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Today’s reading assignment: Berrios vs. Guzzardi

Tuesday, Mar 18, 2014

* Will Caskey, a regular commenter here, has an excellent op-ed over at the Illinois Observer about Rep. Toni Berrios’ Chicago primary battle against Will Guzzardi and broader lessons that should be learned. Go read the whole thing

Negative ads, mail work. Say it in the mirror until you believe it: negative attacks work. Whether that is good or bad doesn’t matter. It works. It’s what the people want.

If you examine all the mail sent in this race (you’re welcome, by the way), you’ll see that both candidates smacked the crap out of each other. About half of the pieces from both sides was negative.

Witness: Berrios sent out 40 total mail pieces, of which 17 (42 percent) were negative, 8 were positive, 4 were GOTV, 6 were positives sent by interest groups and 5 were “dear neighbor” letters. If you count just the actual direct mail sent by Berrios and House Democrats, then 68 percent were negative.

Guzzardi sent out 9 total pieces, of which 4 (44 percent) were negative.

Bear in mind that these are only counts for mail sent to the general voting universe. It’s probable both sides sent mail to more specific audiences

The only surprise is that the negative percentages were that low. As the incumbent, Berrios has an interest in disqualifying Guzzardi. There’s also the added benefit that overwhelming negatives can depress turnout, which usually benefits incumbents. Guzzardi has an interest in informing people why they should care about their state rep, which usually means because their state rep screwed up.

Ah, but this isn’t just any negative mail.

It’s screaming, nasty, ugly, unsettling negative mail. Mail with sex offenders gripping young girls and neighborhood watch-style flyers yelling about rapists in the immediate vicinity. These attacks aren’t over the top, they’re flying at 30,000 feet. Are these attacks fair? Say it with me: It doesn’t matter. Every attack is fair, and unfair. It depends on how much you like the person being attacked. Fairness is a matter of opinion; proper attacks are a matter of fact.

But are they effective?

As I learned the hard way, presentation matters. An attack can be accurate, and poll well, but it can still be worthless with improper presentation. People expect to see a certain range of information about politicians. When we are presented with unexpected information our most frequent reaction is simply to deny it.

And that’s the risk in this approach. It’s not that there will be a backlash. The only “backlash” coming from the district is from people who were already going to vote for Guzzardi. (By complete coincidence, Guzzardi claims he’s hearing about a great big backlash!) The danger in bad presentation is that the attacks simply won’t work. You have a very limited window of persuasion in a campaign, and all opportunity costs are serious failures.

That last point is why the Democrats’ over-the-top attacks on Guzzardi may not have worked. And if they didn’t work, Guzzardi probably wins tonight.

Again, go read the whole thing.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Will Caskey - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 2:54 pm:

    I finished this when extremely tired and that should read 4 Guzzardi pieces are negative not 5. My bad :(

  2. - East Side Eddie - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 2:55 pm:

    Looking @ a Guzzardi ‘W’ tonight.

    54% is my guess.

  3. - Will Caskey - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:03 pm:

    East Side Eddie I think given the dynamics I wrote about if it’s a Guzzardi win it will be about that high. 54 might even be on the low side.

    However I should also say i’ve seen this area defy polling before, in the 08 Martinez-Bradley primary. It’s hard to measure.

  4. - I'm New Here - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:12 pm:

    Terrific read for a newbie like myself. Thanks Will! Wondering what you think about keeping Berrios away from reporters and cameras the final few weeks of the campaign. Is that typical incumbent behavior?

  5. - Johnson - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:17 pm:

    Derrick Smith has also been silent, and Andrade has been very low-key.

    Christian Mitchell is the refreshing exception to the rule.

  6. - I'm New Here - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:20 pm:

    *Just to Clarify* Re-read my comment and it sounded a little snarky. I was genuinely curious as to whether or not you think the media shutdown for Toni represents a tried-and-true media strategy for incumbents. Thanks.

  7. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:31 pm:

    Rich, what has Guzzardi or his campaign done that qualify for being labelled “ugliest race in Illinois”?

    Berrios has made attacks that are noteworthy.

    But if the ugliness is all on one side, why does the race get labeled as “ugly”?

    It diminishes the point of being ethical if the media lumps the bad behavior together and creates ambiguity of who behaved badly.

  8. - Citizen Carl - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:32 pm:

    Will your analysis is about as amateurish as your mail pieces look but they do give me a good laugh when then arrive in my mailbox. Do you have middle school kids from the eighties design the mail pieces or do you actually pay someone?

    The reason your candidates win is not by running a smarter campaign than your opponents with an effective message or targeting but by sheer overwhelming force. Case in point 40 pieces for berrios to 9 for guzzardi. Berrios on TV twice as much as guzz. And finally I bet state government offices are empty today because everyone is knocking doors or poll passing for berrios to kiss the ring.

    Do not kid your self Will you do not out fox your opponents with great strategy, you defeat them by dropping nuclear bombs. Nothing wrong with that, a win is a win but I for one have no respect for you or your organization’s political skills. You are in the Stone Age compared to how modern political campaigns are run and thank god you do not run modern campaigns because you could elect more puppets who only care about turning the public service into a cash cow (Derrick Smith).

