Election strategies and surprises: dark horse and average Joes

They are the random candidates who show up in USC presidential elections who sometimes surprise politicos and pundits

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Forecasted Support

Over the past years, University Students’ Council presidential elections have featured the dark horse candidate and the average Joe candidate.

It is the random person no one expected to run for president, the person from way out in left field, like Josh Safer last year " the dark horse.

This magical creature keeps elections interesting and makes sure the candidates aren’t always the same, USC-loving goons.

Last year, average Joe candidate Tom Stevenson shocked Western by winning against the experienced and polished Chris Reynolds.

From the beginning of his campaign, Stevenson used his down-to-earth style to attract votes.

“Campaigning is about being a genuine person; it’s not about being pushy,” Stevenson told The Gazette last year.

Former USC President Nick Staubitz, described as both a dark horse and an average Joe, also surprised Western when he won the 2004 presidential election.

Staubitz fell behind his fellow candidates in the presidential quiz and pulled out an average rating from The Gazette in the areas such as leadership, presentation, quality of ideas and experience.

His mantra was to give the USC a human side and to get students from across campus involved in the USC.

After watching the media forum yesterday, Cameron Anderson, an assistant political science professor, weighed in on whom he thought was the dark horse out of the USC presidential candidates.

“The long shot with a shot could be Christan.”

Unfortunately for Christan Mariyanayagam, Anderson said the dark horse candidate often does not have much of a chance at winning " at least when it comes to student politics.

He explained while some students may have the dark horse as their first choice for president, they could end up voting for a different candidate who they think is more likely to win.

Chris Sinal, former USC president, felt the same way.

He couldn’t remember a time in history when a dark horse won the USC elections.

When it comes to student campaigning, Sinal said you have to have a fairly large team because it involves visiting so many people.

Often, the dark horses just don’t have large enough support groups.

“You need the buzz about you that comes with having enough people,” he explained.

The average joe candidate is a second trend that has popped up in past USC presidential elections.

This time around, there’s no doubt which candidate fits that profile. Mitch Steinberg prides himself on being the everyman, the average schmo.

Anderson explained, “Appealing to voters as sort of the outsider, as somone who’s not tinged or biased, can be a successful campaign.”

Many labeled Sinal, who won the USC presidential election in 2002, an average Joe candidate.

But he didn’t start out that way. Going into the election, Sinal had plenty of USC experience including a year as VP-student affairs. When he and his team planned out his campaign strategy, however, Sinal said they decided to change their approach.

“Most people could care less about what goes on behind the doors,” he reasoned.

Sinal decided to appeal to the masses as an average guy. Behind closed doors, however, he admitted he was really quite a keener.

“‘I hate politicians,’ is what everyone is thinking, but at the same time you need someone who’s going to make decisions when you need them to,” Sinal said.

Stevenson said, “I think the important thing is relatability ... the confidence that someone can speak for you and the knowledge you can speak with them,” he stated.

Even now, Stevenson tries to appeal to the average person through initiatives such as Tea with Tom on Tuesdays.

Sinal thinks his average guy appeal helped him win because it made him more approachable.

“USC nerds almost never win. Instead, the winner will be someone who really connects to the electorate,” he noted.

Sinal emphasized the importance of going door to door in residences and just hanging out. Sometimes, talking politics just isn’t the best way to get votes.

“The average Joe is just someone who doesn’t offend you and you think is mildly competent.”

And sometimes, that’s enough to get the student vote.

Students themselves have a variety of qualities they’re looking for in a president.

Some want honesty and approachability, while students like Amanda Kahn, a first-year media, information and technoculture student, vote for whomever caught her eye.

“I think we need someone who will do the most for the student body with the budget in the next two years,” Brad Rochefort, a fourth-year writing student, said.

Anthony Gucciardi, fourth-year science student, wanted a president who would hold an open forum in the Spoke every week.

Stevenson summed up: “Every year we have a very different election dynamic ... a whole new barrel of monkeys.”

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