Why You Should Campaign Like Neel Kashkari

Guest post by Matthew P.

Today, the GOP candidate for Governor of California, Neel Kashkari, released a documentary video and accompanying WSJ op-ed detailing his experiences as a homeless man in Fresno.  He stepped off of a Greyhound bus, clean-shaven and presentable, with $40 in his pocket, a backpack with some supplies, and the clothes on his back. His goal was to spend a week living the life of a homeless man, in search of a job. Some people journey overseas on a mission of self-discovery; Mr. Kashkari didn’t have to travel as far.

Mr. Kashkari’s journey stands out as a supreme example of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, complete with some reflections about what he has taken for granted over the years.  To his credit, this is not the first time he has embraced the poor.  Throughout the primary campaign, he slept in homeless shelters and worked picking produce.  He also paid numerous visits to churches and schools in poor neighborhoods. Many credit this unconventional approach for his come-from-behind primary victory.

The video and op-ed document his undercover experience, complete with his sleeping on park benches, eating at a church mission, and relying on the goodness of strangers to sustain him. The video is worth a watch, and I encourage you to read the op-ed as well. Much of it is oriented toward California’s current economic disorder, but the lessons are palpable.

In the course of writing this blog, we see many examples of good things candidates are doing. Earlier, we praised Rand Paul’s speeches at historically black colleges and universities, along with other efforts to take his message to ears who wouldn’t necessarily hear it in their normal course of life. That may require a few visits to hostile territory, but we encourage you, dear reader, to try it. Respectfully engage people who you may not agree with. Spend less time at Lincoln Day Dinners and more time speaking to ordinary people.

Athletes say, “practice like you play,” and we say, “campaign like you would govern.” It will help you build empathy and credibility among people you will one day serve as an elected official. Here, we roundly discourage the divisive “rile your base with red meat, and turn ’em out” style of campaigning simply because, while it may win you one election, that model is very bad for your long-term prospects of governing.

Much criticism has been piled on Mr. Kashkari for his background in finance and his wealth. Sometimes candidates counter this kind of criticism de rigeur by discussing their charitable activities, and by doing community service on the campaign trail.  And, if you are the kind of person who has a charitable background and have legitimate involvement in community service organizations, then by all means let that part of your character shine. Mr. Kashkari has a strong history of service, but by taking some time to experience the hardships of poverty, he took the opportunity to build a better sense of the daily lives of these he would like to serve. Plus, he can legitimately build credibility while learning.

Now, we do not expect you, dear reader, to try homelessness for a week. But we do encourage you to take some time and reflect on how your past hardships have helped you to become the person you are.  If your background contains periods of hardship, dredge up those memories, as painful as they can be, and use those episodes to help explain your positions to the voters. Let your human side show. Voters yearn for authenticity, and have richly rewarded candidates who deliver.

In the end, half of all candidates end up losing. Perhaps this isn’t the time for Mr. Kashkari. But he, and you, dear reader, should take a longer view.  Campaigns are long and grueling. Campaigning takes you from your family, and saps your finances and energy. So, please take your time running for office seriously, and do your best to make yourself a better person along the way. It will pay dividends once the voting is done, win or lose.

Reacting to Negative Campaigning: The “Stop, Drop & Roll” Approach

My candidate’s opponent just announced he’s dropping out of the primary race. He was caught in a couple lies and then claimed a conspiracy between my candidate and the Democrat incumbent. After going public with his conspiracy theory he decided he did not like the person he had become and dropped out of the race.
First, how do we unite the Party after such an event? Second, we still have a primary to win; both names will be on the ballot. How do we tactfully handle the issue of our opponent forfeiting the race?

This is a fantastic, specific example of a typical PR problem you may approach on the campaign trail.  Special thanks to the commenter who posted it so that I could share the answer with everyone.  In this situation, we’re dealing with what seems to be a flighty primary competitor now, and anticipating taking on an incumbent in the general.  So it’s a double whammy.

