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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

Wall Streeters/1%

Krisanne Johnson/Getty Images

One Percenters


• point out you've issued fewer new regulations than did G.W. Bush
• talk about how you signed free trade agreements to "level the playing field for American businesses"
• note that liberals wish you'd do more to rein in Wall Street
• call JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon "one of the smartest bankers we got," even if he did lose billions of dollars

• yammer on about raising the tax on "carried interest," the main source of income for most private-equity managers
• talk too much about the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the Buffett Rule, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
• go anywhere near Elizabeth Warren


• say you plan to repeal Dodd-Frank on Day One
• blast Obama for pushing "the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs series of policies in modern American history"
• repeatedly say "I spent my life in the private sector" and downplay your political career
• accuse Obama of waging "class warfare" and claim to believe he "doesn't understand how the economy works"

• set your "hair on fire" for the movement conservatives
• give capitalism a bad name
• give the game away by saying things like, "I'm not concerned about the very poor."


Scott Olson/Getty Images



• point out that Romney supports Rep. Paul Ryan’s "marvelous" budget, which would "end Medicare as we know it"
• say things like, "We’re not going to go back to the days when our citizens spent their golden years at the mercy of private insurance companies."
• keep deploying 69-year-old Joe Biden as a surrogate to seniors

• focus too much on social issues (especially abortion and gay marriage) where seniors lean conservative
• talk about "change"!


• say Obamacare "could lead to the rationing or denial of care for seniors"
• emphasize that your own Medicare-dismantling plan wouldn't affect anyone currently 55 or over
• mention you have 18 grandchildren
• hammer on the idea that the country is headed in the wrong direction

talk about how you'd "reform" Social Security


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images



brag about how you increased fuel-economy standards, regulated mercury pollution, invested in clean energy, expanded wilderness protection
• mention you rejected the Keystone Pipeline
• blame congress for failure to pass climate change bill; and hint you'll try again in your second term
• hit Romney as being "in the tank for Big Oil"


• mention your support for "responsible" fracking, "clean coal," nuclear energy, or expanded Arctic drilling
• admit you'll probably approve Keystone in the end
• talk about how nixed a plan to tighten smog rules
• concede you barely mentioned "climate change" in the past couple of years


• remember: even if you're not big on the environment, plenty of swing voters are
• be ambiguous about where you stand on climate change
• talk about investing in "basic research and advanced technology" for alternative energy
• by all means, call it "creation care"  if you want

• talk up your plan to quadruple down on America's "cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources"
• say you’ll get Keystone up and running "if I have to build it myself"
• make comments like, "You can't drive a car with a windmill on it!"
• accuse Obama of waging "war against oil and coal," and trash the EPA

christian conservatives

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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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