1. "The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day."
This cliche is most commonly used by candidates who find themselves at 1 percent or so in polling. No one who is leading the polls says that the only poll that matters is on Election Day. Also, the voting on Election Day isn't, you know, technically a poll. It's just a vote. So it's both an annoying cliche and wrong.
2. "I'm overwhelmed by the encouragement I have been getting to run."
Translated: I am running for this office. If one person in the grocery store says something like, "Hey, I didn't know you were in politics. That's cool," you are taking it as evidence that they want you to run for fill-in-the-blank office that you covet. The idea that regular people are deeply engaged in the decision-making processes of politicians is, um, not right.
3. "My name may be on the ballot but this election is about you."
A classic of the genre made more relevant in recent elections by President Obama's slight tweak to it; "I didn't say, 'Yes, I can,' " Obama has grown fond of saying. "I said, 'Yes, we can.' " Left unsaid in this cliche is that if the person whose name is on the ballot wins, they get to be president — not you.
4. "It's all going to come down to turnout."
What you're saying is that the candidate who gets more people to vote for him or her is going to win. That's like providing this analysis of a basketball game: The team that puts the ball in the basket more often will have an edge. (In truth, that "analysis" accounts for most of sports radio.)
5. "I don't look at polling."
Politicians l-o-v-e to put out the idea that they make decisions based exclusively on a combination of principle and channeling the will of their constituents. That's ridiculous. If you show me a politician who either a) doesn't poll or b) doesn't look at polling, I will show you a losing politician.
Okay, fine. This one isn't exclusive to politics. But politicians DO say it — and it's the worst.
7. "We have the strongest grass-roots organization."
This tends to be the last refuge of candidates who don't have a) any money b) any polling momentum and/or c) any chance. Quantifying on-the-ground organization is extremely difficult — you made 100 phone calls and knocked on 1,000 doors but what does it actually mean in terms of votes?? — making it an easy-to-hide-behind cliche.
8. "I won't engage in hypotheticals."
When you are running for any office that you do not currently hold, you have to engage in hypotheticals to answer any question about how you would perform in the job you are seeking. Of course candidates — or, more accurately, candidates' consultants — know that engaging in hypotheticals can lead down a slippery slope that ends in, "If you could go back in time, would you kill Baby Hitler?"
9. "This is the most important election of our lifetime."
Translation: This election is super, duper important because I am involved in it. Or, alternatively, this election is the most important because I need you to be panicked about the future so that you will turn out to vote.
10. "Plenty of ballots are left to be counted."
Politicians say this when they don't want to concede but know that they almost certainly have lost. It's a time-staller in the (very unlikely) event that a box of ballots — all of whom are votes for you — are found somewhere. (Hat tip: Lyndon Johnson.)
11. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
"I am losing ... but only right now!"
12. "With all due respect to my friend [fill-in-the-blank]..."
Politics is strange for lots of reasons but one big one is that everyone pretends they like each other when, in fact, they often hate each other with the white-hot passion of 1,000 suns. This cliche is often used in debates right before Candidate A drops a 10,000-pound anvil on Candidate B.
13. "Money isn't everything."
No, it's not. If it was, then Jeb Bush would be the Republican front-runner in 2016 and rich people everywhere would be governors and senators. (Wait, what's that you say? They are? Oh, never mind.) Money isn't everything in politics but it is most things. And the politicians who say it isn't are the ones without it.