Suozzi Consultant Harry Giannoulis on How Democrats Can Win in November

By Harry Giannoulis | February 15, 2024

Attack the Issue, Not the Party

Millions of dollars have been spent by suburban Democratic candidates attacking their own party because they think distancing is necessary. This approach never works. Ever. There are no voters who find these tactics appealing. Voters want to hear from candidates in an affirmative way. Genuflecting and back-flipping to show that you don’t support your own party intrinsically makes voters suspect a candidate is dishonest.

If suburban Democratic candidates have a substantial policy difference with entrenched perceptions of Democratic platforms, they need to hammer down their own position on the issue. Attacking the Democratic party or its stalwarts on the left does not work. Attack the issue instead. The Suozzi campaign successfully inoculated him from unfounded but potent attacks on the migrant crisis by aggressively stepping into the issue and putting advertising dollars behind promoting Suozzi’s compromise, bi-partisan solution.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in smartly keeping unpopular figures in your party at arm’s length. But Candidates must be very wary of appearing dishonest. For example, Suozzi’s Republican opponent Mazi Pilip ran away from the question of who she voted for President, signaling to voters that she was not an open book. A better strategy is to be honest and move on to the discussion you want to be having.

Core Democratic Issues Still Move Suburban Voters

Core elements of the Democratic platform continue to be successful wedge issues. Abortion rights mobilize middle-aged women who are the swingiest of all voters and tend to otherwise make their decision late in the process. There is also more at play here than important women’s health care protections for those voters.

Abortion rights serve as a signal for where a candidate stands on larger civil rights issues related to workplace sexual harassment and pay equity. For older women who were on the lonely front lines of equality battles in the 60’s and 70’s, there is zero tolerance for going backwards on any of these issues.

There are a plethora of other issues that also serve to illustrate stark differences between the parties including gun safety laws, environmental protections, and affordability. Few suburban parents want people running around with semi-automatic weapons and none want their drinking water compromised. Affordability cuts across all voters. The Republican party’s economic theories regarding lower taxes and cuts to government services fail to convince most voters that they will see the price of milk going down.

Independents are not actually Independents

When devising a campaign strategy in a suburban swing district, the question that keeps consultants up at night is always the same: where will the unaffiliated voters land? An intelligent campaign will spend the lion’s share of their resources with these voters. But not being a registered member of a political party does not mean a voter is agnostic. In fact, polling and targeting data shows the exact opposite: most unaffiliated voters mirror Democrats or Republicans and many self-identify as a member of a party even if they are not registered in it. A small sliver of unaffiliated voters outright rejects any party preference.

Instead, the unique quality of many unaffiliated voters is that they are open to voting for either party. They vote the candidate, not the party. But they vote for the candidate who agrees with them on the issues. That open window shuts quickly if a candidate runs counter to the voter’s core beliefs. Unaffiliated voters may identify as moderates, which means they oppose the extremes, but they still have opinions. A candidate who thinks these voters stand for nothing, or put otherwise, stand for everything, will never get their support.

Don’t Forget You Have an Opponent

Elections are about choices. Instead of being an apologetic Democrat, suburban candidates need to hit hard on core issues that substantial groups of voters care about. It’s important to hammer on the differences with the Republican opponent and dismiss any strategies of trying to appeal to all voters.

The overwhelming majority of Republicans won’t vote for Democrats. So, candidates should spend their time, resources and messaging locking in the Democratic vote and finding friendly unaffiliated voters. Building an entire strategy around trying to appeal to Republicans is always a losing proposition. A moderate Democrat can and will pick up some moderate Republican votes based on issues, but you don’t need to become an apologetic Democrat morphed into Republican-lite to get those votes.

Harry Giannoulis is CEO and Co-Founder of The Parkside Group. The Parkside Group has developed winning voter contact programs for over 200 successful political campaigns and won over 65 national awards for print design, direct mail, television and digital advertising. They serve as the lead consultants for New York’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, taking the conference from the minority to winning a supermajority that held even in the difficult 2022 cycle. Learn more about Parkside’s wide range of services here.