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John Conlan: Viktor Yuschenko: Victor or Vanquished? Help Is Needed, And Fast.
OP-ED, Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, March 18, 2004
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The Kyiv Post's blistering March 11 editorial ("What protest?"), offering criticisms of the political and organizational ineptness of Viktor Yushchenko, stimulated a resounding "amen" last week among international diplomats, Ukrainian businessmen, civic leaders, and ex-pats in Ukraine. Their reaction: "Finally, someone has broken the silence and correctly described the Yushchenko campaign as a classic example of how a good man can lose an election."
Yushchenko has dropped from a spring 2001 voter support level of 30 percent plus, with big momentum, to only 24 percent of the vote in the March 2002 parliamentary election, to 22 percent in December 2003, to a current 20 percent, with no momentum.
With Yushchenko's campaign management team inexcusably one year behind where it should be in the campaign, westerners and Ukrainians are shaking their heads in disillusionment, wondering whether Yushchenko could win the runoff in November. If he had organized earlier and accepted professional help, he may have won even in the first round this October.
In the U.S. or Western Europe, a candidate slumping like this would do what U.S. Sen. John Kerry did at the end of 2003. He took charge, fired his campaign manager, and brought in a new manager and professional experts from the outside. Together they turned around his campaign.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin did the same thing in his second presidential campaign, when his daughter and Anatoly Chubais brought in American experts who, in just a few months, guided Yeltsin from six percent in the polls to an election victory.
ELECTORAL POLITICS 101
Post writer Stephan Ladanaj, in his March 11 opinion piece ("If Yushchenko wants to help, he should just step down") accurately portrayed the frustration and disappointment with Yushchenko and his inexperienced campaign staff that is present among the Ukrainian middle class and intellectual and business circles. But his recommendation that Yulia Tymoshenko now become the democratic opposition's candidate may be premature.
Much of the international and Ukrainian business community and western diplomatic corps in Ukraine would be pleased to see Yushchenko as president, with Tymoshenko as prime minister to put discipline and efficiency into his cabinet. They believe Yushchenko should be given one last chance to get a professional campaign together immediately.
Even if he did not win the presidency, they reason, a well-organized campaign would be in a better position to impact or win the next parliamentary elections and bring further reforms. Yushchenko could still win the runoff, if he and his financial backers wake up and make some dramatic changes, like the establishment parties are wisely doing. Critics can't understand why Yushchenko isn't doing the things normally needed to win a presidential campaign. For example:
1. You put together early a coalition of natural allies. In Yushchenko's case, these would be Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Moroz. You do this so that you can integrate their strong field forces into a merged organization at oblast, region and precinct levels, creating a united front under a new umbrella name that will resonate nationally.
You don't listen to the selfish voices of aides who want to keep others out of your inner circle, calling attention to others' negative points. When someone in a politician's inner staff wants to isolate a politician for his own power dreams, it's a real kiss of death.
2. You drop any talk of a referendum. Referenda are a waste of time, energy, and money.
And while we're at it, if you're going to spend time and effort on street rallies, learn from the leftists in the West how to organize a mass street protest, and do it on a Saturday or Sunday when the working poor and middle classes have the day off. It is not someone's birth or assassination date that counts. It's the cause, and using a non-working day will bring people out.
Furthermore, if your side is going to collect signatures on petitions, for goodness sakes do it right next time, so that staff can database their names and addresses and recruit new volunteers. Don't waste three million signatures and a quarter million hours of labor.
3. Winners come up with a compelling, believable message, based on astute survey results. They get on a "positive solutions" campaign, avoiding negative campaigning. They keep the message simple and focus on a strategy people want and respond to, applying it in a consistent way.
4. Winners get a professional audit done of their campaign organizations.
An audit would include preparation and plans by a highly experienced western campaign manager, preferably one who knows Ukraine. The purpose would be to find weaknesses in methodology, organization, preparation and personnel, and then give suggestions and solutions for healing and improvements, like a skilled doctor would.
