4-Corner Offense: A Path to Victory in 2014

Here's why Democrats should have used Obama.

October 27, 2014, 11:05 AM
PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks to the media about the government?s Ebola response, in the Oval Office of the White House Oct. 16, 2014, in Washington.
President Barack Obama speaks to the media about the government's Ebola response, in the Oval Office of the White House Oct. 16, 2014, in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

— -- Back in the day (or before the shot clock), some men's basketball teams, with little talent facing long odds, were able to pull off surprising upsets and keep many games close against much stronger and talented college squads. How did they do this? By employing the four-corner strategy.

Teams would hold the ball for lengthy periods, passing it back or forth, and keeping the game as low-scoring as possible, and then hope they could win it in the end.

About a week out from Election Day with Democrats facing an uphill fight to keep the U.S. Senate (it is very close and could go either way) and likely going to lose seats in the U.S. House, I would like to suggest that Democrats should have utilized a four-corner strategy. And could still do so if they move quickly, not by stalling but by going on the offensive.

First, contrary to strategists and conventional wisdom, the Democrats should have used President Obama in key states and races around the country. Today, most Democratic campaigns don't want the president anywhere near their races, in person or in message because of his low approval ratings.

This is a mistake. These Democratic candidates are getting all the bad of the president's low approval numbers and none of the good of his capacity to deliver a message and motivate key voting groups.

The president's approval rating is already baked in the political cake of the country, and his appearance somewhere isn't going to motivate more Republicans in any given place. But his appearance in a jurisdiction actually may help motivate Democratic voters who feel beaten down.

I remember very well in 2000 (I directed polling and media for the Bush campaign) how the Gore campaign didn't utilize then-President Clinton because they were afraid of the scandals he carried with him. Similarly, the Gore campaign ended up with all the downside of Clinton's negatives and none of the upside.

Second, midterm elections these days have become nationalized, and Democrats should have embraced this. Instead of having a series of mixed messages state by state, they should have let Obama and others carry a national message against Republicans in general.

Republican candidates are ahead in races today despite the fact their party favorability rating is much lower than the Democrats. And Democrats still have an advantage on the value of who cares about the middle class and regular people in.

That should have been the national message broadly Democrats have run with. The middle class has been left behind, feels squeezed and is very frustrated. They are looking for someone who has their back, and Democrats would have been smart to adopt this as their national message.

Third, I have heard over and over that this is a turnout election (aren't they all) and that only the colors red and blue matter. This ignores the changing nature of the country politically where independents are a rising force. And it also misunderstands what it means to be red and blue.

When one looks deeper at Republican voters and Democratic voters, you don't see monolithic blocks. Nearly half of the folks who will vote Democrat or Republican don't follow the traditional points leaders of each party represents. There are millions of conservative -on-social-issue Democrats, moderate-on-social-issue Republicans, fiscally responsible Democrats, big government Republicans, etc.

And this huge body of voters is being left completely out of the conversation as campaigns treat this as a base election with messages only designed for deep-red Republicans and deep-blue Democrats. Campaigns should focus on independents and loosely attached party members.

Fourth, the amount of money spent on television ads is both unseemly and ineffective. Yes, television is a powerful medium, but the amount and way most campaigns have done this borders on political malpractice. Voters are looking for fewer details, and more context.

In a confusing and troubled world, voters need to know in a heartfelt way that someone understands what is going on and has a plan. Today, we have a plethora of information, and a paucity of wisdom. Campaigns and candidates should spend more time on composing a message that touches people in their hearts and is passionate and strong, and then figure out creative ways to bring this to voters.

Sometimes it is television ads, but many times it isn't. I would suggest using more money for creative spots on message (like helping the middle class), less money on buys and create unique event opportunities that break through.

Too often today, old tactics drive campaigns, and too many campaigns buy into conventional propagated myths of a consultant class that profits off the way campaigns are mismanaged, and the dysfunction in our political discourse. If Democrats want to win this year, I would throw out the playbook and go for the four-corner strategy. And if the GOP wants to win back the presidency, it should take a look after next Tuesday night at a similar four-corner game plan.

This is not only a winning strategy for candidates running from either party, but it actually would be good for the country. It is time candidates took back control of the conversation, and the United States had a big conversation about big issues, starting with the middle class.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.