Hat in the Ring, Not on Your Head!

Political candidates should not wear hats.

Apparently, this is a thing.  I’m amazed I made it this long without discovering this hard and fast campaigning rule.  But really, it’s probably rarely an issue in local campaigns.  How often do local elected officials or candidates get asked to wear hats, really?

At the higher echelons, however, this is a rule you’ll need to be aware of. To prove the point, politico.com has provided a brief history of this rule:

And–this is the best part–a little tidbit from the Nixon Campaign Plan Book:

“The 37th President of the United States of America NEVER WEARS HATS…no honorary hats…no protocol hats…no “great photo” hats…no “the law requires” hats…no “it’s the custom” hats…no cute hats…no beanies…no stovepipes…no firehats…no captains hats…no caps…no Indian headdress…no feather hats…no hard hats…no soft hats…no ladies hats…no mens hats…no fur hats…no paper hats…no grass hats…no thorn hats…no “Nixon’s The One” hats…no nothing.  HATS ARE TOXIC–AND CAN KILL YOU.”

Even if you’re the President of the United States, standing in the middle of Ground Zero among hundred of other people wearing protective hats…

no hat bush


I can understand how a presidential candidate could easily be made to look foolish by wearing inappropriate headgear.  Now, the chances of a hat bringing an equally devastating effect upon a town or county campaign are probably slim, but…why risk it?  Besides, City Councilmen become Mayors, State Representatives become Congressional candidates…do you really want a picture of you in a dorky hat surfacing during an election for higher office down the road?

Leave the hats at home!

Try a lapel pin instead.  Those never go out of style, am I right???

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The 3-Word Campaign Slogan Strategy

jackson 5 campaign slogan strategy

"Easy as 1-2-3." Get it?

The 3-Word Campaign Slogan is like the campaign manager’s Staples ‘Easy Button.’  It’s short.  It’s to the point. It gets the job done.    If you’re running a political campaign, it’s just the silver bullet you need.  So how do you pick the right three words?

Well, if you’re following the GOP Campaigner Planbook, you know that you need three main themes, or ‘points,’  to focus your campaign in a manner that aligns well with both your candidate’s values and the communities wants/needs.  You can also check out my post on campaign messaging.  This is accomplished by:

  1. Determining and prioritizing what’s important to the voters in your district.
  2. Prioritizing what’s important to your candidate/campaign.
  3. Finding the overlap on the above two lists.

Now you want to find the top three items on the list that match.  Keep in mind, your campaign doesn’t have to be about your candidate’s number 1 pet issue.  Likewise, choosing a second or third priority issue as your campaign’s focus doesn’t mean you value your first priority any less.  All this process does is line up your candidate’s priorities with those of the district voters.

Why do we have to go through this rigamaroo?  Well, you’re not going to win with an unpopular, boring or irrelevant issue, no matter how much the candidate pounds his drum.  Likewise, trying to get a candidate to champion an idea that he doesn’t truly believe in will come off fake and forced, not to mention he won’t be as capable at thinking on his feet about the issue – and that turns voters off.

So back to the 3-word campaign slogan.  Let’s use an example.  Say you’ve chosen these top three issues:

  1. Small businesses have been closing left and right. You want to incentivize entrepreneurship (we’ll call in a ‘incentive program,’ because voters like that sort of thing.  But we’re Republicans, so those ‘incentives’ will probably be a series of tax cuts and credits that roll back previous administrations’ tax hikes).
  2. The city parks aren’t well cared for, are run down, and thus attract a ‘bad element.’
  3. The public schools are filled over capacity.  Teachers are overburdened and under-equipped.

There are a couple of ways you can go – literal or conceptual.

The literal method works really well for executive offices like mayors and town managers, while the conceptual method works well for offices like councils and state representatives.  I think voters are more impressed with the literal method because it’s very honest and straightforward (which is the opposite of what they expect from a politician), but it doesn’t really matter which way you go, so long as you are reflecting those 3 key points you’ve chosen.  Rather than explain what each is, here’s an example that illustrates it:

  • Literal – Small business, Parks, Schools
  • Conceptual – Prosperity, Recreation, Education

Get it?  With the first, you’re putting a stake in the ground and saying ‘this is exactly what I plan to do.’  With the second, you elude to those things (which will be repeatedly expounded upon in your PR, advertising and public speaking) and you gain an added versatility with conceptual words that allows you to draw on others’ ideas and helps the voter accept the message with their own spin on those values.