  9. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:33 pm:

    ===But if the ugliness is all on one side, why does the race get labeled as “ugly”?===

    Because that stuff is uglier than anywhere else.

  10. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:36 pm:

    ===Will your analysis is about as amateurish as your mail pieces look===

    He didn’t do that mail. Your reading comprehension is the amateurish behavior here.

  11. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:39 pm:

    Berrios will probably be defeated.

    With her win last time as close as it was, all indicators seem to point to the challenge being met, and Guzzardi is primed to cover.

    It’s the lack of momentum by Berrios that makes me think this. No need for wishing for “one more week” this time.

  12. - Bill White - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:48 pm:

    There is plenty of good stuff in that article, however the conclusion I am coming away with is this:

    “Negative attacks work, except when they don’t”

    The piece about the 2007 Dallas election suggests that negative attacks have to be calibrated for the audience being played to. If people are not willing to believe the attacks, going negative will fail.


    Applied to Matune-Sandack, I wonder if Team Sandack knew that many of the people getting the negative mailers have known the Matune family for forty or fifty years.

    This creates a “Who ya’ going to believe” scenario. Decades of knowing the family or an expensive 11×17 glossy mail piece.

    Exhibits A & B could be current Woodridge mayor Gina Cunningham and former Woodridge mayor Bill Murphy who served as mayor from 1981-2013.

    Murphy, by the way, endorsed Sandack in 2012.

  13. - Walker - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:49 pm:

    I found Will’s piece straightforward and true.

    Negative attacks are part of all “modern” campaigns, at every level of government, by every party.

    Sad but true.

    Citizen Carl: == “thank God you do not run modern campaigns because you could elect more puppets who care only about turning public service into a cash cow” ==

    So that’s what your “modern campaigns” produce?

    Or is it a comment about Will’s client of the moment? He’s a highly respected professional and works for hire with a lot of different folks.

    Take a breath. Hopefully you will be thinking more clearly tomorrow.

  14. - Citizen Carl - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 3:51 pm:

    I agree Oswego, It will be a low turnout election being a non presidential year and no fireworks at the top of the ticket.

    And this time around, despite Will’s amateurish analysis, Guzz has three times as much money, an actually ground game back by the unions and a 2012 Obama campaign staffer running the campaign to show the madigan staff and Will how a modern campaign is ran.

    Guzz picks berrios off but I think it will be close 50.5 to 49.5

  15. - Dave Fako - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 4:12 pm:

    Carl, regardless of opinions of the article, any inference or direct implication that Madigan’s staff is incompetent, or does not now how to run a “modern” political campaign is amateurish. Case in point, since 1992, the Madigan organization has won eleven and lost one election cycle (1994), including the entire decade of 1990’s under a GOP drawn map. Lots of reasons for that, mostly a better overall leadership, better organization, better staff, better plans and implementation of the plans, and better, harder working candidates.

  16. - Wumpus - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 4:12 pm:

    Mr./Ms I’m new here, I was going to make mention of it earlier, but decided I had to get some candy. I saw berrios on WGN for a brief interview and she seemed like she had no clue. There was no inducation that she had experience and was the incumbent. Her performance was horrible and sad. Maybe it was selectively edited, but she did not impress me.

  17. - East Side Eddie - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 4:13 pm:

    I don’t think Will is an amateur, but for the life of me, I cannot grasp why the gentrification wedge wasn’t used by the Berrios camp.

    The simple narrative of the campaign was “Hispanics vs. Hipsters,” yes, but it goes beyond “carpetbagging.”

    It’s about maintaining a neighborhood that, until the housing boom, was quickly disappearing.

    FOR the neighborhood BY the neighborhood with a flattering picture of Toni on the front.

    26 year old, N.Y. bred, Ivy League educated, just-moved-to-Logan-Square-what-business-does-he-have-being-our-elected-official under a picture of Will’s mug on the back.

    It could’ve been at least ONE of the bagillion mail pieces the Berrios camp sent out.

    Will, don’t TELL me that wouldn’t have gotten people riled up. I do not care what your polls said. Not sure where you get this “this isn’t the 1970’s” attitude from.

    That was the knife, and they failed to drive it in.

    Guzzardi (relatively) big tonight.

  18. - Will Caskey - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 4:28 pm:

    I’m new here: That is indeed typical activity for an embattled incumbent. If the incumbent is unpopular you do not want to remind people of the person they dislike. Therefore one minimizes the incumbent visibility and maximizes attacks on the challenger.

    Citizen Carl: Rich already said it but just to be clear, I was not professionally involved with this campaign. I am of course sympathetic to Berrios and had informal contact with the campaign. In terms of strategy and tactics I laid out several specific ways in which both Guzzardi and Berrios could have improved besides doing what they already did which was attack each other so I’m not sure where you’re getting this idea that it was all about nuclear attacks.