Let’s deal with this question one part at a time.  The first issue is that your primary opponent has sunk his own ship and is trying to do as much damage to your campaign while he tanks.  He’s thrown out some negative information in accusation.  How do you handle that?

STOP

First thing’s first.  If someone points to you and yells “LIAR! LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!” Stop and look at your pants before you do anything else.

Did you in fact have any role in what happened to your primary opponent?  If not, relax.  Your opponent has already been established as a liar, and no one will be surprised if he’s lying about you, too.

When someone throws negative accusations at you, WAIT and see if the story “has legs.”  If you give a knee-jerk reaction and hurriedly put out a press release rebutting the accusation, you’ve just signalled the media that this story may be worth looking into.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!  If your opponent wants to throw out a couple of false accusations before his campaign breathes it’s last, let him.  Don’t assume anyone else will pick the story up until it actually happens.

Drop

What if you get a call from a journalist wanting your response to the accusations?

This is where we can learn a good lesson from Herman Cain’s PR faux pas.  Here’s my recommendation:  Tell the truth as fully as possible.  Always.

In Cain’s case, there was a grain of truth in the accusation leveled, and denying it completely or not addressing it with the full truth right away allowed the public’s imagination to go wild.  If you don’t fill in the blanks, the press or the public will do it for you.  I promise.

We’re going to assume that you had nothing to do with your opponent’s flop and aren’t involved in a conspiracy with the Democrat incumbent.  I would say the chances are FAR GREATER that no recurring stories will pop up and people will forget the accusations or brush them off as yet another lie completely, especially if it sounds concocted and fake to begin with, which it probably does.  The public will DROP the story, and you should too.

Should the press call you up, explain that you aren’t in contact at all with the Democrat incumbent and that you have no knowledge of the events your opponent’s accusations mention.  Just drop it.

Roll

Now, if you’re on the phone with a media person about the issue, you do have to ROLL with the punches.  This is actually an opportunity.  You must follow your ‘drop’ response up with the message you want the press to write about.

You could:

  1. Site the failures of your opponent and point out how you are different.
  2. Redirect the conversation completely.  Brush off the primary opponent as yesterday’s news, and outline your campaign message for the general against your Democrat opponent.  This is where you can start your effort to reunite the party.
Now let’s address the other parts of your question:  “How do we reunite the party?”
The party divides and reunites itself all the time.  And if you’re the only Republican candidate, they certainly aren’t going to work against you.  The most that they will do is just not help you much, which isn’t that big of a loss, because the ‘help’ the county/state parties usually give is rarely ever worth much.
You need to focus on voters.  And 95% of voters are completely unaware of what ‘the party’ thinks or does.  Don’t waste any money or time on ‘reuniting’ the party.  Just be sure at party fundraisers and events that you make your support for the party clear and openly express your desire to work together with them.  Talk the talk, ya know.
It really sucks that your primary opponent will still be on the ballot.  But since he’s no longer campaigning, you just need to make sure that you still do all the work you planned to do to get your name out there.  When voters go to the polls and see your signs everywhere and have heard your message through the GOTV effort you’ve already been working on, they are going to vote for you.
And the final part:  “How do we handle the issue of our opponent forfeiting the race?”
I’ve seen campaigns that have had to handle similar issues and usually when a campaign tries to explain the issue to voters, it just confuses them, and doesn’t really change the outcome.  I say deal with the issue as minimally as possible and shift your focus to being the Republican candidate and running against the democrat incumbent.  Go ahead and start your general campaign messaging now.  That way you’ll have a strong head start when the incumbent is only just starting his campaign.
Hope this helps – let us know how things shake out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Approach Negative Campaigning Without Being an A-Hole

Every once in a while I come across an incumbent candidate who is just a bad guy.  He doesn’t represent the district well, he takes advantage of his elected position and he no longer cares about the taxpayers.  Oftentimes this guy has committed offenses that should land him in jail.  He may even have a newspaper trail a mile long behind him of coverage of his heinous activities.