The 3-Word Slogan is optional.  There are many other things you can do.  However, if you’re stuck for ideas, you’re trying to cram too much into one sentence, or you need to get the job done fast, the 3-Word Campaign Slogan Strategy is guaranteed to solve the problem.

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Winning Your Primary

This is a guest post from Sound Messaging, Inc., which has developed a platform for the easy delivery of personalized voice messages to prospective voters through social media, phone calls, and email. To learn more about Sound Messaging, Inc. and its services visit: http://www.soundmessaging.com.

For most first time candidates, primary elections represent the first real obstacle they must overcome on their path to office. Failure to prepare and strategize accordingly can result in defeat before your campaign gets off the ground. To help you get started and stay on track we have outlined three of the most fundamental concepts to follow.

Know The Magic Number

Once you have decided to run for office (or even before) you are going to need to get an immediate handle on the number of votes you will need to carry the primary and general election. This number is not just a goal but the entire basis for your planning and projections. To calculate this number you will need to do some research on recent elections. You will also want to understand voter turnout in different areas of the district and what tendencies a particular precinct might have. Voter participation in primary elections is significantly lower, and the amount of votes you need can be surprisingly attainable.

Make A Plan And Identify Your Target

With your needed vote number in mind you can begin the process of developing a campaign strategy. One of the most successful approaches involves a strategy called micro-targeting. Micro-targeting involves concentrating resources and effort on narrow voting segments to make a major impact. Identify precincts with high primary participation and analyze which groups would be most likely to vote your way. Concentrate all your resources on these groups during the primary season to secure the votes you need.

Another area you will need to especially focus on in a primary is GOTV (get out the vote). Votes in a primary tend to have a higher “weight” because of lower participation rates. Being able to mobilize your supporters more effectively than an opponent can give you the necessary swing needed to win. Many creative solutions exist to increase the participation rates of your supporters. One of the most effective includes delivering personalized audio messages in your own voice through telephone.

Build A Foundation

Winning your primary is going to require much of the same infrastructure as the general election, you just have less time to build it. This means you are going to need to fundraise, recruit volunteers, attend community events, study key issues, get your message in front of voters, and much more in a very short period of time. You need to start immediately and work very hard. Try and set goals in each area: “I want to raise x amount of dollars this month”, “I need to have this many volunteers for this particular event”. Rate your progress frequently and make adjustments accordingly. Most of all don’t procrastinate. You have a limited amount of time to make an impression on prospective voters, don’t waste it!

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Paid Communications

political campaign budgeting for paid communications

We’ve finally gotten to a point in our campaign budgeting series where I’ll actually let you spend some money!  Paid communications includes all the flyers, brochures, stickers, buttons, notepads, fridge magnets, radio and TV ads, yard signs, a web presence, billboards, etc. – you name it.  Anything you could call ‘advertising’ is what you put under the ‘Paid Communications’ section of your campaign budget.  And while there are steals and deals you can find, this is one category where you really have to put your money where your message is.

Planning your communications strategy is a huge task in itself, and that process needs to be at least outlined before you can really start assigning dollar figures – this is where getting the full dish in the Campaign Planbook is handy – but once you’ve done that, you can sit down and start budgeting.

You’ll need to start with what you believe will be the absolute most effective communications method, list out all the things you plan to do in that particular medium, and research the cost of each.  Be reasonable and use average costs for your budget – if you can get it cheaper when it’s actually time to buy, well that’s a WIN of course – but for the purposes of the budget stick to realistic, average numbers.  After you’ve completely covered everything in that medium, move on to the next.  Continue this process until you’ve got a grand total for all the paid communications you think you’ll need to do to win.

