Writings and observations

Reviewing candidates for style

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Dr. Vincent Muli Wa Kituku, a native of Kenya and motivational speaker from Boise, follows Idaho politics closely, but his evaluation of candidates goes beyond their views on the issues.

Kituku wants to know how a person connects with an audience. Does the candidate stumble over words? Speak without a script? Use stories and humor in their presentations? Show passion? Inspire voters?

Kituku’s standards are high. His opening prayers are better than many keynote addresses. He has written books, made recordings and conducted seminars on public speaking. He’d be an outstanding speaking coach for any candidate wanting to sharpen his/her skills.

But he doesn’t get a lot of takers, because most candidates don’t give much thought to presentations – the part that often closes the deal with voters.
Intellectually, everyone wants to put substance ahead of style. But style is crucial, especially for newcomers challenging longtime incumbents. Steve Symms was loaded with style and flash when he ran against, and defeated, longtime Sen. Frank Church in 1980.

Cecil Andrus won two big races for governor, at least partly due to his ability to connect effectively with audiences. Four years ago, Keith Allred had substance in his run for governor against C.L. “Butch” Otter, but few style points and was no match for Otter in the general election.

This year’s Democratic candidate, A.J. Balukoff, a CPA by profession, speaks with Sabout corruption in the Otter administration and lack of focus on education, but without gusto. Balukoff’s bow tie, which was used in his early television ads, probably didn’t help him, according to Kituku. “I tell people they should stand out, but that does not mean looking silly.”

Kituku says Otter is no great speech-maker; the older he gets, the more he tends to ramble. But Otter has not lost a step as far as his ability to work a room. Strong handshakes, beaming smiles and friendly laughs make him as likeable as ever.

“That’s what I mean about connecting with people,” Kituku said. “Mitt Romney had some outstanding ideas and values, but he was not likeable.”

Recently, I was talking with Democratic Senatorial Candidate Nels Mitchell, and offered some first impressions of his speaking style. I hear words coming out of his mouth, but don’t feel anything coming from his heart. He may be a hit with Democrats and those who dislike Sen. Jim Risch, but in politics, lack of heart and soul equals lack of connection with undecided voters. Kituku has a similar view.

“Forget that one,” Kituku said flatly of Mitchell’s style.

He’s no kinder toward Risch, who Kituku says comes across as angry. “He does not connect well.”
Mitchell, a career lawyer, would do well learning from Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, another career lawyer who turned to politics. As a candidate, and in his early days in office, Bieter was “horrible” as a speaker. Kituku saw a marked improvement in Bieter’s second state-of-the-city address – speaking without a script, telling stories and blending humor into his presentation.  

The best speaker among the high office holders is Rep. Raul Labrador, which explains why he’s a popular figure with the national press. I have seen him a couple of times in town hall meetings, and he’s superb with his presentations. It’s no wonder why he attracts large crowds.

Some people might not like Labrador’s politics, but he wins points with style. “He’s likeable,” Kituku said.
Kituku also gives high marks to retiring state Superintendent Tom Luna. Kituku has differences on policies, but gives Luna credit for the ability to effectively articulate his views and connect with audiences.

So, there are a few role models out there and newcomers – especially – would do well to follow their examples. Most candidates do not enter races with captivating speaking skills, but they can be sharpened. In today’s world, a speech coach might be at least as important to a candidate as a campaign manager.

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