New York, it has been said, is loveliest to visit in the summer, when so few New Yorkers are actually around.
And although parking spots may be easier to find and the lines for movies a little bit shorter, political professionals say that the weeks before an election, which should be the most intense period of the campaign, are a bit like shouting into a void.
And this year’s quirky calendar makes the obstacle course of an election season that much tougher: voters are tuned out or away until Labor Day, giving candidates just 7 days to make their case. Making matters more difficult in 2010, is that two of those days are the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, and one of them is September 11, which has in years past been day that political campaigns go dark. Candidates then essentially have to make their case to the public in just four days.
“Yea, it’s frustrating,” says one top aide to a statewide campaign. “Just when voters start to tune in you’ve got two holidays and a day of remembrance and then an election. That doesn’t provide a lot of opportunities to reach voters. It’s essentially a yearlong race boiled down into four days.”
Up until the late 1960’s, New York held its primary in June. The reasons why it was changed are unclear.
“Those in the know would rather return to the June primary,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “In June, you didn’t have to worry about resuscitating the population. Having the primaries in September insures that nobody turns out.”
Sheinkopf says that the oddly situated Primary Day favors establishment candidates, since insurgents can not really make themselves known in four days. The key to dealing with the later summer doldrums, he and others say, is two-fold: getting as much free media as possible, and blanketing the state’s airwaves with advertisements.
One way to get free media is to hold a number of press conferences with your endorsers. The only problem is that few endorsers are around.
“Press conferences with electeds can only be done when they are here,” says George Arzt, who is consulting on a number of primaries this year. “You have to wait for them to come back.”
In August, he said, most campaigns focus making their case to editorial boards while actual voters are away or not paying attention.
The only consolation, he added, is knowing that all of your opponents have to grapple with the same problem.
“It becomes very complicated, but you have to play the hand you are dealt.”