When you’re first putting together your budget, you need to be a little greedy in Paid Communications.  It’s an important piece of the puzzle, and since you’re setting fundraising goals based on your campaign budget, your budget  needs to be well-rounded and contain everything that you believe will help you win in your particular district for your particular election.  Some day, you’ll need to rationalize the budgeted needs/wants with what your fundraising efforts have brought in.  Today is not that day.  Don’t worry if the bottom line is a bigger number than you expected, or smaller, for that matter.  Just go with it and move on to the next section.

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5 Quick Tips on How to Throw An Awesome Campaign Event

  1. Book a space (hopefully for free!) that is smaller than you think you need.  Remember those middle school dances with dozens of kids huddled by the walls in a vast gymnasium?  Looks lame, right?  Pick a space that will look packed – it will make you look popular.  BONUS:  Find a space that has one of those flimsy walls you can open up to adjust the room size if needed.
  2. Beg, borrow and steal (well, don’t really steal) food for your event.  Restaurants and catering services will often donate food (not the in-kind donation on your campaign finance report!)  Or you can find some great cooks among your supporter base who are willing to cook up food for your event out of the goodness of their hearts.
  3. Always have decorations – decorations really set a happy/fun mood for any type of campaign event.  As a person who does this stuff for a living I stock up on tons of red, white & blue patriotic themed decorations when they’re on clearance the day after Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  Don’t forget celebratory streamers and noisemakers after New Year’s – for your victory party!
  4. Always address the crowd.  Make sure to:
    • Say a genuine thank you for attending/supporting/volunteering/donating
    • Outline the campaign’s goals briefly – a fire-up-the-troops type of spiel
    • Give a call-to-action – ask them to do something to move the campaign forward directly after the event.  Be specific.
  5. And MOST IMPORTANT:  Always have a PURPOSE for your event.  Don’t schedule a press conference and figure out what you’re ‘announcing’ later.  Have REAL news to announce; don’t waste the media’s time or else you’ll become the candidate that cried ‘press conference.’  The same goes for fundraisers and volunteer events – themed events or raising money for a specific purpose/cost is better than a general fundraiser for general campaign spending.  Never have a volunteer event that doesn’t have a piece of real campaign work assigned to it (otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time).

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Politics And Parenting – Are They Mutually Exclusive?

I recently read this Washington Post article about Rick Santorum and his daughter Bella that compares his parenting situation to Sarah Palin’s and analyzes the media reaction to both.  It’s a good read, especially for a parent of young or handicapped children, and it certainly gives a candidate pause when thinking about his own campaign.

One of the most important factors to consider when deciding to run for office is the effect it will have on your family.  Your children will see a lot less of you (especially hard for daddy’s girls and mama’s boys) and your spouse will have to pick up a lot of slack, and you may have to lean on extended family to help fill the gap as well.  And as the above mentioned article points out, dealing with family issues while standing in the media limelight can be a tricky game to play for both mothers and fathers.

So how do you decide if running for office is right for your family?

  1. First and foremost, talk to them.  Even your smallest children should be in on the discussion.  Explain to them what running office will mean to them and why you want to run.
  2. Make them a part of the campaign.  Presidential candidates may be walking a tightrope with this one, but you don’t have to.  By all means have your kids with you when you go door-to-door or to public events.  Chances are they’ll love the activity and the attention, and real voters (not journalists and political commentators) will identify with you as being down-to-earth and real.  Bringing your family along says ‘hey, I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to want the best for my kids – I want the best for yours, too.’
  3. Set up a support network, both within the campaign and within your family.  There are going to be sick days, dance recitals, and other special circumstances.  There are also going to be evening debates, candidate meet & greets and Lincoln Day dinners.  Enlist your children’s godparent to be that special someone in your stead for a few family things, and tap your campaign staff and supporters to speak on your behalf at the Republican Women’s Club Luncheon.  Be sure to talk to these people well in advance of the campaign and make certain they know how important they are in your support system.
  4. Be completely honest with your constituents.  If you can’t someplace for family reasons, say so.  Voters will understand.  They really will.
  5. Build in some spa time for your spouse periodically to relieve the extra stress you’re putting on them.  Since my husband’s much more likely than I am to be a candidate again I thought I’d throw that one in.  But it’s a good idea, right?

