The Crying Game: It Sometimes Works ...

Posted: Jan 11, 2008 4:27 PM

Hillary Clinton's surprise victory in New Hampshire stunned the pollsters and pundits.  How could the numbers have been so far off?  While some suspected latent racism, a more likely theory is that Hillary's admission that her "feelings were hurt" when a moderator accused her of not being likable -- as well as her sincere tears  -- helped endear her to the last-minute voters -- particularly female voters -- who were still making up their minds. 

... But it might not have mattered had her adversaries have handled the pre-New Hampshire debate differently.

As Barack Obama and John Edwards learned in New Hampshire, running against a female candidate comes with some unique challenges ...

Phillip Stutts
, the head of grassroots development for the Herald Group, a bipartisan public affairs firm – and the former campaign manager for Bobby Jindal’s 2003 gubernatorial campaign against Kathleen Blanco -- knows a thing or two about the subject. 

I was interested in talking to Stutts because he has actually managed a campaign against a female adversary.  After all, who better to ask about Hillary’s miraculous win this past week?

According to Stutts, male candidates should be very careful how they attack a woman:

“I think when you go after someone in a personal way -- polling suggests you have to be more careful with a woman than you would with a man.  Voters, especially women voters, have a distaste for those actions, as they should. Case-in-point: when John Edwards tried to latch onto Obama in that debate -- and they ganged up on her -- there is sympathy out there against men ganging up on women with personal attacks.”
“When Hillary cried,” Stutts says, “it helped her win New Hampshire.”  He should know:  On the Jindal campaign, they had a Hillary-moment that probably cost Jindal the race.  It occurred during the last debate between Jindal and Blanco.  At the time, Jindal’s polling had them slightly up. 

The final question directed to Jindal at that debate regarded what the defining moment of his life was.  Jindal answered that it was converting to Christianity.

Then, came Blanco’s turn.  At first, she hesitated.  Then, she answered with a stunning response:  The day her son was killed in an accident, she said, was the defining moment of her life...

“She cried in the final debate and told a very personal story. And there was not much we could do about it because it was a true story – it was a heart-felt story and it connected with voters,” says Stutts.
The bottom line is that prior to these incidents, both Blanco and Hillary had problems connecting with voters.  But at the right moment, spontaneous emotion (at least, I believe the tears were legit) helped both of these female candidates connect with the voters.

I asked Stutts why -- unlike Rick Lazio who never really recovered from his race against Hillary -- Bobby Jindal went on to be elected to Congress, and then as Governor of Louisiana. 

According to Stutts, it has to do with Jindal’s approach to running against a woman: 

“He made it clear from Day one of that campaign that he wanted to be a different kind of candidate.  Bobby was always gracious to Blanco.  He wanted to win, but he wanted to win by staying positive,” says Stutts.

Barack Obama – or whoever Hillary's potential Republican rival may be – could all learn a lesson from this. 

In fairness, it works both ways:  It's harder for a female to go after a male candidate (polling suggests it looks like they are whining) – but male candidates who make personal attacks against females are also in grave danger of turning off a lot of voters, particularly women. 

Just ask Obama and Edwards ...