Candidates want to be inoffensive. Big mistake.
I have been watching several candidates craft their stump speeches and 30 second "elevator" speeches. They want to be agreeable.
Right now multiple candidates are deciding whether to file for election in 2018. Candidates are finalizing campaign themes. That's smart. Candidates should decide who they are before their opponent decides who they are.
If one sends a weak, mushy brand out to the public, then one's opponent will be the one to define your brand. Not every opponent will be as good at counter-branding as Trump ("Crooked Hillary") but your brand will be defined by somebody. It is better if it is you.
Candidates are misled by their personal experience. They live in a pleasant bubble of friends and family and campaign supporters who like them. When they meet a new person and say they are a candidate, mostly people are pleasant. They smile and shake hands. Candidates interpret this to mean they are well known and liked.
Wrong. The smile is just a social grace, and they likely already have forgotten your name.
Candidates are busy working up elevator and stump speeches. I have watched the process for multiple candidates multiple years. They draft and re-draft, hoping to include and please. After all, their hope is to be a uniter. They want better communities, better families. They want to be liked and respected by nearly everyone.
The force of gravity as drafts bounce between campaign advisors and friends is for positions to move toward the vague and inoffensive. Or they start there and stay there. At the Congressional level, it would move from "Medicare for All", which is clear but politically dangerous because it would be disruptive to the health care system of private insurance, toward, "we need to consider all avenues of full coverage for everyone," which gets re-drafted into "we need a common sense solution for health care."
Everyone happy now. "Common sense solution". Pure mush.
At candidate forums, candidate after candidate says they are good, sincere people who love community and strong families and common sense solutions to the intractable problems facing their city, county, state, or country. No one remembers anything except your age and gender and maybe your occupation.
What should the candidate do instead? Stand for something clear and controversial.
1. If everyone would like what you are saying, don't bother. It will be heard as babble-babble-babble-babble. All people will register is that you know how to sound like a politician. This is enough only if you are running unopposed.
2. If you are running against an incumbent, you need to give them a reason to make a change. This is not negative campaigning. You don't need to lie or exaggerate, and indeed should not. Give people a reason to think a change is warranted. I have watched candidates at every level be squeamish about this. Saying you will "work harder" or "seek meaningful bi-partisan solutions to the complex problems facing us" is simply more babble-babble-babble. It is OK to smile and look pleasant when you criticize the incumbent, but this isn't a high school popularity contest. Say what is wrong and how you are different. Recognize that some people will disagree with you. That means you are saying something real.
3. People will mostly remember what you find morally wrong. Everyone likes nice things. People take your measure by what seems unfair or unjust to you. If the candidate is "pro life" then he or she thinks it is wrong to kill unborn babies. If the candidate supports reproductive freedom then the candidate thinks it is wrong for government to tell a woman what she should do with that most personal, intimate decision. Wherever the candidate comes down on this, the candidate will lose votes. Face it. If the candidate is running for congress and thinks the tax bill that just passed is badly designed, then express opposition to it as an affront to ones moral compass. "It is wrong to give inheritors 22 million dollars tax free, and pay for it by putting a cap on deductions." It isn't just an intellectual error, it is unjust and unfair. Voters want to get a feel for the inner you.
4. Less is more. I have more advice but will save it for later. Candidates should do the same. Be memorable for 3 or 4 things, tops.
Summary: A candidate cannot unseat a competent incumbent with mush and platitudes. They don't create a memorable alternative brand. Standing for something controversial makes the candidate an plausible alternative. You stand out.