How to Lose an Election: Arkansas Senate District 21

Who would’ve thought the national public mood would have reared its head so prominently yesterday in a little race for the state Senate in Northeast Arkansas?

Chad Neill made a big bet that very thing would happen. Problem is, winning his six-figure wager depended on getting dealt an entirely different hand.

In the two weeks leading up to yesterday’s special election in Arkansas Senate District 21, voters simply could not escape Neill’s enormous (likely the biggest ever) media buy for a citizen legislator’s job that pays $14,000 and change annually. Neill engaged a proven strategy that flooded almost every local media venue imaginable. In the last 14 days, he owned local television, radio and billboards. Fact is, this is how you buy name recognition. Everyone knows it.

Furthermore, Neill paid thousands of dollars for professional consultants and research that clearly advised him to take hot-button national political issues such as gun control and national health care and throw them into the campaign mix so he could line up with the perceived pervasive mood of his Republican Party.

One published media report indicated Neill was reluctant to participate in a debate since he’d already invested more than $100k in paid media.

This time, at least, an election would not be bought. Not here. Not today.

Money would not be the thing that would impress Northeast Arkansas voters this time.

After watching Paul Bookout throw $50k and change at designer jeans and high-tech surround-sound systems, playing fast and loose with money was already a soft spot with local voters. They clearly were looking to be impressed with something beyond money.

Then, add a barrage of national media coverage over government shutdowns and debt ceilings at a time when every word that comes out of a politician’s mouth is considered mostly BS by anyone who hears it and Neill’s strategy (that in most other circumstances would’ve worked) got him dead last place in his own Republican Primary, That, despite the fact that he spent twice as much as both his opponents combined.

Neill’s own strategy, became the very thing that beat him.

Enter John Cooper, the unlikely candidate, who spent nothing by comparison, and led the entire field. Cooper’s strategy? Good old fashioned shoe leather. Go figure.

First there were seven. Now, four. Cooper and Dan Sullivan will square off for the Republican nomination in three weeks, while Radius Baker and Steve Rockwell will court their Democratic base.

Yesterday’s election results now offer the candidates some interesting lessons moving forward in the January 2014 general election. They’d be well advised to study hard.

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