What’s a Candidate To Do?

By Max Resnik

July 13, 2011 Updated Jul 13, 2011 at 6:31 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – It has been a little more than two months since the May Mayoral Primary season, and November's General Election is still about four months away. With all that time between elections, what is a candidate for Fort Wayne’s mayoral seat supposed to do?

In the cases of Paula Hughes (R) and Haley Ahrendt (I), it is about building their brands, reestablishing their positions and getting to know members of the community they have yet to meet.

Tuesday, both Ahrendt and Hughes attended a meet and greet with members of the Fort Wayne Apartment Assocation. For Hughes, the day was not over as she met with Kiwanis members and made phone calls to developers interested in hearing information on the Harrison Square project.

For Ahrendt, today was his day for added hand shaking as he spent time at the Three Rivers Festival getting to know voters.

Andy Downs with the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics says summer is a time for families to enjoy vacation and a time for candidates to push their brands.

"The summer time is for going out and meeting a lot of people and helping to raise your name identification among the voter. But there's also raising money and preparing for the television commercials and the direct mail and the other stuff that you'll be using a little later on in the campaign."

Ahrendt, who will not advertise even by street sign, relies on word of mouth. He says looking Fort Wayne residents in the eye is the best way for him to reach voters.

"I have to get out, let people know my position and convince them that I would be the right person for the job."

Over the last year, the aim of the Hughes campaign was to convince registered republican voters that she was the correct choice to battle incumbent Mayor Tom Henry (D). After securing her party’s nomination, the focus has broadened to every Fort Wayne resident.

“It was targeted to people that we believe were going to be voting in the Republican Primary, so what we do now is broaden our reach and spend a lot of time-- it's not at the same pace. It's a little slower."

There is another hurdle these challengers must face, which is trying to counterbalance the amount of exposure Mayor Henry receives. Downs says Mayor Henry gets more than media attention.

“When a bill stuffer goes out in a city utilities bill, it will have Mayor Henry's name on it. If people go to an event and the mayor's there, it's the mayor; he's going to be invited to speak because he is the mayor. People respect the office and therefore the office gets a lot more attention than challengers do."

Both Ahrendt and Hughes pledge to break down partisan barriers within the city saying their candidacies are now focused on each Fort Wayne resident and what can be done to improve quality of life.

There is one substantial difference for Ahrendt though. He is not fund raising this summer and is relying solely on word of mouth. He is using $200 to spread the word. He says there was a time when money was not needed to win an election. He wants to prove that in November.

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