Warning:  Tangential Rant Below

The Rick Santorum article mentions this Post article by Sally Quinn, who writes the thinly veiled left-leaning “On Faith” blog, where posed this somewhat naive question shortly after Sarah Palin was chosen as McCain’s running mate, “When the phone rings at three in the morning and one of her children is really sick what choice will she make?”

I hate idiot rhetorical ultimatum questions like this.  It makes me want to answer them.

When your kid is sick and the phone rings at 3 a.m. with Putin or Cameron on the other line, you do the same thing you would if you crashed at midnight after a 20 hour workday and your kid wakes up with a nightmare:  You get your butt out of bed and deal with the monsters.  

Or at least Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum would.  I doubt I can say the same for Sally Everything-Is-Black-And-White Quinn.

Back to Parenting and Politics

Despite what the television wants you to think, campaigning and parenting are actually quite symbiotic.  You’re showing your children how to lead by example.  You’re teaching them core principles by living them, voicing them, and hopefully protecting them with your vote in office.  You’re teaching them the importance of serving, giving back, and supporting your community and the democratic process.  Your children will potentially gain loads more from the experience of tagging along on the campaign trail than they could ever lose.

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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?


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.


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.


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!



















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How The Internet Has Changed Politics

internet campaign politics

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The Internet has drastically changed the tactics and strategies many campaigns use to communicate to their constituencies.  But it hasn’t really changed politics.  If anything, it has simply amplified politics, making it a more commonplace part of the average American’s daily life.  The changes that have occurred, however, have made it much easier for Mr. Smith to get to Washington, and much more likely to get prematurely kicked out, as well.

The Dawn of Retail PR in Politics

Thanks to campaign websites, email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, smartphones, and a host of other web 2.0 creations, political communications folks have amassed a wide variety of online tools to bring their campaign message directly to the voters.

Gone are the days that you have to wine and dine reporters in order to get favorable coverage, crossing your fingers that they don’t mangle your press releases.  Gone, too, are the days of brazenly having DC mistresses while your wife maintains your seemingly perfect family life back in Smalltown, USA, or of making excuses and accusations like “That was clearly taken out of context,” or, “I was misquoted,” because chances are the event or speech in question will be posted to YouTube moments after it happens. The Internet has given politicians the raw power to make or break their own reputations.

Everything in Real Time

The Internet has exponentially sped up the process of getting messages from sender to receiver, and back again.  In the blink of an eye, the whole world can – and will – find out about how you goofed up an important speech, dropped the F-bomb at a somber ceremony, or dialed 900 numbers from your cell phone.  Additionally, a candidate or politician that wants to have real communication with their constituents can do so much easier, faster and cheaper than ever before through social media, live chats, email and blogs.

Journalism Is Weakened

Since the dawn of our nation (and before) journalism has been the leading shaper of public opinion.  But thanks to the internet, journalism as we know it is fundamentally changed.  As evidenced by websites like the Drudge Report, Conservative Blogs Central and many more, it’s no longer necessary to get a degree in English and work for a paper and ink newspaper to have a dramatic impact on public opinion.  Average American citizens everywhere have the opportunity to at least make their voices heard by writing blogs, commenting on major news outlets’ online articles, microblogging through Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and even connecting with each other in person via Meetup.

Politics Is Still Politics

Despite all of the changes we’ve seen since the dawn of the Internet age, politics is still the same.  It’s about people.  And not just any people, your people.  The people that you represent, a.k.a. your constituency.  And it’s about maintaining an open dialog, being true to yourself and true to the needs and wants of your district.  While there are many new ways to facilitate open communication, the core meaning of politics will never change.


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Best and Worst Campaign Materials To Buy

campaign materials

I have a love/hate relationship with campaign collateral.  Pens, pencils, notepads, mousepads, brochures, palm cards, stickers, nail files, magnets, buttons…the list goes on and on.  I really hate it when there are boxes full of this crap still sitting in a campaign office after Election Day.  On the other hand, I realize that these little leave-behinds are great ways to leave your name and campaign logo hanging around a voter’s house indefinitely.  The big question remains – what campaign materials should you buy?

