I’ve been in politics longer than Clay Aiken has been alive (38 years vs. 35), but he took me to school this week.
Everything I’ve learned tells me that if (A) you’re massively outspent by your opponent and (B) he runs three or four ads to your one and (C) one of those is a negative attack ad that you can’t afford to answer, then (QED) you lose.
But Aiken won. (No, the final count isn’t done. But it’s over.)
How? Well, some people say it’s just name recognition and personal popularity. Or maybe the Colbert Bump. Or all the Clay fans.
But there may be something else here – and a lesson for us all.
A couple of analysts have said the campaign relied solely on name recognition. Not true. In the final weeks, short of money, the campaign had one big asset: Clay Aiken and his voice.
Not his singing voice. But a voice that showed he knew the issues and the people in his district. A voice that is distinctly different from the stale, bitter rhetoric of other politicians. And, above all, a positive voice in a negative din. Amid the ugly glut of attack ads in the final days, you heard one positive voice: Clay Aiken’s.
He also talked to people all over the district. He went on Colbert and MSNBC (true, venues that weren’t available to other politicians). He had a microphone, and he used his voice.
And there was one other thing: In an anti-politics age, Aiken was the anti-politician.