One of the sleepiest of all congressional races in the United States is the race for the US Senate between current senior Senator Brian Schatz and former minority leader of the State House, Bob McDermott.
For the most part, the Republican challenger, McDermott has been off the radar in both visuals (yard signs and banners) and media (television and radio). Albeit he has a penchant for getting on the news for spectacularly saying things at times, it seems now he has opted for the quiet route.
It could be that he is also a little stretched for cash, in that on the 15th of October he reported to the Federal Election Commission that he has not reached the $5,000 threshold for reporting. Meanwhile, Schatz, the Democratic nominee, reported around the same time that he had about $3.2 million.
That money gives a candidate more wiggle room to pay for and get visuals out. While Schatz is doing the same thing that McDermott is doing – not putting out a ton of visual collateral on people’s yards or street corner walls – it does not mean he has opted to stay off the air.
Schatz has put up commercials since the primary, unusual one could say since his competition in the primary was paltry in the primary, and is the same in the general.
However, if one looks at two commercials, one from the primary and one for the general, it is plain as the nose on one’s face that Schatz is making a very bold, overt message to the voters not seen by this blogger in such a way, that a vote for Schatz will guarantee that “federal resources” will continue to come to Hawai‘i.
In other words, vote for me, and I will continue to bring the bacon home.
In his primary commercial, Schatz is heard in the background while describing the resources he has brought to Hawaii. In the end, he closes the message with a statement that says (paraphrased here) that the job is simple, to bring home resources to Hawaii.
The second, currently running on media, has a parade of monies that Schatz says he secured, with a voiceover from news anchors describing the allocations, with him being shown at the end.
Anyone who is paying attention to Schatz will immediately recognize that these messages are different from his standard. For the most part, outside of his press releases that announce federal funding for Hawai‘i, he messages on social media (Twitter for the most part) saying that he is at the forefront of climate change and other more Democratic-focused issues such as abortion and civil rights.
And one would be forgiven for thinking that is the message Schatz should put out. After all, as far as this blogger remembers, the message of “bringing home the bacon” is not one that even his predecessor used as a campaign message.
THERE WERE TWO undeniable truths about him when Dan Inouye was Hawai‘i’s senior Senator. First is that he was unchallenged. Even those that tried to go up against Inouye were dismissed quickly in both primary and general elections.
In fact, in his last campaigns, his materials had only one name, “Dan For Senate”. That is all the voters needed to see to put him back into office 9 times as Senator in his storied political career.
The second was that, while he could have done the same message Schatz is saying now, Inouye never overtly advertised that he was directly responsible for so much money coming to Hawai‘i. One will be hard-pressed to find any commercials from him on the Internet these days.
(but you can find at least one, here)
However, if one had any contact with people involved with government, business, nonprofits, or education, those people would say in closed-door meetings that the reason Hawai‘i “is”, is because of the resources that the “Senior Senator” brought home.
And, as the years went by and Inouye got older, there would be the caveat attached, which said “when he finally leaves, Hawai‘i is going to be in a world of hurt.”
This blogger, attending those meetings, quickly understood the importance people put on what the senior Senator was to them, and what was important – money first, the political philosophical stuff after.
Senator Inouye understood that too and made it so that he didn’t have to say one word about it as part of his campaign, and the state “got it” every election cycle.
FOR SENATOR SCHATZ, it’s been ten years since he became Hawai‘i’s Senator, he became “Senior” when Senator Akaka retired, and current Senator Mazie Hirono won that seat a year later.
With only one challenge to his incumbency in 2014, when he eked a win over Colleen Hanabusa by one percentage point, Schatz has been busy solidifying his foundation. With very little opposition to him in elections afterward, he has amassed a sizeable campaign war chest that has, so far, kept real competition at bay.
So for him to come out with commercials for a campaign with no real competition, overly saying that he is the Senator that gets the money for Hawai‘i, that is somewhat unusual.
One theory is that in today’s political climate, and the type of voter you need to attract, it’s better to do away with the nuances in your messaging. And that would be in line with “speaking to your customers.” It changes from time to time.
Another theory is that Schatz is working on gaining “political immortality” in Hawai‘i by speeding up the alignment of voters’ thinking to what they knew Senator Inouye did for them years ago. Reminding the power players in Hawai‘i that a vote for Schatz is a vote for more money is a fast way to reinforce the voter base to the point where he can pay attention to other races that are higher profile and not just his campaign in an election cycle.
In other words, he might want to start throwing his political weight around in other races in the future.
Think of the current contest between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker for the Georgia Senate seat. It’s a main-event contest that has attracted national attention from Republicans and Democrats. It’s also one where an aspiring national leader may want to be seen supporting a candidate and getting on national television to boot.
Either theory or others, Schatz has chosen to make sure that the base he has here in Hawai‘i is reminded of his value to it, by now saying the quiet part (I bring home the money), out loud (in comparison to what Dan Inouye did), with a bullhorn (through television ads).