Mixed messaging killed Rocco Rossi’s campaign

One wonders about the state of our politics when candidates like Rocco Rossi are forced to withdraw from a race that he has been engaged in for nearly a year. I pose this statement because for those who know Rocco Rossi, they see a man who is articulate, intelligent and has very charismatic qualities, and who couples those qualities with a very thoughtful platform.

Yet, despite being the very first of the primary candidates to announce his candidacy back last winter and being the clear front-runner on the social media scene, he was never able to break through the ten per cent mark in public opinion polls.

Why would such a candidate struggle so much? It is difficult to pinpoint the source of the ebbs and flows of public opinion. However, one can compare and contrast successful campaigns to help understand the problems faced by the Rossi campaign.

I would contend that his ultimate downfall came down to two factors: lack of previously-established name recognition and mixed messaging.

For those who follow politics, it comes as no surprise that candidates would struggle with being an outsider with very little name-recognition outside of, in Rossi’s case, the federal Liberal Party and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Given this reality, it would be absolutely crucial for Rossi to construct a compelling, but straightforward narrative for his campaign; this is where he had the control and this is where he failed as a candidate.

From fired campaign managers to late-in-the-game John Tory sympathizers, it appears that Rossi lacked the cohesion of a successful internal campaign team. Among the so-called saviours to the Rossi campaign was supposed to be Warren Kinsella: a renowned Liberal war-room strategist from the Chretien era. Unfortunately, Kinsella was one of these late-in-the-game Tory sympathizers; he held out from supporting any candidate until he found out that John Tory would not be entering the race. The lack of cohesion and loyalty manifested itself in what ultimately caused Rossi’s downfall: mixed messaging.

Rossi was the outsider, the anti-politician. Wait, no, he was the businessman that had the credentials to become mayoral based on his experience. Actually, no, he was the intellectual candidate who had a way with words and a fully-costed platform to back it up. No, he must be candidate with courage, with “bocce balls,” who is not afraid to make the tough decisions. Where is the compelling and straightforward narrative in that collection? Nowhere to be seen.

A compelling narrative should be inclusive of your ideas that you want to present to the city; your policies should all fit in with the brand you are attempting to create. As much as the candidacy of Rob Ford tends to make many nauseous (including this guy), he has constructed that very narrative that encompasses the ideas he wants to implement for the city along with some sound electoral calculations given the cost-cutting, and conservative sentiments that seem to be permeating the city.

At every opportunity (including his rather poor YouTube video recently released), Ford pronounces his distaste for the “gravy train” and how it must be stopped. Rob Ford embodies the character of a guy who will follow through with this pledge with his hard-line attitudes (whether he is truly capable, or has a platform that will get it done is a story for another day). Even George Smitherman, former deputy premier and minister in the Ontario Liberal government, has established a narrative: the anti-Ford candidate. Where is Rossi’s narrative in this election? Your guess is as good as mine. And the fact that I am asking this question as a keen political observer begs the question: how can the average, unengaged voter ever feel comfortable with parking their vote with Rossi if they cannot easily see what his candidacy means for the city?

The answer lay in the poll numbers throughout the campaign. Voters could not determine that Rossi was any more than a fringe candidate who got a bit more media coverage. This is tragic because Rossi would be an excellent mayor. Let’s just hope he goes back to the drawing board and considers running again in 2014, compelling message in hand.

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