rick Perry was about to enter the race and give Romney a run for his money? I've written regularly about why Mitt will and should win. I believe in him.
But a 'friend' is someone who calls you regularly, listens to your sob stories and is always loyal. A friend is someone you KNOW. Calling me 'friend' when you don't know me is is somehow worse than writing, 'Dear random person who decided to subscribe to my campaign website.' We're not friends. I mean, sure, you do email me, Mitt, but so do all those Viagra and Rolex people and those weird internet porn women that must be Macy's website stalkers, cause otherwise how would they have gotten my email address?
Then, somehow, for nine precious seconds of my morning, I also spent time reading an email from Rick Santorum; a man who I do not believe has any chance of becoming the Republican presidential nominee, but more importantly, who has views on a number of issues which I find offensive.
'Melanie', he says. 'I just finished speaking here in Steubenville [wherever that is!] and wanted to send this email to you because you are such a critical part of our campaign.'
Alright, aside from the faulty assumption that I am a 'critical' part of his campaign, there are a few huge things he did right. He called me by my first name like my mother would, and he is seemingly giving me a real time update -- like he stepped off the stage to drop me a note, sort of like you would text your best friend. 'Oh my GOD, I finished the speech -- I was a wreck but it seemed to go down well. I'm still hoping I can win. Tell your sister thanks so much that she raised all that money the other night. You guys are the best. xxx'
Point is, the way Rick talked to me was personal and I wanted to read on. He asked me for some money because he needs my help for tomorrow. Literally, apparently.
When he was neck-in-neck with Romney in Iowa, I thought it was the fluke of an ultra-conservative caucus system. His campaign argued that his constant knocking on doors and shaking hands made the difference, despite being massively outspent. I doubted it at the time, but now I believe them. In the social media age, a highly personalized, real-time approach is worth, literally, hundreds of thousands of votes. It feels authentic and that's what wins votes in the 21st century.
Mitt is compelling and will be the nominee, but the lesson he should learn is that there is no replacement for getting personal with a voter. He will need to know that going into a general election.
Not only that, but as the power has shifted away from the party hierarchy toward a democratized social approach to campaigning, a candidate must find better ways to connect with people.
Remember what happened to the front-runner Hillary in 2008? Obama spoke directly to people, empowering them, making them feel important, thereby eliminating the influence of the party's power of designating a winner.
Mitt, watch what Rick does by the way he communicates. Talk to me like you know me. Don't flatter and glad hand me through an email. We're both people. We all have to sleep, eat and go to the bathroom. What people want to know -- and demand from their public figures in the 21st century -- is whether their politicians are real, authentic. Show us you're real. As an American, I will admire you, not penalize you, for being a successful multi-millionaire, as long as you show me you can relate to me.
And when you win the White House, I'll be expecting private hospitality. After all, isn't that what being 'friends' is all about?
Actually, if you're free on the 23rd, I'm having some really fun couples come for cocktails. Hope you and Ann can make it. No need to bring anything.