Christie Vilsack says she is “shocked – and humbled – by the outpouring of support” for her congressional campaign. If I were Vilsack, I would be humbled too. Only one person showed up in Audubon to see Iowa’s former First Lady. Only seven turned out in Carroll. To be fair, the Audubon stop was at a diner during lunchtime and she did chat with other folks while she was there. However, the only person who came there intentionally to see her was the Democrat county chair.
Perhaps the humbling experience of small crowds has prompted Vilsack to take her “listening tour” to the internet. She sent out an email Monday announcing the launch of an “online listening tour”, which consists of reading comments submitted to her campaign website.
“I want to hear from you about your priorities and what’s happening in your community,” Vilsack said in her email. “I have spent the last week traveling throughout Northwest Iowa, listening to people of the 4th district talk about their priorities. The stories they’ve shared have been truly touching. I have seen the innovation of Iowans from the research park in Ames to an ethanol plant in Galva to the wind farm near Jefferson.”
Vilsack’s listening tour is straight out the Hillary Clinton playbook. Clinton devised a similar strategy for her first Senate campaign, concentrating heavily on the more conservative and rural upstate part New York. Clinton successfully softened her image and won handily.
However, Vilsack is failing where Clinton succeeded. First, she does not need to soften her image. Vilsack is already known as likeable and personable. She does not need a personality makeover, like Clinton did.
Secondly, instead of listening to everyone in the room and having a group conversation, Vilsack breaks the events into smaller groups and spends 15-20 minutes with each table. This makes the events much longer than most political town halls. Last week in Harlan, some attendees complained privately after Vilsack took well over an hour after the scheduled start time to make her way to their table. When you factor in that she has been routinely late for events (23 minutes in Carroll and 16 minutes in Onawa), Vilsack is turning off some would-be supporters.
Finally, Vilsack’s “listening tour” is a misnomer. She is not actually listening. Instead, Vilsack repeatedly steers the conversations away from what people want to talk about. When immigration, offshore drilling, and late-abortion came up last week, she quickly changed the subject and asked for more examples of “Iowa values” or for information on local spots where people are involved in innovation.
As a former newspaper reporter, Vilsack should know better. Instead of asking follow-up questions, she runs away from the conversation. She does not want to tell people where she actually stands on the issues at this point. That is a part of the Hillaryesque strategy. However, by quickly changing the topic, Vilsack shows Iowans she cares more about shaping her campaign’s message than listening to their concerns.
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