What’s the matter with Portland? - CN4 Partners
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The defeat of an outspoken progressive prosecutor in Portland, Mike Schmidt, has everyone weighing in — from the Biden White House, “Progressives, we told you so on crime” to celebrity Judge Judy, “When you have elected district attorneys who don’t know what their job is, they should go find another job. Fill ice cream cones someplace. But don’t ruin cities.”

As the consultant who has been working with Nathan Vasquez’s campaign for Multnomah County District Attorney over the last year, we have some thoughts.

First, let’s take a step back and look at the underlying American values. “Values” in politics refer to the shared, collective society we are trying to build. If you poll Americans, the most popular American values are freedom, security and opportunity, with the first two being more popular than the third. There is a reason it’s called Social Security or freedom of choice.

Most Democrats center their campaign on the opportunity frame rather than the freedom or security frame – which is exactly what happened to Mike Schmidt. This election was about the security frame. Crime had been rising and downtown Portland had become an open-air drug market, or, to borrow from a popular local billboard, a Schmidt Show. Our polling (conducted by the fabulous David Mermin at Lake Research) showed that voters top priorities for the DA are reducing violent crime and disorder on the streets.

However, our polling showed the race was far from in the bag. If voters were focused on his job performance as DA, Schmidt was primed to lose. Thus, he had one path – make the race about ideology instead of job performance and attempt to paint Vasquez as a Trump-style Republican. Polling showed those attacks were devastating in progressive Portland.

Our path was complicated. We had to introduce Nathan to the three quarters of voters who had never heard of him, root him firmly in the security frame while using progressive values, “prosecuted the Proud Boys” while at the same time drawing a contrast with Schmidt, highlighting his failure to prosecute violent criminals (with vivid, specific examples), and the discrimination faced by women working in his office.

How Schmidt screwed up the security frame by taking the path trod by many progressives. Progressives jump immediately to rehabilitation and reeducation – important, yes, but what it fundamentally ignores is the fact the crime itself happened and a victim who needs justice. Crime is an issue of security. The proper role of government, and the top priority of elected officials, in the minds of many voters of all ideologies, is to provide security for our communities. To ignore security is to lose the argument.

Here’s our opening ad salvo that helped elect Nathan by using these principals. Our other two ads focused on the contrast between the two candidates on crime and Schmidt’s record on gender discrimination. But I think this one illustrates what we’re talking about here by using a positive frame around Nathan and his campaign.

We learned a lot working with Nathan this past year and we’re excited to take them with us to make our messaging better in 2024. Democrats can win this year, but not if we’re losing on security. For more on how to frame your campaign using freedom, security and opportunity, I highly suggest reading my friend Bernie Horn’s book, Framing the Future. Or give me a call at (206) 423-0120, I’d love to have a drink with you and opine further!