“’We are rugged individuals,’ she says at an event in Tucson. ‘We elect unique people to represent us in this district — Mo Udall, Jim Kolbe, Gabby Giffords. I resemble Gabby Giffords more than the man who worked for her, although I am grateful for his service.'”
This is a bold statement from congressional candidate, Martha McSally, who is currently vying with Congressman Barber (Giffords former district director) for Giffords’ former seat in Arizona.
This is a particularly audacious comparison considering it involves former-Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot in the January 8th mass shooting in Tucson and who has inspired the nation. McSally, in turn, made herself available to the criticism that came from Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband: “Martha McSally is no Gabby Giffords… Martha McSally may share Gabby’s gender, but Ron Barber shares Gabby’s values.”
This was a major gaff by McSally, especially considering the fact that the vast majority of her potential constituency venerates Giffords. McSally has barely entered the political spotlight during this election and has already compared herself to a dedicated and dearly beloved public servant.
This isn’t the first time that candidates have made such a mistake though.
Famously, Dan Quayle compared himself to Jack Kennedy in the 1988 Presidential election with the following result:
Dan Quayle, similarly to McSally, easily opened himself up to criticism by anyone, especially someone that personally knew Jack Kennedy.
Another example happened during the Vice President Debate: After arguing about whether the mathematics of the Romney/Ryan budget is capable of lowering tax rates while decreasing the deficit, Ryan uttered the condemning comparison, even after the infamous Dan Quayle quote:
“Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth.” (Ryan)
“Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?” (Biden)
Ryan even chuckles after he recognizes his mistake. Again, we have a comparison to a past political leader.
Every time, candidates are called on their brave statements. It’s incredibly embarrassing and never forgotten, but it continues to happen. Why is this?
Candidates fight so hard to separate themselves from Washington – to be the “political outsider”. They use this as a means to win favor from voters who are frustrated and done with the incumbents who are deadlocked into not getting anything done.
Comparing yourself to a previous incumbent with much experience seems like the exact opposite of portraying oneself as the “political outsider”.
Maybe it is meant to be an opposite strategy. Frequently, candidates who are running for the first time are portrayed as not having enough experience or knowledge or passion or even familiarity. By comparing themselves to prior incumbents, candidates may actually hope to gain some of the familiarity, trust, and experience of the officials to which they refer.
To future candidates: voters, candidates, and incumbents alike recognize the comparison and don’t fall for the trick. People will call you on the bad comparison, and if said at the right time with the right audience, you too could end up on the list of “Top 10 Memorable Debate Moments”.