This is all great stuff for a challenger candidate.  And I would never suggest that you ‘pretend’ that your opponent has done no wrong and not acknowledge their faults when appropriate.  But using negative information to your advantage in a political campaign – negative campaigning – is a very dangerous game.  You’re already playing against someone that doesn’t play fair.  So before you venture down the low road, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Pick your battles wisely.  Your opponent has cheated on his wife numerous times, owes thousands in back-taxes, and voted to legalize partial-birth abortion and let teens get abortions without parental consent.  What do you talk about?  Well the answer depends on you more than him, actually.  What is your platform about?  What issues are you running on?  If you live in a very conservative area and are running on a pro-life platform, it makes perfect sense for you to slam your opponent hard on life/choice issues.
  • Fight your battles with the correct weapon.  Let’s take the example above.  We have 3 very different, negative qualities that can be used against an incumbent opponent.
    The first one, cheating, is a very personal issue.  It’s a sucky thing to do, but really it’s none of your or anyone else’s business.  So I would never directly bring anything like that up in a political forum.  What I would do is take public opportunities to show off your own wife of 20+ years (whom you have never cheated on, I presume) and stress the importance of family values and the virtue of marriage and child-rearing to society.  You should also bear in mind that drudging up information like this hurts not only the candidate, but his wife and children as well, and obviously they wouldn’t need any more of that.
    In the second instance, unpaid taxes, well that’s hypocritical since his job consists primarily of responsibly handling the money that we law-abiding citizens do pay, but negative information like this is terribly difficult to pin down and prove, and making a muck of it will always degenerate into a he-said, she-said scenario that won’t do a challenger candidate any good, and is more likely to backfire if the public thinks that’s all you have to say about anything.  Therefore I would stick to the strategy of being overly open and honest about your own financial affairs, and not directly attacking your opponent on it.  If there’s an opportunity to crack a good joke at your opponent’s expense, however, I wouldn’t object to taking it.
    The third offense is an issue-related problem that can be backed up with information from your opponent’s public voting record.  The only time to directly attack an opponent is when you can site statistics or votes from credible sources.  It’s also important to allow the media to break negative information and then capitalize on it.  If you have to leak it to them, fine, but you breaking the news through your own campaign just makes it look dirty and concocted.
  • Fight for a good cause.  If your candidate’s whole strategy depends on smearing the opponent, run as fast as you can.  Any candidate for office should be able to stand on his own merits and be confident that he can win without the use of any negative campaigning whatsoever.  There is nothing more demoralizing than spending 6 months on a campaign trail talking about how awful, awful, awful your opponent is.  Choose to work for virtuous candidates that you can spend 6 months praising on the campaign trail.  Win or lose, you’ll be a lot better off for it.

New Voter Turnout – The Long-Shot Candidate’s Siren Song

New voter turnout.  What is that?  A few candidates in, er, interesting districts at interesting times, might find themselves drawn to the idea that they can win a fairly difficult, seemingly impossible race, by registering tons of new voters and then expecting all of those people you just registered to vote for you exclusively.

It’s not altogether an impossible scheme.  It can be done.  But the amount of effort involved is beyond monumental.  It requires a great deal of research, data storage, use, and tracking, and most importantly, a rock solid GOTV plan and execution.

To determine if you might be able to utilize a New Voter Turnout strategy, take these steps to see if your race is cut out for a successful go of it:

