By Wynfred Russell
My cell phone kept ringing over and over as I began the first leg of a planned five-mile bike ride under sunny clear skies with calm winds on Saturday. Temperature: 84 degrees. I eventually stopped to answer, but the call dropped.
My phone rang again as soon as I got back on my bike. I picked up the call, and it was from Monrovia. It was a political strategist from one of the political parties.
“Are you on Facebook,” he asked hastily? “No, but why? What is going on?” I replied. “You have to go on Facebook. CDC has shut down Monrovia,” he added. “I have not seen any candidate pull such a large crowd in the rain like George Weah is doing. Monrovia is at a standstill with helicopters buzzing over the city; CDC is campaigning on the ground and in the air,” he said.
Meantime, I was receiving a deluge of WhatsApp messages containing images and video snippets of the CDC campaign launch event. The last message that came through reading: “If CDC wins this election, I am going to be a disgruntle Liberian for six years.” I parked my bike and sat on a wooden bench at the entrance to the park and responded to the strategist and my friend WhatsApp with two words: calm down.
Why are people getting all bent out of shape?
I reminded them that it was not the first time that the CDC had caused congestion and flooded Monrovia with thousands of individuals. George Weah can bring the crowd, but can he deliver the votes? His track record says no; group size is one of the most deceptive signs in politics.
Over the last two presidential election cycles, candidate Weah must have gazed out over vast numbers of people and probably convinced himself and his supporters the Executive Mansion was his for the taking. The CDC clearly has not learned – one of the most idiotic claims being spread on social media is that the crowd size at the party’s kick-off rally is indicative of Weah’s winnability.
During the special senatorial election three years ago, CDC’s massive crowds did, in fact, translate to votes, trouncing his rivals in that race. But when it comes to presidential elections, size is not always a barometer of a campaign’s destiny.
Extrapolating electoral prospects from the size of crowds at campaign events is often a misleading metric – for instance, during last year’s U.S. presidential elections, Hillary Clinton held packed, boisterous rallies in mega-venues supported by Jay-Z, Beyonce, Oprah, President Obama and just about every A-list Hollywood star.
Mrs. Clinton thrilled millions of people during the campaign, but to her chagrin and that of her aides, supporters, the media, and democratic party officials, the wishful thought that bulging rallies will translate into a stampede at the ballot box for her candidacy were painfully disappointing.
My advice to political parties is to chill out. There is no reason to fear the CDC political juggernaut of hype. The election is just starting. Don’t be apprehensive. Don’t be despondent. Put your faith in retail politicking – opt for smaller, personable town-style rallies. Develop a firm boot on the ground strategy, village by village, town by town, if you want to blunt George Weah’s momentum. It is a better predictor of electoral success than bringing large crowds to football stadiums or throngs of people on the streets.
Still, it is not an impossibility that CDC’s multitudes are a sign the grassroots uprising may confound conventional wisdom and deliver for Weah this time around. However, there is an exception to every rule.
The bumper-to-bumper gridlock of cars choking narrow Tubman Boulevard, or legions of people packed into the CDC headquarters, can be intoxicating, can nourish an ego and may falsely convince party operatives that it has tapped into something tangible. For candidates and their support staff members, stuck in a bubble, massive rallies can promote erroneous conclusions about the state of a campaign.