Ohio State House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes faced an uphill challenge in Ohio’s redrawn 13th Congressional District. In a majority white district, Sykes was running to become the first Black woman to represent the 13th in a midterm environment that many thought would favor Republicans and most race rating organizations like FiveThirtyEight and Cook Political report rated as lean Republican. Sykes’ advantage came from high name recognition and a connection to the community her opponent did not possess.
GQR’s research helped determine key strengths for Sykes that worked to create distinct contrasts with a largely unknown opponent. We were able to defy expectations by:
- Defining Sykes before the other side had a chance to. With a record in the State House of working with both Republicans and Democrats to deliver for her constituents, our research showed that Sykes began the race with a sizeable base in the Akron area we could build from in paid communication before the onslaught of negative ads against her had a chance to break through in any meaningful way. The strategic decision was made to spend early.
- Casting Gilbert as extreme and out of touch. The next phase of the strategy was to highlight how Gilbert’s views were out of touch with those of voters. Even though she was pregnant, we emphasized Gilbert’s support of a national abortion ban. We also underscored Gilbert’s support for policies that hurt everyday Ohioans such as cutting Social Security and Medicare and more tax breaks for the wealthy, while highlighting, especially visually, her extreme wealth.
- Closing the campaign pushing back against deceitful attacks. Our final ad called out Republicans’ attack ads for what they were, lies, while delivering a sharp contrast between the two candidates. We reminded voters of Gilbert’s extreme positions while hitting the central theme of Sykes’ candidacy – a candidate who is fighting for the needs of everyday people in the community that raised her.
Thanks to this strategy, Sykes was able to overcome nearly $9 million in a spending against her to become the first black woman to represent Ohio’s 13th Congressional District in Congress.