Business, Politics & Society

Public Appearances

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 12:13 min

David discusses the importance of the campaign launch, the fundamentals of the stump speech, and why candidates must be aware that all their actions are under scrutiny in a campaign.

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David Axelrod and Karl Rove
Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging
Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.
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Preview

There are only a few moments in most campaigns when you're actually going to get attention. The launch is one of them. And just as with everything else in the campaign, as if there's anything that I have conveyed here that's important, I hope it's this-- everything in the campaign has to service that main message. And the launch certainly has to service that main message. Are you in a venue that conveys something about that message? Are you surrounded by people that conveys something about that message? Are the words you use an explication of that message? All of that is important because you will get covered on the day of your launch. And it's very important. Now, in a presidential race, ours was peculiar, I mean, in that there was so much anticipation about Obama's announcement that it was carried live on cable television. But it was interesting because, in keeping with what I said, we wanted to make this announcement outside the old state capitol in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, prepared for the presidency. We wanted to do it there for obvious reasons because we didn't want to speak to the historic nature of this announcement, but we wanted the reference to be clear. We wanted to be in Springfield because that's where Obama had spent eight years of his life doing public service and working with people in a state that's kind of a national bellwether in that it has been a major urban area, major agricultural areas, small town industrial communities. It really is a microcosm of the nation. He had worked successfully with people from all across the state and people across party lines. And we wanted to be in the place where he could tell that story and talk about what he had learned there. The problem was that this announcement was on February 10. And it turns out, it's very cold in Illinois on February 10. In fact, on that particular day, it was almost 0. I think it was 7 degrees. And the wind chill was about 0. This occasioned a lot of discussion within the campaign. To her credit, Mrs. Obama said, we cannot do this outside. There'll be children there. They're going to get frostbite. And speaking of bite, being a hard-bitten political consultant, I was unmoved by this argument because it was such an important statement. I mean, we ended up buying 20,000 hand warmers. We had a heater behind the platform so the candidate wouldn't have his teeth chattering during the announcement. But the fact that 20,000 people showed up in 0 degree temperatures to see him announce, people from across the country, was a message in and of itself of this grassroots movement for change that we were trying to build. So it turned out to be an incredibly successful announcement. - I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America. - Most candidates aren't going to have 20,000 people at their announcement and are going to maybe have to work to get coverage, much less...


What it takes to win elections

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Great Masterclass. I learned a lot. I learned things that I can apply in my line of work.

Inspiring and useful for me. Thanks to both instructors for showing me the journey of the election campaign.

Thank you for providing this class. It is so refreshing to hear an adult discussion of politics that is focused on participation over ideology. Kudos to Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Rove. I pray our country follows their example.

love these two! Wish they could run my future campaign....together. #bestfbothworlds


Comments

Michael O.

Location! Location! Location! Though I have designed many a theatre set, and knew the importance of place, staging, audience arrangement. Until today, I had not considered the importance of location of candidate speeches, press conferences, etc. Location is not just a bullet point in the campaign message, it is actually a language of its own. I knew this on a personal and professional (theatre/film) level, but never considered it a political factor. Man, there are a lot of dull campaigns could up their game by paying attention to location. Thanks.

A fellow student

My objective in taking this course was to simplify my ability to follow the candidates. When you consider the number of parties, candidates, platforms. local state and national elections: this study may help. Understanding Messages is an important part.

Mia S.

"But look, if you make mistakes, you've got to clean them up. Let me just say something about the modern campaign era, because everyone is a reporter. One thing candidates need to know and Barack Obama learned this in 2008, Mitt Romney learned it is 2012 - there is no 'off the record.'You go to a fundraiser and you're talking to your supporters and you get comfortable; they all love you and they don't know why everybody's for you, and you start explaining why people aren't for you and you say, you know, 'People are anxious and they cling to their guns and their religion,' and that's a huge problem - those are very, very tough blows. So one thing you want to remind your candidates is, Don't get so comfortable that you say things, even that you may not mean or don't mean in the context in which you say it - because someone's going to be recording. Someone is going to leak what you say. There is no 'private zone' anymore in our politics, there's no finite group of outlets where any of this can show up. It can show up on any social media site, it can show up in the inbox of a reporter, and that's one of the things with you have to contend with as a campaign - not just a few networks. It's not just a few local stations. There are all kinds of media outlets on social media who are covering. Now, you have to be aware of all of them."

Mia S.