  1. Analyze your district.  Are there a lot of renters there?  Renters tend to move around much more than homeowners and usually don’t re-register at the new address.  Is it a college town?  Not only are those kids renters, but they are often not registered at all.  Since they spend 9 or 10 months of the year in their college town rather than their hometown, it’s easy to convince them that their vote will have a greater impact on their lives right here, in your district.
  2. Take a look at your past election data.  How close have the races been?  If the Democrat candidate takes the cake every election with a huge lead, the chances of registering enough voters, and then turning enough of them out, and then enough of those turned out voters actually voting for you instead of the other guy, are very slim indeed.
  3. How many voters are there?  If you’re running in a really small district, like I did in this city council race, a landslide victory percentage-wise may only amount to a couple hundred votes.  If you’re running in a district with 1,000 or less total voters (not registered voters, total of the voters who actually cast a vote on Election Day), you may have a shot at pulling off a New Voter Turnout based win.
If you decide to attack a new voter strategy, you’ll probably have to devote all your effort toward the registration process and then following up with GOTV.  That leaves very little time/money/energy to trying to swing independent and leaning voters – but if you’re counting on new voters for a win then there aren’t nearly enough swing voters to worry your head about anyway.  So focus on GOTV, and be sure to go through the entire canvassing process in the beginning to also locate your staunch Republicans so you can include them in your GOTV efforts.

Running for Congress – Sizing Up The Competition Part 2 – Open Seats

Running for Congress for an Open Seat

You may think that once an incumbent has vacated a seat, it’s practically yours for the taking.  Maybe the incumbent was a Republican and you just assume another Republican will win (never, ever, assume anything).  Or perhaps you think that an opponent with zero name recognition, like yourself, will be easier to beat than an entrenched incumbent.  While there may be some truth in those sorts of assumptions, you can’t safely bet on them.  No campaign is won without diligent research, careful planning and excellent execution. So how do you ‘size up the competition’ when they too are a political newbie?  Research, research, research!  Google him.  Send a volunteer in to get a copy of all his campaign materials (if he’s already to that point).  Find out every place he’s worked, volunteered, attended church, etc.  No, you don’t want to stalk him, but research him just like you were assigned to write a five page biography about him. Then, write a five page biography about him.  Okay, well at least one page.  This will go directly into your campaign plan because you need to:

  1. Determine his strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Predict what his message will be.
  3. Determine what your weaknesses are in relation to his strengths.
After you’ve done all that, give it a rest.  Often times candidates begin to obsess about their opponents faults and inadequacies, using them as reasons voters should obviously choose them instead of the other guy.  If you do this, you’ll lose sight of what is actually going to win votes: your message.
Take the information you’ve gathered about your opponent and consider it carefully when you craft your campaign message.  After that, 95% of your campaign’s focus should be on what you are doing and what you are saying.
While it makes great TV for political candidates to be at each others’ throats in the media and on the campaign trail, in your typical campaign for office it doesn’t really happen much.  There will be more media coverage in a Congressional campaign, yes, but assuming neither candidate really has any skeletons in the closet and both campaigns focus on the issues they think are important, there probably won’t be much real drama.
The key to winning will come down to planning, planning, planning.  This is why your written campaign plan is absolutely the most important part of running for Congress.

So how do you approach a campaign against a long-entrenched incumbent?

  1.  Always respect the office and the incumbent’s years of service.  It’s a bitch job.
  2. Focus on the incumbent’s record and emphasize how different his positions are from the district’s concerns.
  3. Don’t bring up personal issues like tax evasion or scandals that are already known – it makes you sound whiny and insubstantial.  And the media will rehash that for you.
  4. Focus on compare/contrast language – this is the least offensive and most legitimate negative campaigning.
  5. Talk about yourself.  Beating the drum that the incumbent is no longer a viable choice doesn’t prove that you are.
  6. A clear, concise and resonant message is even more important when challenging an incumbent.
  7. Practice, practice, practice debating – incumbents have had years of experience not only on the campaign trail but in the everyday job of Congressman as well.
  8. Study, study, study your opponents’ record and everything significant that has happened since he took office.  I’m talking about every single vote.  You won’t be able to outshine the incumbent, but you can use what you know to keep up, and re-route him occasionally.
  9. Admit you don’t know everything.  Admit you don’t know much at all.  Then call your opponent a ‘Washington insider’ or ‘career politician.’
  10. Be younger.  Okay this is hard to fake, but a middle-aged candidate with a youngish family just looks more robust and capable than an old geezer whose kids have been grown for years.  In reality there’s no substance in this but it doesn’t matter because perception is reality.

