WARNING: Big Endorsements Don’t Equal Election Victory

One of the most important but also the most useless things for a candidate are endorsements. Yes, big endorsements help you raise money and provide you third party credibility. They won’t however guarantee you a win.

As I wrote previously, the three most important parts of a winning political campaign are the three M’s:  message, money, and minutes.

Do you see endorsements on that list?  Nope. That’s because you can win an election without big names backing you up.

It happens all the time. In fact, it happened last November.

Hillary Clinton had endorsements from 57 of the major American newspapers.  Donald Trump had only 2.

So much for the power of endorsements, especially from newspapers.

That said, endorsements do help candidates when it comes to their campaign messaging and their fundraising.

When you’re telling your winning story to the voters, it always sounds better when someone else it talking about you.

That’s third party credibility. It works wonders in marketing, including political campaigns.

And certain endorsements can absolutely provide you much credibility to your candidacy.

They also help you raise money. Sometimes by providing you with the funds, usually by opening doors to other donors.

This is Where You Must Be Cautious

Where I see candidates make mistakes is when they falsely believe that having a ton of endorsements or all the big names backing them means they will win.

These people are also the candidates who because of their connections raise the most money. That too contributes to their complacency on the campaign trail.

They foolishly believe their gigantic endorsement list and overflowing campaign coffers will get them elected, then are stunned when they are upset on Election Day.

This happens because an opponent does not take the race for granted, goes out their and works, and because of that often forms a deeper connection with the voters.

The most recent example of this can be seen in the special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama recently vacated by Jeff Sessions.

In the Republican Runoff Election last Tuesday, interim Senator Luther Strange faced off with former Judge Roy Moore.  Mr. Moore won by 10 percentage points.

There is plenty of finger pointing going on here. The two main narratives are going like this:

1) Luther Strange was defeated because he was supported by the Republicans in Washington who failed to repeal Obamacare.

2) Luther Strange was tainted by the scandal that required former Governor Robert Bentley to resign from office.

While those two things might have played a part, I don’t think that explains why Mr. Moore defeated Mr. Strange.

One line in Janet Hook’s coverage of the election in the Wall Street Journal laid it out plainly in this one sentence:

In a state where support for the president remains high, Mr. Strange built his entire campaign around the Trump endorsement.

The moment I read that I realized exactly why Luther Strange lost despite all the money poured into his campaign.

He overplayed the endorsement of President Trump.

Now don’t misinterpret what I’m saying.

I have no doubt that Mr. Trump is popular in Alabama.  He won the state by 27.72% last November.

But simply touting the endorsement wasn’t enough to win. It never is.

The voters need to know that you understand what concerns them and that you have a plan to make things better.

That’s the essence of a winning campaign message. “I’m endorsed by the President most of you like” isn’t a message at all because it’s all about you — not the voters.

While Mr. Strange was touting the endorsement, the results indicate that Mr. Moore was out connecting likely Alabama Republican high propensity voters.

And a good number of those Republicans in this runoff were socially conservative, a fact that had to play well with Moore’s campaign messaging.

When Mr. Moore had been removed from the State Supreme Court in 2003 for disobeying a federal court order, they re-elected him to the job in 2010.

Last year, Judge Moore was suspended from the bench for once again refusing to follow rulings of the United States Supreme Court.

While such a public history might be a detriment to other candidates in other races, it worked to Moore’s advantage in this election.

Luther Strange may have had the President’s endorsement, but Roy Moore clearly had a message that resonated with the people who voted on Tuesday.

When all of those ballots were counted, the Trump endorsement did nothing for Mr. Strange, despite the President’s popularity in the state.

Candidate Take-Aways

Never rest easy because you bag the big endorsements on your campaign.

Use those endorsements to raise money and to provide third party credibility in your messaging.

Always campaign as hard as you can until the polls close on Election Day.

If you do that there’s a very good chance you’ll be giving a victory speech on Election Night rather than making a concession call.