"A constant lament of candidates for president and every other office is, they get tired of their own stump speech because they are giving it constantly. And you always have to remind them that everyone else - it's new to the people who are hearing it for the first time, but you do want to freshen it from time to time. In terms of coverage, if you're in a race where you're getting consistent coverage, you need to freshen it up - put a different top on it. There will be breaking news that you want to address, some point that you may want to emphasize. There may be some local angle in a market that you want to speak to. Things happen that cause the candidate themselves to change their - or freshen up their - speech. Obama went to rural South Carolina, to pay off a favor that he agreed to do, and he was grumpy and he went to this little community center, city hall, to give a speech. There was some woman there, who before he started speaking, started chanting, 'Fired up, ready to go!' It was responsive, so she'd say, 'Fire up!', the crowd would go, 'Ready to go.' That became sort of a metaphor. He told the story brilliantly, it was the end of his speeches for the whole campaign. Gaffes are unavoidable. Candidates are going to make mistakes. The ones that are most damaging are the ones that play into a stereotype or play into the negative that your opponents are trying to create. In 1989, when Richard M. Daly was running for mayor and I was helping him in Chicago, our whole campaign was premised on getting past the racial divisions that had so hobbled the city. He was very very much a believer in that, and everywhere he went he had the same stump speech, and it went, 'What you want is a mayor who will...' And Rich Daly was not Pericles when it came to speaking. He got a little tangled up at one stop which happened to be on the Southwest side of Chicago, which is a white area, he said, 'You want a wa - mayor' - and he forgot to say, 'What you want is,' and he got tangled up. The opponent saw this and said, 'He said you want a white mayor.' And this created a huge controversy that overtook the campaign, at least for a couple of days. But at the end of the day he had been so consistent in his messaging, and the reporters who had traveled with him had heard this speech enough that people didn't accept that as what was in his heart."

Mia S.

"Most candidates aren't going to have 20,000 people at their announcement and are going to maybe have to work to get coverage - much less live coverage - of their announcement. But still, if you are someone who has spent your career in education, you might want to announce in a school. If you're someone who has been a businessman, you might want to announce in a plant or in some future-oriented business concern that speaks to what you want to bring. Look for venues that speak to your background. If you're an insurgent candidate, you don't necessarily want a ton of elected officials around you; if your message is change, a bunch of political hacks around you isn't necessarily the image that you want to - and I say that lovingly; it isn't necessarily the image you want to portray. On the other hand, if you're someone who needs affirmation - when Barack Obama announced for the Senate, we did surround him with a lot of elected officials, because he was so discounted as a potential candidate that it was important to show the political community that there were political players that were willing to stand with him. So all of these considerations go into the launch. Unlike presidential races, where there speeches that can be very very influential in the outcome because of the outsized coverage that they get - generally in local races, there aren't that many speeches that make a difference. But the stump speech does. Have a basic stump speech that, much like your announcement speech, your launch speech delivers your fundamental message, a little bit of bio, some policy comparatives with your opponent, hopefully featuring stories of people you've met, which really animate these speeches, and then ultimately concluding in what the whole choice in about. What's going to happen in a local race is, you're going to travel all over your district, or your county or your state and you're going to be delivering essentially a version of the same stump speech; there may be elements of it that you add or subtract, depending on where you are, but you shouldn't create new speeches for different parts of your district or community because you will be found out. If you try and be a gun control person in one section and a gun rights person in another section of your state, that's not going to work, so don't try and customize in that way."

Mia S.

"There are only a few moments in most campaigns when you're actually going to get attention. The launch is one of them. And just as with everything else in the campaign, as if there's anything that I have conveyed here that's important, I hope it's this: everything in the campaign has to service that main message. And the launch certainly has to service that main message. Are you in a venue that conveys something about that message? Are you surrounded by people, that conveys something about that message? Are the words you use an explication of that message? All of that is important because you will get covered on the day of your launch, and it's very important. Now, in a presidential race - our was peculiar, I mean, in that there was so much anticipation about Obama's announcement that it was carried live on cable television. But it was interesting because, in keeping with what I said, we wanted to make this announcement outside the old state capitol in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln - the great emancipator, prepared for the presidency. We wanted to do it there for obvious reasons, because we didn't want to speak to the historic nature of this announcement, but we wanted the reference to be clear, we wanted to be in Springfield because that's where Obama had spent eight years of his life, doing public service and working with people in a state that's kind of a national bellwether in that it has a major urban area, major agricultural areas, small town industrial communities, it really is a microcosm of the nation. He had worked successfully with people from all across the state and people across party lines and we wanted to be in the place where he could tell that story and talk about what he had learned there. The problem was that this announcement was on February 10, and it turns out it's very cold in Illinois on February 10 - in fact, on that particular day, it was almost 0. I think it was 7 degrees and the windchill was about 0. This occasioned a lot of discussion within the campaign. To her credit, Mrs. Obama said, 'We cannot do this outside. There'll be children there. They're going to get frostbite.' And speaking of bite, being a hard-bitten political consultant, I want unmoved by this argument because it was such an important statement. We ended up buying 20,000 hand-warmers. We had a heater behind the platform so the candidate wouldn't have his teeth chattering during the announcement. But the fact that 20,000 people showed up in 0 degree temperatures to see him announce - people from across the country - was a message in and of itself of this grassroots movement for change that we were trying to build. So it turned out to be an incredibly successful announcement."

Nick B.

How do you all think about this message in the context of Trump? He seems so unscripted and off the rails, yet he still got elected, and galvanized his base.

Khai Loon L.

Very good reminder. Everyone is a reporter. There is no off record and no PRIVATE ZONE anymore in our politics.