How to Run for Congress – Sizing Up The Competition Part 1 – Incumbents

sizing up the opponent, how to run for congress

One of the most important factors to consider when pondering a run for Congress is your opponent.  Now there are typically only two scenarios that a first time candidate is facing here:

  1. You are a challenger candidate taking on an incumbent.
  2. The incumbent is retiring and you are the GOP candidate, facing an also new DEM candidate.
How you approach these two scenarios are quite different, so I’m going to address them separately, in most cases.  Today we’ll address challenging an incumbent.  We’ll pick up double-challengers tomorrow.  Or later today (we’ll see).

Running for Congress against an incumbent

This is like the ‘climbing Mt. Everest’ of politics, people.  When you say “hey, I think I’m gonna run against (insert 10 year+ incumbent here),” you’ll probably get a helluva lot more laughs than ‘atta boys.  But it’s not entirely impossible.  There are several reasons why some incumbents keep winning, but if the time and situation is just right, there are ways a challenger candidate can take on or take over even in a less than favorable district.  Below is a list of signs that your Congressman may be vulnerable to a strong challenge campaign.

  • Scandal!  Many incumbents can survive the occasional tax evasion or mistress mishap, but it definitely leaves a chink in their armor.
  • The Congressional district has changed.  Some incumbents start their careers in strong Democrat footholds that, over time through census district changes or simple attrition, evolve into more competitive areas.  Sometimes this effect is so gradual, it’s barely noticeable.  A thorough study of the past several years’ worth of voting data will give you more insight to your own district’s changing make up.
  • The mood of the district/country.  Like in 2006 when Americans were tired of ‘staying the course’ militarily and elected a slew of disastrous Democrats, the pendulum of the nation’s public mood is now making a swing in the opposite direction.  Now is your chance to hop on and swing your way to victory.  These massive overhauls generally only last a  couple of election cycles so 2012 may be the only time for a while you’ll have this opportunity.
  • The incumbent has changed.  The man who sits in office today is not the same man your district elected 10, 20 or 30 years ago.  He’s become more partisan and less participatory in local politics.  You can take advantage of this ‘distance’ from the district.
  • Times have changed.  Maybe the incumbent hasn’t changed much, but the district has.  Is there a new demographic flooding the area that changes the political landscape?  Are issues completely different than they were a million years ago when the incumbent was first elected?  Do research into archives of local newspapers around election times in the past to see if there are some changes you can latch onto as showing a ‘need for real change’ in the district.

So how do you approach a campaign against a long-entrenched incumbent?

  1.  Always respect the office and the incumbent’s years of service.  It’s a bitch job.
  2. Focus on the incumbent’s record and emphasize how different his positions are from the district’s concerns.
  3. Don’t bring up personal issues like tax evasion or scandals that are already known – it makes you sound whiny and insubstantial.  And the media will rehash that for you.
  4. Focus on compare/contrast language – this is the least offensive and most legitimate negative campaigning.
  5. Talk about yourself.  Beating the drum that the incumbent is no longer a viable choice doesn’t prove that you are.
  6. A clear, concise and resonant message is even more important when challenging an incumbent.
  7. Practice, practice, practice debating – incumbents have had years of experience not only on the campaign trail but in the everyday job of Congressman as well.
  8. Study, study, study your opponents’ record and everything significant that has happened since he took office.  I’m talking about every single vote.  You won’t be able to outshine the incumbent, but you can use what you know to keep up, and re-route him occasionally.
  9. Admit you don’t know everything.  Admit you don’t know much at all.  Then call your opponent a ‘Washington insider’ or ‘career politician.’
  10. Be younger.  Okay this is hard to fake, but a middle-aged candidate with a youngish family just looks more robust and capable than an old geezer whose kids have been grown for years.  In reality there’s no substance in this but it doesn’t matter because perception is reality.