SACRAMENTO, CA: Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) historic leap from political novice to governor of California, the fifth-largest economy in the world, has left a lot of public affairs and media strategists dissecting what he did right, and what outgoing Governor Gray Davis did wrong.
It wasn't the message that motivated voters so much as it was the messenger, said Bill Kahrl, GM of Burson-Marsteller's Sacramento office. "It's hard to think of a more perfect wedding of a candidate and the moment," said Kahrl. "He politically matches the electorate, and he can shake things up. I'm not sure anyone was talking about the issues in great detail or substance. For him, it was about trust, and the effectiveness of delivering the message."
Some experts pointed out that Schwarzenegger benefited from a great amount of free media. "He didn't need to engage the media to generate coverage," said Donna Lucas, public affairs practice head at Porter Novelli. "The press followed him wherever he went. When you run a campaign of that magnitude, everyone wants to be in the room with the candidate."
Harvey Englander, who heads The MWW Group's LA office, agreed that the attention helped Schwarzenegger.
"There were better-qualified candidates like [former baseball commissioner] Peter Ueberroth going after the same thing," said Englander. "He's a moderate Republican, and has the same profile as Arnold. But Arnold has celebrity, so there was more media covering the race."
Lucas also noted that the Los Angeles Times stories about Schwarzenegger's alleged groping of women didn't have much impact because voters are suspicious when allegations arise in the last days of a campaign.
"The campaign did an excellent job by acknowledging the accusations and then moving on," said Lucas. By the next day, they were back on message."