Candidates campaigning for the same political office can have radically different styles. But they all tend to fall into one of several categories.

Here are the 7 most common styles of political campaigning you’ll see in North Carolina.

Biographic campaigning

This campaign style is less about what you’ll do and more about what you’ve done. Candidates with a compelling personal background, career or military service can make the case that it qualifies them for office.

This form can be emotionally powerful and give the appearance that one is above partisanship and politics. But it’s also easy for opponents to poke holes in the totality of someone’s life.

Real-world example: Dan McCready. The Democrat running in the 9th District is relying on his background as a Marine, family man and clean energy entrepreneur to make his case for Congress in a traditionally red district.

Single-issue campaigning

These candidates focus on one particular issue, often education or crime, and build a strong stance on it into a full campaign. This only works, however, if the issue they choose is resonant enough and if their position is differentiated enough from opponents in the race.

Real-world example: Local government candidates around Lake Norman used opposition to toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte to sweep into office. This year, we’re also seeing candidates campaigning primarily on gun control.

Protest candidates

This is similar to the single-issue candidate style, but brings with it more contrast and more conflict. A protest candidate is in the race because of something, in their mind, particularly wrong-headed done by the incumbent. The protest candidate offers a clear choice.

Real-world example: Beth Monaghan challenged Sen. Dan Bishop in his Charlotte district based on his support for House Bill 2, the law that required transgender people to use the bathroom of their biological sex.

Results-based campaigning

This only works for incumbents and is one of those advantages they have. This style of campaign is an affirmative case for re-election based on the results they’ve delivered. This could be more general, as in what the candidate’s party has done while in power, or specific, as in pork barrel projects delivered to a district.

Real-world example: Republican General Assembly members are campaigning on the strong economy, low unemployment rate, higher teacher pay and stronger charter schools this year.

Photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Generic partisan

This style works best when the political winds are at the candidate’s back or in a safely held district. In this style of campaigning, the candidate repeats the party line on most of the issues and does little to differentiate themselves.

Real-world example: In today’s climate, nearly every candidate could fall into this bucket. It takes a lot to break the mold.

Proxy for the district

This style of campaigning tries to closely resemble direct democracy in a republic. These candidates emphasize their common experiences, background or demographics with the majority of voters.

Real-world example: In his 1972 campaign against Nick Galifianakis, U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms went with the slogan “Jesse: He’s One of Us.”

Sen. Jesse Helms. Photo via the East Carolina University library.

The least bad option

Races that go very negative often devolve to this style. These candidates spend most of their time tearing their opponent down and little time building themselves up.

Real-world example: The 2014 U.S. Senate race between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan was one of the most negative in the country, with 7 out of 10 ads skewing in that direction. Tillis even released an ad saying, “If you believed all you see on TV, you’d conclude that Sen. Hagan is a bad person, and that I am too.”

Cover photo of the N.C. Capitol building by Jim Bowen via Flickr (Creative Commons). 


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