When something is desperately wrong in a campaign, only an outside auditor will tell the truth, and how to correct the problem. Relying on local politicians or staff who are novices in campaign strategy, management, and message development, with the understanding that only Ukrainians can understand Ukraine, is a fatal fallacy. This year is the first presidential campaign in which a democratic challenger to the establishment figures - an establishment that has much more campaign experience, yet isn't too proud to get outside help.
Yeltsin's daughter and Chubais didn't have any ego problems to bring American experts. Serhiy Tihipko retained President Clinton's pollster/consultant Doug Schoen; Viktor Yanukovych and Volodymyr Lytvyn reportedly are using Clinton and Russian consultants; average voters don't care who your helpers are. What they want is your message, and to feel confident they'll get results from you!
Frank Luntz, a top Republican pollster and campaign strategist in the U.S., volunteered to show Yushchenko and his team how to sweep the parliamentary elections in 2002. He was brushed off because, with only a Ukrainian grandfather and grandmother, he wasn't "Ukrainian enough." The fact that he brought the Republicans majority control of Congress after 40 years, and has won nationwide campaigns in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Italy (for Silvio Berlusconi), was not enough.
As one member of Yushchenko's inner circle reportedly said a year ago: "We want to use your American technology, but not your methods."
What stubborn, peasant nationalist foolishness it is to try and separate technology from winning methods, especially since Americans have learned so much over the course of a million campaigns.
GROUND VS. AERIAL CAMPAIGNS
5. When you can't run a so-called "aerial campaign" as is the case now when most of Ukraine's media is in establishment hands, you change tactics and run a ground campaign.
Informed sources say Yushchenko's campaign organization has about the same number of "ground" volunteers in its database as two years ago. That's not good enough. He needs tens of thousands more, and could get them by using the correct methodology.
His campaign team should by now have written his entire campaign literature, and it should be camera-ready for printing. It should detail daily campaign schedules and tactics through October. As for those several hectic second-election weeks in November, the literature should provide for the possibility of Yushchenko's opponent being either Yanukovych or Lytvyn.
If these things aren't being done, somebody is inept, unorganized, slothful, or a saboteur, or all of these things. And this election campaign may be very short.
6. Winning presidents do not rely primarily on parliamentarians elected on a list to build a volunteer campaign organization for them. Major winning campaigns in the West rely on full-time organizers/specialists, not on Rada members who are too busy with parliamentary work, their businesses, their personal lives and ambitions, and buttering up the candidate.
A challenger needs to use full-time, experienced community organizers who live and recruit day and night in their regions.
7. A winning candidate imposes message discipline on all leaders, and designates alternative spokesmen.
A candidate can't have his faction leaders and Rada members popping off half-cocked on various subjects, stoking their own egos in the press.
8. "Take your message to the people" is always the winning rule. A challenger without media support has to be out in the oblasts and regions most of the time, meeting and winning the hearts and minds of voters, using a detailed schedule of eight to 10 daily appearances.
It is hard work. It is not pleasant to sleep in different beds each night and be on the move every hour to a different group, factory, church, school or organization. But if one wants to win, one must get out of the capital city and on the road. There's no point wasting time with ineffective "forums." If Yushchenko and his staff are too lazy to work that hard, then perhaps people will conclude Stephan Ladanaj's recommendation has merit when he says Yushchenko should "step aside and let Yulia lead the charge."
9. Winning candidates, even professional speakers like Ronald Reagan, submit to a professional political speech coach, and to a campaign speechwriter. That's what businessman Silvio Berlusconi did to win the post of Italy's prime minister. While a candidate's thoughts need to be sound and his personality pleasant, his speeches and Q&A responses also need to be positive, concise and effective. That's the best way to attract supporters and voters.
10. Citizens want a president who is organized, decisive, and concentrates his message, offering specifics on fulfilling their needs.
If Yushchenko wants to win, he had better take charge of his campaign now and make the needed changes. If he wants to win, he better start working as if it all depends on him; and start praying as if it all depends on God, because Viktor is definitely going to need God's help.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------The Hon. John Conlan is a former U.S. congressman and state senator, who has won 12 elections and managed 25 campaigns. He lives much of the time in Kyiv, where he works as an investment consultant.
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