Meeting Candidates – Why Does it Matter?

Political season is upon us, with sequential waves of candidates descending upon us seeking votes for school board elections, followed by County primaries, followed by County generals and Congressional elections, followed by City elections. And, if you take the slightest interest in voting, you will be bombarded with opportunities to “meet and greet” candidates.

It’s a strange phenomenon, really.

From a politician’s perspective, shaking a voter’s hand is THE most effective way of securing a vote. No mailer, no phone call, no 20 page position paper will be as effective for that voter as a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a couple meaningless words. “I’m Joe Blow, I’m running for ________, and I’d appreciate your vote on August 3,” is all it takes.

We voters are star-struck with shocking ease. That’s the only explanation that accounts for the incredible success that hand-to-hand political conquest offers.

We voters are fools. We believe, like the Worst President Ever, that we can look into someone’s eyes and get a sense of their souls. Spending 30 seconds with a candidate makes most voters think that they’ve taken the measure of the candidate, and gives them confidence that the candidate is worthy of their trust.

It’s not even limited to the charismatic candidates. I’m not immune, and I’ve seen the phenomenon happen with some of the least charismatic candidates imaginable. Somewhere I have a picture of my son and me beaming with Governor Bob Holden – Holden may or may not have been a good Governor, but he certainly was not a splash of transformative inspiration.

It’s the celebrity, I suppose. Meeting someone whose name is in the news gives us a touch of importance otherwise lacking in our daily world. The fact that someone you’ve heard of is sticking his or her hand out meet you is flattering, and, as much as we want to believe otherwise, most of us vote with our emotions more than our brains. Researching policy positions and comparing them to our own half-formed beliefs is nothing compared to having a politician look us straight in the eye and treat us, for a few seconds, as if we matter, as if we are worthy of respect and attention from someone “more important” than ourselves.

It’s not entirely a bad thing. The importance of meeting candidates does force politicians to expose themselves to malcontents and germs, which at least assures us of politicians with a good immune system and some awareness of mental health issues. And, as voters, we are offered the opportunity to weed out a few whose arrogance, general creepiness, or other personality flaws outshine their star power. We may not be able to get a sense of someone’s soul, but we can occasionally recognize a total loser.

So, it’s meet and greet season, and I’ll be out there meeting and greeting. I’ll even host a few candidates I feel strongly about, through deeper conversations and more thorough vetting. That’s how the political process works, particularly at the local level. It’s the best we have, particularly in the absence of an impartial local press that can adequately cover local issues and candidates.

Seek out the candidates. Ask a few questions. See how quickly and intelligently they respond to difficult questons. Shake their hands. But remember to pay more attention to positions and interests than a good grip.

5 Responses to “Meeting Candidates – Why Does it Matter?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good post. The only thing I'd add is that if you shake hands with Rizzo, Tindall or Tarwater, get yourself some hand sanitizer immediately.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Who do you support in the 4th-at-large?

  3. Dan says:

    So far, we have a successful, intelligent, experienced council woman, and someone who wasted buckets of money in a misguided attempt to overturn the will of the voters. I think I'm leaning toward the incumbent.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Beth is a great Councilwoman.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Anon 8:06 AM but would also like to say that after applying hand sanitizer please make sure to check if your wallet is still in your pocket.

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