Marathon? Sprint? What Difference Does it Make?

July 19 2005, 1:50 PM
The Denver Posthas an editorial today discussing, in part, "When is a good time to start campaigning?"
Many of the leaders of the statewide effort to pass a fiscal recovery package believe it's too early to start campaigning in earnest for the November ballot measures known as Referendums C and D. Coloradans, they say, don't pay attention to politics until after Labor Day. A mid-summer Denver Post poll suggests just the opposite. The poll last week showed that Colorado voters are evenly split on Referendum C, which would allow the state to keep more tax revenues over the next five years to pay for critical programs. No surprise there. What raised our eyebrows, though, is that an overwhelming majority has already formed an opinion -- with just 15 percent of those surveyed saying they're undecided.
If you hang around enough campaigns you'll hear the same mantra over and over again: campaigns are a marathon, not a sprint. That may be true, but when candidates and campaigns start using that phrase as an excuse and a rationale for falling behind, there's trouble ahead. Call it a marathon. Call it a sprint. Callit whatever you'd like. The fact remains, if you're behind in the race, you had better start running. Nobody is going to extend the finish line out further. If your opponents, in this case the opposition to Referenda C&D, are already campaigning and putting ads on the radio, then you can't rationalize your failure to keep up. Lance Armstrong doesn't say, "Yes, I am behind in this race, but my opponents should have waited to start until I was ready." It doesn't work that way. As the Post says:
Supporters have pretty much left the early campaign to their opponents, and the bombastic know-nothings have filled the vacuum. Perhaps the opposition has peaked too early, but we think there is a message here for supporters - the business community, the governor and legislative leaders: It's later than you may think. The danger of waiting until September is that the opponents' simplistic sloganeering and demonizing of Gov. Bill Owens will take hold. Opponents argue that it is a tax increase if the government spends tax dollars that it might otherwise rebate. Since the tax rate remains the same, that's not the case.
Campaigns are as much about perception as they are about reality, and once a perception takes hold it becomes awfully tough to change it. Ten years ago, before the Internet and blogs made news travel much faster, candidates and campaigns could get away with waiting to start their work. But news and information travels much faster now, which necessitates doing more to stay in front of your message. Opponents to Referenda C&D figured that out months ago.