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Why You Avoid Senate-speak in Campaigns Why You Avoid Senate-speak in Campaigns

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Why You Avoid Senate-speak in Campaigns

January 6, 2012

Ron Fournier was quick to observe that Rick Santorum's campaign appearances often are "marred by loquaciousness" because "Santorum doesn't know when to stop talking." No surprise there. Santorum was a senator. For two terms. Twelve years of "Senate-speak." More than a decade of filibusters.

It calls to mind a campaign moment from 32 years ago. Howard Baker was an enormously respected person in Washington after 13 years in the Senate and four years as Senate Minority Leader. He believed it was time to take that prestige and respect on the road and run for president.

But he soon learned that Senate-speak does not travel well. At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, Baker listened to one woman. Then, responding, he started out, "The gentle-lady makes a good point..."

The looks at the meeting let Baker know that that was not how the folks in New Hampshire talk. Baker ended up in a weak third place, with only 13 percent of the vote to Ronald Reagan's 50 percent and George H.W. Bush's 23 percent.

It is one reason why, before 2008, Americans had only twice elevated sitting U.S. senators into the White House -- Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy. It's enough to make a gentle-lady blush.

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