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The tale of two speeches: Breaking down the art of the concession speech

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This morning, IL Comptroller Dan Hynes conceded the race for IL Governor to incumbent Pat Quinn. Most reports say that Hynes’ speech was dignified and struck the right chord of being grateful to staff and devoted followers and also repairing the rift created in the Democratic party after a particularly negative campaign. We saw a few concession speeches this week. There were balloons, back-lines of friends and families and tearful hugs/kisses. Some were coordinated, with a look to the future and some were off-the-cuff with an eye towards the past. We talked with two active political consultants in town to break down what they saw from the Hotel W City Center Tuesday night. The hotel was home to two election parties and two concession speeches: Former Inspector General David Hoffman (Dem Senate) and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger (Cook County Board Prez). Kitty Kurth is a longtime political consultant, campaign manager and analyst. She has worked on several campaigns and has been in the war-room for many planned concession speeches. Mike Fourcher has also run campaigns in Chicago and now is the editor for the Center Square Ledger. Mike has also seen his share of concession speeches.‚ We’ve embedded videos from our intern Jennifer Lacey, who captured both speeches on Tuesday night. And of course, our old friend here at WBEZ, Mr. Chris Robling. Robling is a political consultant and you can see him on WGN-TV weekly. Kitty, Chris and Mike compare the two (videos and analysis after the jump):

Kitty Kurth: Two concession speeches captured the very essence of the candidates’ campaigns. One looked forward. One looked back. One talked about the future of Illinois; voters, volunteers and vision. One talked about the candidate himself; slights and criticisms - real and perceived. Each crystallized the speaker’s approach to politics and to their recent campaigns. David Hoffman had a plan and rhythm to his speech. He had notes, but referred to them infrequently, because he knew his stuff. He spoke about others and working for a better future for Illinois. He used the speech to look to the future and it kept open many possibilities for his own future and the future of the state. Hoffman was the vessel of hope. Todd Stroger came up and talked with no notes, no theme, no purpose. He talked about himself and talked about the past. He complained about being wronged. He spoke in the past tense, and did not address the future. Stroger, was, again, the victim of circumstances. Hoffman’s speech opened doors. Stroger’s speech slammed doors shut.

Mike Fourcher: David Hoffman is a man who believes in the power of words. He clerked for the US Supreme Court and has spent his career fine-tuning the exact thing to write in legal briefs. I would not be surprised if in advance of Election Day he wrote a “winner” speech and a “loser” speech. Not every candidate can bring themselves to do that. But David Hoffman’s life of words, combined with the consistent discipline of his campaign (note the large crowd of important supporters standing behind him - not an easy thing to do for an Election Night loser) suggests that he is determined to bring meaning to his election loss. The visual of Todd Stroger’s concession speech frames his whole campaign - a very nice man accompanied by those closest to him, but otherwise alone. His line, “This is a bump in the road. Life goes on,” seems to say a lot about how he feels about his life, not just politics. Most of his speech is in the past tense, suggesting he had already prepared to put his loss behind him. Some pols would be totally devastated by such a loss, but Stroger seems to be prepared to live the same life out of the spotlight as in - someone you might like to have as a friend, but not as your accountant.

Chris Robling: David Hoffman and Todd Stroger speak to their past -- and futures -- in the speeches they made Tuesday admitting defeat. Cook County Board President Stroger, who will head the $3 billion county government for the next ten months, had little cheerful to say.‚ His speech sounded like the collapse of support he has witnessed since succeeding his revered father. The speech was reminiscent of then-Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley’s foul-tempered blame-fest of 1992 when he lost in the last 72 hours to a surging but invisible Dick Devine (his staff looked pleadingly at reporters and said, “See what we have put up with?” through their plasticene smiles) -- shows Todd realized this only moments before his hard landing. The future Todd foretells is thus far from the public.‚ A bright, personable and remarkably engaging man, Todd’s headed to “FA Land.” This is not like LA Land. The FA stands for Financial Advisor.‚ They are the folks big banks deploy to help governmental units that issue debt.‚ With Todd’s resume, experience and salesmanship, many doors will open -- but they will be doors to mayoral conference rooms, not new political campaigns. David Hoffman’s speech proves that with an education from Yale and the University of Chicago, one can still learn to write. Hoffman’s grammar and logic prove fine rhetoric is no accident, though under Gresham’s Law most of the good stuff has been driven out of our political system by drivel. Spare, elegant and toned, the words clearly say, “We will be back to make this stick.” Hoffman observes the most important rule of communication, audience orientation.‚ He connects immediately with their disappointment, but leads them from it to his message that their shared fight to transform government is itself transformed -- not extinguished -- by this defeat. People who clerk for Chief Justices of the United States, like Hoffman, learn to use only those words that are necessary to make a point.‚ Hoffman gives every politician a superb example of that principle.‚ Yet he leaves no unsaid nicety or encouragement; the crowd, and most heartrendingly Mrs. Hoffman, show by their response he covers every base. The implicit suspense of Hoffman’s unfulfilled promise gives his words added power.‚ He foretells a future of further transformational fights, both as a foot soldier and a general.‚ That leads to exultation about a better tomorrow and limits tears for today’s loss. Todd’s speech clearly ended something -- the arc of his father’s extraordinary career.‚ Hoffman’s speech propels something -- the career of an extraordinary participant in our polis. John Stroger was a class act and a grand man of a now largely lost way.‚ While no one should criticize Todd for not being his father, I would have preferred a speech that aspired to a grandeur commensurate with John’s legacy. David Hoffman may or may not run again.‚ His speech illustrates why many hope he will and why some -- such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- are exceeding glad he lost.

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