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Published: 9/15/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

Commentary

How Collins pulled it off

BY KEITH BURRIS
BLADE COLUMNIST

A few lessons from the primary this week:

● Hard work pays off.

Mike Collins pulled off a long-shot victory, in part, with plain old hard work. He didn’t have money for “opposition research” or polling and probably wouldn’t have spent money on either even if he’d had the bucks. He ran one modest TV ad and not many times. Critics called it amateurish, but it was genuine and positive. Mr. Collins did it the old-fashioned way — he worked hard as a councilman and developed a reputation for constituent service. He also worked hard in the campaign, going door to door and sending his volunteers to do the same. With 15 college-age youngsters, his all-volunteer army, Mr. Collins beat Anita Lopez’s party and Teamster backing and Joe McNamara’s money. Fifteen volunteers. Only two had brief political experience. I talked to Mr. Collins Wednesday morning, and he gives all the credit to his “kids,” who he says teach him as much as he teaches them.

● A small electorate is a smart electorate.

While only 15.4 percent voted, and such low participation is troubling from the standpoint of democratic theory, a small electorate tends to be an informed electorate. Tuesday’s verdict came from people who paid attention. The Blade/​Channel 13 televised debate was key for these voters because, in that debate, Ms. Lopez self-destructed and Mr. Collins, who was very much on his game that night, emerged as the logical challenger to Mr. Bell. That debate was the turning point in the campaign.

● An empty suit cannot be filled.

When someone in politics doesn’t do much homework and can’t think on his feet, it can’t be hidden, not by money, organization, or endorsements. I worked in Connecticut for 25 years, where in 2010 and 2012 there was a U.S. Senate candidate named Linda McMahon. In two successive Senate races, she spent $100 million, almost all it it her own money (which she and her husband made putting wrestling on TV). She lost both races and did worse the second time. Her problem was simple: no substance. She knew virtually nothing about government or public policy. Her underfunded 2012 opponent, though not well known, won because of a series of TV debates. He looked smart and conscientious in those debates. She never got better. This is what happened to Anita Lopez. She wasn’t ready for prime time, and she didn’t seem like she was going to learn.

Politics is also about arithmetic. Ms. Lopez and Joe McNamara split the Democratic vote. Had the Dems been united behind one candidate, Mr. Collins likely would not be sitting where he is today.

Still, the essence of battle is sometimes readiness. Once Ms. Lopez’s campaign collapsed, in the TV debate, Mr. Collins was ready. While Ms. Lopez and Mr. McNamara savaged each other, Mr. Collins talked about “tidy towns” and, with his 15 young marauders, won voters over one at a time. Mr. Collins is a surprisingly cagey and intuitive politician. Rather than a union tool, he is a union product. The mayor has not backed away from his pro-business stance, and the unions want to take Mike Bell down. Once again, Mike Collins is being given his shot.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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