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Sucking Up to Voters: A Guide for Presidential Candidates

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The 2012 presidential election promises to be one of the closest ever – one of those rare cases where every vote really does count. That's why Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are doing all they can pump up their go-to supporters while at the same time trying to peel off some of the other guy's folks. (And why the GOP is trying to suppress the Democratic vote.) It's not that Obama expects to win the white working class, or Romney to walk away with Latinos; but both men think they can chip away at the other's lead  – which, in battleground states, might be all it takes to tip the balance.

All of which explains why, in this campaign, we're seeing even more than the usual amount of pandering to the various "votes" – from women to young people to environmentalists and seniors – featuring selective amnesia about past positions (see: Romney on immigration; Obama on gay marriage), vague hints about goodies to come (see: Romney on tax cuts for the wealthy; Obama on immigration reform), and many a naked appeal to group self-interest.

But it can be hard for candidates to keep straight what they should – and shouldn't – tell all these people. So we've put together a handy guide to help campaigns get the biggest payoff from their pandering. Click through to learn the art of the political suck-up, 2012-style.

– Julian Brookes

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Hard-core Conservatives

Obama (N/A)


• imply Obama isn't a real American, without actually saying it; this works: "I just don't think the president understands America"
• emphasize your hard-right positions on gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc.
• say you’ll work to "enhance access and opportunities for Americans to hunt, shoot, and protect their families" with guns
• promise you'll pick right-wingers like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court
• Repeat the word "America" ad nauseam; as in, "I love America"

• remind people you used to be a Massachusetts moderate
• fess up that, yeah, Obamacare is pretty much indistinguishable from Romneycare
• say stuff like "I’m not going to set my hair on fire" to rile up the base
• be so squeamish about calling Obama a socialist ("big-spending liberal" won't cut it)
• don't say "Mormon"


Isaac Brekken/MCT/MCT via Getty Images

Hard-core Liberals


• talk up your biggest achievements – health care reform, Wall Street regulation – without getting into the (disappointing) details
• hint that in a second term you'll get serious about climate change and immigration reform
• point out that it's you or Romney – and "the lower-taxes, less-regulation approach that got us into the mess in the first place."
• name check the Koch Brothers; repeat

• have your people running around sneering about "the professional left"
• bring up your Bush-like civil liberties record
• make such a show of cracking down on pot
• take anything, or anyone, for granted; otherwise, they might vote for you, but they won't fight for you

Romney (N/A)

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