    East Side Eddie: You think that a gentrification/you’re not from around here thing is effective but the fact is that rarely works. Just look at the 2011 mayoral campaign: Chico based most of his attacks on Emanuel on the idea that he wasn’t a native and it fell flat.

  19. - East Side Eddie - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 4:46 pm:

    Will, can you think of a better example?

    Sure Chico told everyone he was from Back of the Yards every chance he got, but none of the candidates ever attacked Rahm for being from the North Shore, not Chicago.

    Besides, the 2011 mayoral election was over before it started (barring an Emanuel ballot ejection). In comparison this is a minor race that could be about as little as +-250 votes out of a homogenous group of voters extremely tied to their neighborhood. Apples and oranges.

    After all those ads, and all those canvasses, and all that money spent, it wasn’t worth mentioning? It wasn’t worth a shot?

  20. - East Side Eddie - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 4:49 pm:

    But I guess that line of attack isn’t worth paying someone to advise you to use.

    So I get where you’re coming from.

  21. - esteban - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 5:08 pm:

    Will Guzzardi will make a great public servant just what Chicago needs to change course of the same old machine acting like they can get away with everything…Will wants an elected Education Board by the people not the Mayor…what is his name? Oh yes Rahm Emmanuel the guy who closed 50 schools then turns around and gives Public Money to a private entity…we do not need people like this in Public Office..Win Will…Win.

  22. - Rod - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 5:41 pm:

    Toni is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but having been in the district just two hours ago I can say with confidence Guzzardi has no support from seniors on the west end of the district. Hispanic home owners at the west end of the district are overwhelmingly in support of Toni.

    It really all depends on how many hipsters sober up enough to vote on the eastern end of the district, if they get a big turn out Toni could lose.

  23. - low level - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 6:20 pm:

    Carl- I’ll take the HDems record of success over, say, the DCCC any day.

  24. - ZC - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 7:51 pm:

    The returns thus far are looking very good for Guzzardi.

  25. - Rob C - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 8:29 pm:

    I worked for Guzzardi’s campaign earlier around Belmont and Central and there was nothing resembling an outpouring of support for Berrios from anyone from any demographic.

    Easily a 70-30 split falling for Guzzardi. And what Will’s analysis is sorely lacking is the “why,” and that would boil down to actual issues and community involvement. It was telling that not one of Berrios’ “volunteers” (they were clearly being paid) were from the area, and they had little to say except rambling about neighborhood safety. Something which doesn’t sound credible when the speaker in question doesn’t know the neighborhood.

    Perhaps if the Machine Democrats put as much effort into governing as they do into negative advertising …

  26. - low level - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 9:26 pm:

    Looks like a winner. Congratulations to Will and his people. He will go to Springfield and find several other like minded independent Dems in the caucus.

  27. - Will Caskey - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 9:39 pm:

    Rob C- A fair perspective. It is not really my business to dwell on the “why”; what my clients do after the election is their (or their staff’s) problem.

  28. - East Side Eddie - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 9:41 pm:

    Guzzardi is buzzed givin this speech.

  29. - East Side Eddie - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 9:43 pm:

    Literally no mention of your opponent having no natural ties to the area he is trying to represent until one passing remark in a concession speech. Unreal.

  30. - Will Caskey - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 10:09 pm:

    She lost by twenty points Eddie. Nothing was going to turn that around.

  31. - North Shore Joe - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 10:36 pm:

    It took 3 elections and she lost by 1000 votes with a terrible turnout. I’d like to see a post election poll of Hispanic voters on their knowledge of Guzzardi’s background.

    They don’t know him, Will. But like I said, I guess that’s not anything you’d have to pay for, I would expect you to bash it.

  32. - disgruntledinlowhum - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 10:49 pm:

    When the sexually grotesque and threatening flyers started showing up in our mail, I called the Berrios campaign to ask them to stop sending them. The campaign worker was rude condescending and with some delusions of House of Cards style toughness. He actually said “welcome to Chicago,” not realizing (because he didn’t ask) that I’m a 20 year resident. Following up a smear campaign with straight up Fox news style distortions with open arrogance and contempt towards citizens who complained is not a good strategy for a small local election unless one is beloved and Toni wasn’t. The one time I encountered her, she seemed uninterested in addressing constituents she didn’t already know as supporters. She badly misread her audience. A positive campaign about her recently improved record which - as the Reader observed - co-opted some Will’s issues might have worked in a “go with experience rather than the unknown”. The frenzied attack alienated people angry about the bullying attitudes from the Mayor and Republican tea partiers, the shut down, school closings and scary extremists with big money. Also when people read the basis of the smear, it was a column decrying corporate abuse of personal data and 4th amendment rights - not the sort of thing a Democrat should use as smear fodder. Insiders love the tough stuff but what appeals to insular players antagonizes much of the natural dem constituency, particularly the young. One reason Dems have been losing ground across the country is scorched earth intraparty tactics and the worship of inular power plays. This “who cares, they weren’t voting for us anyway” may work in a Dem machine town, but these voters remain disillusioned even after they move somewhere their support is needed. Anyway, Berrios made herself into a target people were willing to make an effort to beat.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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