The late great Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said something that’s always stuck with me. He said a baseball team wins one-third of their games and loses one-third – it’s what they do with the rest that makes a winner.
Replace the word “baseball” with “elections,” and “games” with “votes,” and it still works because it’s those on-the-fence third of voters who always decide an election.
So on the rare occasion a high profile candidate doesn’t manage pick up that minimum in a hotly contested incumbent-less primary battle, it begs the question as to how Anderson’s axiom broke down.
To that end, in ascending order of importance, here are the 10 factors that played a role in the Kane County Republican Chairman race turning into a 70-30 landslide in favor of Chris Lauzen:
10. The bus. It actually was a mammoth RV, but “The Bus,” as it was called, roamed Kane County with oversized images of Mayor Kevin Burns’ gleaming visage on both sides.
While collar county chair contests may have risen to the level of a Congressional campaign and a Palin-esque bus might work for a presidential contender, the bus fell completely flat out here.
Calling it absurd and ostentatious, the blogs literally lit up with a virtually unanimous disdain for the vehicle. But instead of retiring it, the Burns campaign kept it rolling for the duration.
9. The emails. The unflattering content of Burns' infamous FOIAed campaign emails certainly didn’t help him, but the election was already over by the time they were made public. This revelation was simply the final nail in a rapidly closing coffin.
8. Bush league campaign tactics. Attempting to crash a Chris Lauzen press conference en masse, sending folks to hold up your signs at another Lauzen event and claiming your opponent was the subject of an FBI investigation while providing no proof of that allegation completely turned off the voters.
I know almost anything goes in politics these days, but that doesn’t mean you can summarily ignore the potential equal and opposite reaction to any campaign maneuver.
7. Choices have consequences. It’s true that political relationships tend to operate on a sophomore level, but that doesn’t absolve you from choosing your friends wisely. You never want to give the electorate a knee-jerk reason to vote for your opponent.
Bet instead of paying attention to that principle, Burns aligned himself with a group of polarizing Kane County ultra-insiders who’s power and influence were rapidly waning.
6. Disconnect actions have consequences. When I watched the Mayor cast the vote that kept a small Geneva property tax increase alive, I sat there in utter disbelief. You can’t call yourself a “fiscal conservative” in one breath and vote to raise taxes in the next.
What made this move particularly suspect was Burns knew he didn’t have the votes to prevail, but couldn’t let the defeat go.
5. “Who’s he campaigning to?” That’s exactly what a spectator whispered to me at the Young Republicans debate. Another attendee asked me why he was campaigning as a Democrat.
The specific Burns’ declarations that made me wince were, I might raise taxes, everything’s fine at the county, we shouldn’t dwell on the past and I might hire a county administrator.
4. Ethics investigation (or the lack of one). The mayor’s inability or outright refusal to decisively address the campaign email question or Streets Superintendent Steve Lemaire’s theft arrest absolutelty killed him.
You can’t claim it’s your leadership that sets you apart and then fail to lead.
Had the mayor issued a real apology (not his weak city council speech), fined himself $100 (via a donation to Lazarus House) and then apologized for what he said in those emails, it would've been yesterday's news.
3. The Hultgren non-endorsement. This is where Burns lost any shot at the county chair. You can’t flunk Politics 101 and win an election. Never assume you have an endorsement until you have it in writing. And if you do jump the gun, don’t make it that much worse by claiming the candidate still secretly supports you.
2. The two-term politician disease. Western Township Republican Secretary Denny Ryan and I just had this discussion. Unless you’re very careful, there’s a malady that infects eight-year office holders whereby they begin to believe that whatever they’ve been thinking for the last five minutes has to be the truth.
And once that kind of entitlement mentality takes hold, the end is near.
1. Surrounding yourself with yes men. The other question I kept repeating to myself during the campaign was “Who the hell is advising him?” If you want to win a high profile office, you have to surround yourself with the kind of campaign staffers that are willing to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Instead, blinded by their own egos and a loathing for Lauzen, folks like Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady and county board member Mike Donahue contributed to a badly disorganized campaign that failed on all levels.
In fact, they ignored the basics so badly that Kevin Burns didn’t even carry Geneva.
The real lesson here is, had the mayor built a team of campaign confidants who were willing to challenge his preconceived notions, pitfalls No. 2-10 could’ve been completely avoided.
My intent here is not to kick the mayor when he’s down, hopefully he’ll take his lumps and bounce back to more effectively lead the city of Geneva. My point is to tell a cautionary tale that might benefit all elected officials and anyone considering a run.
In politics, you can never afford to become your own worst enemy.