2016 U.S. SENATE
DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY in OHIO
CHALLENGE: A fresh candidate with the world against him
AUDIENCE: Ohio Democratic primary electorate
OPPORTUNITY: A mile wide, but an inch deep
INSIGHT: “My opponent will never stand up to the NRA. I will.”
POSITIONING: Neutralizing establishment support
STRATEGY: Educate. Demonstrate. Validate.
P.G. Sittenfeld was an upstart, but largely unknown 30-year-old councilman who ran against former
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in the 2016 Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Ohio. Our campaign had to
create a strategic messaging campaign that undermined the near-universal name recognition &
establishment support of Strickland, while proving to voters that P.G. was a fresh, energetic
alternative & a viable candidate to take on incumbent Sen. Rob Portman in the general election.
Democratic primary voters are consistently
more liberal and more politically invested
than those who vote in a general election.
Increasingly in Ohio, they are heavily
concentrated in the urban centers.
Our opponent’s popularity among Ohio Democratic voters was a mile-wide, but an inch deep. Focus
groups and polling suggested that voters had a vaguely positive reaction to hearing his name, but
knew very few specifics about him or his record as a Congressman or Governor. Given this lack of
knowledge, we selectively focused on the parts of his record that were most out step with the
electorate and showed the most striking contrast with P.G.
Voters want a choice, and because of Strickland’s long record of coziness with the NRA, we could
lump him with the Republican incumbent. We postulated to voters that a vote against P.G. in the
primary was the equivalent of a vote for the NRA in the general election, as a Strickland-Portman
general election would feature two candidates with on the NRA’s side. By placing P.G. in opposition
to the Strickland, Portman, and the NRA, we not only put P.G. on the right side of an important
issue, but we also presented P.G. as a principled leader unsullied by interest group influences.
Another key goal of our messaging plan was to prevent prominent Democratic influencers from
getting involved in the race & putting their weight behind Strickland. We believed the gun issue
would neutralize Strickland’s most prominent allies. Pres. Obama—the de facto face of the gun
reform movement—and the Clinton’s—who had latched onto the gun issue to call into question
Bernie Sanders’ progressive bonafides—would be hesitant to get involved in a race that would call
into question their devotion to the gun reform issue.
Using old clips of our
opponent embracing the
NRA, educate the press
and voters on his record on
With straight-to-camera ads,
demonstrate PG’s value as
a serious alternative with the
right views on gun reform.
Make policy proposals to
earn media coverage and
validate our strategy as
more than just cynical
94% Of national Democrats
have a favorable view
of the NRA
8%Of Ohio Democrats
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