The race for the 66th district’s Republican Primary hasn’t garnered much attention from the local news media. As State Representative races go, the campaign to fill Aric Nesbitt’s open seat has had little in terms of drama. Make no mistake, this race has potentially huge implications for the Presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. What makes this primary race so intriguing are the strong similarities in campaign strategies between the Presidential race and the race to represent the Republicans in the general election from the 66th District.
If Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Matt Nilson can upset Commission Beth Griffin on Tuesday, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaign team need to pay close attention. Matt Nilson is a relatively unknown upstart without the political connections of Commissioner Griffin. Nilson has relied heavily on social media to increase his name recognition and highlight his positions on critical issues effecting Michigan. Griffin has modeled her campaign after the traditional ground game of going door-to-door. Nilson has largely self-funded his campaign, while Griffin has received all the traditional endorsements and special interest support.
What gives even greater similarities between the Presidential race and the local primary is the addition of a third party candidate. Greg Kolich, a hard working machinist with Prab, Inc., represents the role a Gary Johnson could play in the Presidential election. If Johnson makes it to the debate stage in September, the impact of the third party candidate may decide who is the next President.
Although not nearly as vocal via social media or through traditional campaigning, Kolich could play a crucial role in the primary election if the votes remain close between Griffin and Nilson. Even more electrifying for the Presidential race would be a Kolich upset of both Nilson and Griffin. Either way, Kolich’s participation matters if this primary race remains close between the “established” candidate and “the outsider.”
As we look closely at the campaigns of Griffin and Nilson, we see two entirely different approaches to victory. Griffin will likely out spend Nilson 7 to 1. She has more campaign experience then Nilson, but lacks his background as a U.S. Army Veteran. Griffin is pushing her credentials as a local official, whereas, Nilson is highlighting his global leadership experience. Like Clinton, Griffin’s campaign theme is togetherness. Nilson on the other hand talks in terms of rebuilding America, empowering Michigan, and fixing Lansing.
Nilson has done an extremely good job at connecting with the patriotic sentiment of the average voter. His social media campaigns supporting Law Enforcement, discussing infrastructure restoration, and maintaining a fiscally sound budget has kept him in the race. Yet, Griffin continues to leverage her local area contacts to build support both within and outside the local Republican party. Her support of party loyalist has kept her a favorite for the August 2nd primary.
What does this mean for Trump and Clinton? Pay close attention to how Nilson and Griffin communicated with the electorate in terms of message and method.
The significant difference between the 66th Republican Primary and the Presidential election is tone. Nilson, Griffin, and Kolich have had a positive message, while rarely engaging the other candidate in a confrontation. This may or may not be the downfall for the upstart Nilson.
How well Nilson executed his message against Special Interest money and mobilized veteran, law enforcement, and educator enthusiasm will give critical insights for Trump, Clinton, and Johnson on how to message voters in Southwest Michigan. Even more important is the role of Facebook versus Twitter in local and national elections. Facebook connects closure with the local voter in terms of demographics, while Twitter is targeted towards national news media exposure. Facebook is better suited for micro-targeting specific voter groups, while twitter messages the masses.
On August 2nd, the primary for the 66th District will become either the most talked about race in Michigan or it will disappear into the mist of nothing new here. What every voter needs to know is that the Republican Primary for the 66th District has the potential to be the most important race in America leading up to the November 8th general election. Your vote for the 66th District may provide key insights for the Clinton or Trump campaigns, which could decide the next President of the United States.
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