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Democrats’ Predictions of Victory Defy Traditional Political Wisdom

More and more Democrat leaders are predicting they will take control of the House of Representatives, this November.

These brazen pronouncements seem to defy traditional political wisdom; typically it is smarter politics to lower expectations — not to raise them.

Bill Clinton followed this sage advice. Prior to the 1992 Democrat primary in New Hampshire, his team convinced the press that a second-place finish would actually prove his political resiliency (he had just come out of the Gennifer Flowers and draft controversies). By setting the bar low (at second place) he was able to "spin" the story to make it look as if he had won. That "victory" made Bill Clinton, "The Comeback Kid" (even though Paul Tsongas had actually beaten him by eight points).

The expectations game works equally well for Republicans. During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush’s campaign wisely downplayed his debating skills. The Bush campaign’s method was counter-intuitive but brilliant. In essence, they said if Bush merely survives the debate, he will have "won." Likewise, if Al Gore doesn’t mop the floor with him, Gore will have "lost." It worked. Bush gained momentum merely by surviving the debates.

One of the most important tools in public relations is to under-promise and over-achieve. Set the bar of success low for yourself. Build your opponent up to a level he cannot achieve. This is counterintuitive to the self-promoter in you who wants to hype things.

So why are the Democrats doing the opposite?

There is another theory in politics that says change can’t happen unless people first believe it can happen. By hyping their chances, Democrats are providing their base with an important commodity: hope. They are also injecting excitement into the race. In short, they are making people believe they can succeed.

Of course, this is a huge gamble. By hyping their chances, the Democrats have put themselves in a "do-or-die" situation.

Winning a few seats will no longer deserve celebration. Anything less than taking control of Congress will now be viewed as a disappointment.

Written By

Mr. Lewis has managed political campaigns and served as director of grassroots for the Leadership Institute, as well as political director for GOPAC. In 2002, Campaigns & Elections magazine selected him as a "Rising Star of Politics." He is the author of "Teaching Elephants to Talk." His blog can be read at MattLewis.org.

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