It is no secret that at the moment the Conservative campaign appears to be in trouble and there are plenty of calls for them to hit the reset button. Declining poll numbers are just one of many signs of that happening along with rumours of infighting and incompetence. Some of this will be true, much of it exaggerated as frustrated workers and staff clash.
My own experience is that it is around week four of pretty much every campaign that the cracks begin to show. And that is with a regular campaign, not a long distance marathon of 78 days.
At that point in time, the war room staff are surviving on as little as 3-4 hours of sleep a day, they are running on coffee, caffeine and carbohydrate loaded food. At the same time leaders are tired and cranky. Mistakes occur, obvious items such as the UK salmon or Crater Lake are missed and sometimes defining moments are misinterpreted or decisions are made to plow through, stay the course and hope it will go away- the refugee issue could be one of those moments.
We don’t know who is in each of the party war rooms, that information is kept pretty much away from the press, but generally the vast majority are young IE in their 20’s and early 30’s- staff from the Hill for the most part. You need these young, energetic people as the pace is exhausting.
For those who think a war room is 5-6 people, it is much more than that when you add in all the regional desks, candidate liaison people, rapid response, issue management, communication and tour staff. Usually there is also a core group of more senior people. In the 2005-06 election we had our own separate room which we jokingly called the old fart gang and stuck a name on the door for Fast Action Response Team. In effect senior experienced staff who added some adult supervision to what went on and who the leader and campaign manager could consult on the developing issues of the day.
Every leader, every campaign manager, every worker/staffer has strengths and weaknesses. The secret is how they are blended and mixed together to create a well-oiled machine. You don’t have to like the person you are working beside (although it helps), but you have to be able to work together and trust the other persons advice and views on an issue. You can’t have all “yes” people as that is a disaster waiting to happen and that extends from the bottom to the top. There has to be some who can speak truth to power regardless of the consequences if there is going to be balanced advice on an issue.
After being in campaign mode for these many days every party will know which of their war room staff can measure up and survive the long exhausting trip to the finish line. There will be some rotation as fresh blood is brought in and tired and exhausted staff relieved. That is usually done quietly and is rarely played out in the media.
The real campaign is just beginning; the push to the finish line is on. All of the parties will have saved key issues that are designed to embarrass their opponents for this moment in the campaign. We used to call them bombs or channel changers. Well researched attack items that were often held back for months and designed to derail our opponent’s campaign and get them off message. We will see who has the best research team in the next few weeks.
You would be foolish to count the Conservatives as out of the game for first place. Harper is an experienced campaigner, he knows how to pace himself and as the pace picks up and the pressure and media scrutiny of the Liberals and NDP mount they will make mistakes. Just as the refugee crisis seemingly came out of nowhere (even though present for years) we have plenty of time of other major issues to develop that can derail any one of the campaigns.
Unless you have been there, you can’t imagine what the staff in all of the party war rooms is going through. Their dedication and work will never be recognized as the accolades go to the leaders, but they are an essential part of every election campaign. A tip of the hat to all of them.