campaign trail: Su rally

On Sunday night, I went to Su Tseng-chang’s rally, held in the courtyard of a junior high school across the street from Da-an Park.  This rally was by far the best rally I have been to this year.

About 6000 packed the courtyard.  In absolute numeric terms, the crowd was only about half the size of the crowd at Hau’s rally, which I had just come from.  However, if I were a candidate, I would prefer this 6000 people to Hau’s 13000.  Su’s crowd was completely unmobilized, or perhaps I should say they were all self-mobilized.  (This is the first big event I have been to this year that had no large-scale mobilization.  I’ve written about events for Chu and Hau.  A couple of weeks ago, I also went to a very disorienting large scale indoor event for Tsai in which perhaps 80% of the audience was mobilized.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time or the clarity in my thoughts to write about it at the time.)  Candidates don’t mind having mobilized people show up their events, but people who show up on their own are better.  Su might have had as many self-mobilized people at his event as Hau did at his.  Moreover, whereas Hau’s campaign had been building up for the parade for weeks, this was just another event for Su.  There was no special advertising saying that, if you only come out for one event this year, it should be this one.  Of course Sunday night before the election is a big deal, but for Su’s campaign, it probably ranks behind Saturday night and this coming Friday night (election eve), and there might be others as well.  So even though Hau “won” the numbers game on Sunday, Su has to be happier about the number of people who showed up for his event than Hau is about the turnout for his.

However, the most important difference between Su’s crowd and Hau’s crowd was energy.  There was more energy in this crowd than in the (much larger) Chu and Hau crowds combined.  Before the rally started, they showed a video about Su’s childhood and early adulthood.  When the video ended, the crowd applauded.  That was my first clue that this rally would be different.

The high point of the evening was when Su took the stage and led the audience in singing his campaign song.  They turned off the music, so that it was just Su (with a microphone) and the audience unplugged.  Most people were singing (I paid particular attention to that), and they were singing loudly enough that it reverberated off the school walls.  It was really cool.

It took a lot of guts for Su to do this.  Crowds are not nearly as enthusiastic as they were ten years ago, and it is hard to get audience to respond.  Most rallies don’t take this chance.  You almost always have two people with a microphone, and when the main speaker asks the crowd if the opponent has done well, should apologize, or whatever, the second person is always ready to jump in and give the “yes!,” “no!,” “they should!,” or whatever the appropriate response is.  They almost never leave it up to the audience to respond these days, because they aren’t sure that they won’t be met with a sickening dead silence of indifference.  So when Su asked the audience to sing with him, he was taking a big chance and it paid off handsomely.  I don’t know if the news programs chose to show this moment, but they certainly might have and it would have looked very good for the Su campaign.

I’m dwelling on this little moment because it didn’t happen by accident.  Right before Su took the stage, the musical group that wrote the campaign song performed.  They did a couple of rousing songs, and then they performed the campaign song.  They started by teaching the audience: this song only has four simple lines in the chorus, let’s try them.  So they went line by line, a capella but with the words on the video screen, and got the audience to practice or just hear the lyrics.  Then they performed the song, which had those simple four lines again and again.  Many people joined in and sang the chorus with them.  So before Su took the stage, the audience had already learned and practiced this chorus.  But, of course, this moment started long before Sunday night.  Six months ago, someone in the Su campaign had this vision and laid the groundwork by producing an appropriate song.  I can imagine them saying, we need a simple song with only a few lyrics, make it about change, and make it easy to sing.  In short, there was an immense amount of preparation that went into this one very cool moment.  Well-run campaigns like Su’s seem to have these moments all the time.


Su gave a very long speech, at least 30 minutes.  After the singing, he turned to more substantial content which inevitably sapped some of the energy from the crowd.  We never got back to the height of the singing.  However, I wouldn’t say that Su put the audience to sleep; they were still paying attention.  Su spoke on several themes.  He attacked Hau’s record as mayor, accusing him of poor planning and wasteful spending.  (When he talked about the very expensive and seldom used bus lane on Zhongxiao W. Rd., he flashed a bird’s eye picture of the other lanes jammed up and the bus lane completely empty up on the video board.  The video team, which is led by his son-in-law, is doing a fabulous job.)  He talked about some of the things he would do as mayor.  (One of these had to do with children’s welfare policies, and he spoke very movingly about how difficult it was for him and his family when his granddaughter was born three months premature.)  He spoke for quite a while about his philosophy of using talent, emphasizing that as Pingdong County executive, he had given the job of executive secretary (the #2 job) to a mainlander who was a lifelong KMT member.  They had already shown a video on this story, and the old man (now more than 80) spoke of how surprised he was that Su didn’t care about anything but ability.  (Frozen Garlic takes all of this with a grain of salt, but it was very well presented.)  Su also spoke about this as an election to improve the governance of Taipei City, asking voters to make their decisions based on their evaluation of the Hau administration’s performance rather than on some blue-green ideological divide.  Most of his speech was in Mandarin, not Taiwanese.  This was a very, very good message for Taipei City.


Let me try to put this rally into historical perspective.  It was far and away the best rally I have been to this year, but it was nowhere near some of the rallies from previous years, either in numbers or in enthusiasm.  Just off the top of my head, the Chen and Chao 趙少康 campaigns of 1994 easily outdid it, as did both the Chen and Ma campaigns in 1998.  I missed the 2002 and 2006 campaigns, so I can’t compare those.  However, I was at the election eve event for Su in 1997 (when Lu Hsiu-yi 盧修一 knelt down), and that was far, far more electric than last night.  We haven’t even started talking about the 2000 or 2004 presidential races.  In short, it was nice, but don’t let my praise make you think that Su’s campaign is white hot.  Su certainly has a chance to win this race, but the chill on Hau’s side is much more important than the warmth on Su’s side.


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