I personally try to skimp as much as possible here, but there are a few things you should make sure you have enough money for.

Campaign T-Shirts – Campaign T-Shirts are a must for a campaign of any significance at all.  Even the smallest city council campaign should have at least 50.  Volunteers are motivated and feel like a part of the ‘team’ when they have them, and they also serve as walking billboards for you when they’re out and about.

Best Campaign Materials Ever

Notepads – Notepads with the date of Election Day and your name and campaign logo are a good leave-behind while going door to door early in the campaign.  They rarely get thrown away because everyone needs a little scrap paper now and then, so ‘Vote for Kevin Jackson on November 4th’ sits next to the house telephone all day every day leading up to Election Day.  It’s fantastic for embedding your name into the voter’s mind.

Parade bags – I love, love, love parade bags.  Parade bags are just plastic bags with your campaign logo printed on each side.  I call them parade bags because every summer I use about 4 volunteers per parade to go up and down the parade route distributing these bags to the children in the crowds so that they can collect candy in them.  Parades are grateful for the useful gift, and you can (and should) pre-stuff them with campaign literature for adults to read once the candy has been eaten.  When the parade starts, your candidate will be elated to see his name literally everywhere.  I recall one parade in particular where (I heard) our opponent was positively livid that she was throwing candy and all these children were putting it in our candidate’s parade bags!  Chances are you’ll be the only candidate to do this, since it’s a bigger expense than most want to spend, but it is well worth it to have a well-stocked supply of parade bags if you anticipate being in several over the summer.

Yard Signs – Yard signs are simply a must have in about 90% of American electoral districts.  A strong yard sign presence gives voters driving by the impression that you’re the favored candidate.  The only situation in which yard signs aren’t really useful is if you’re whole district is inner city and doesn’t touch any suburban/rural regions.

Round Lapel Stickers – Lapel stickers are easier and way cheaper than buttons and can be used at pretty much every campaigning opportunity.  Besides sticking them on every person that walks by at a county GOP fundraiser or 4-H fair, they can be used on plain stuff to make them campaign stuff.  For example, instead of having special folders printed up with your campaign logo on them for your press kits, buy a set of one-color folders at the office supply store and slap a well-placed lapel sticker on them.  I specifically mention the round lapel stickers because square or rectangular ones will peel up at the corners when worn on clothing.

Bumper Stickers – Do I need to explain why bumper stickers are useful?  When you have a lot of bumper sticker support your name is seen all around town.  Additionally, Republicans tend to only sport one or two bumper stickers, maximum, so your name is not on one of those cars that looks like it’s only being held together by the bumper stickers (back in my college days, however, the rear of my beloved ’85 Buick Century literally was being held together by bumper stickers).

Door Hangers – I particularly like door hanger bags.  These are bags that are long and skinny to fit your palm car and other campaign materials.  I prefer the opaque printed kind, that way you don’t have to worry about what order you put your materials into the bag, and if you decide at the last minute to add something, you can hurriedly make a zillion copies and throw them all in.

Magnets – Specifically the kind that go on the fridge, these magnets tend to stick around ’til Election Day and beyond.

Balloons – Balloons are useful for fairs, parades, and other summery community events, they can spice up the decor of a campaign event and be used to mark polling locations (within a certain number of feet).  The downside is that they require a helium tank and a lot of work tying strings on the ends, but balloons are an easy sell in areas where children are all over.

Palm Cards – I prefer palm cards to full three-fold brochures.  They’re more likely to be completely read and they are sturdier and therefore travel better and last longer.  Plus they’re cheaper.

Worst Campaign Materials Ever

Pens – You can’t afford the nice ones and the cheap ones always suck and get thrown out.  I hate them.  If you must give writing utensils, a pencil goes well with your notepads.

Frisbees – I don’t know who came up with this idea.  Frisbees are just a dumb campaign material to buy.  Don’t waste your dough.

Buttons – In my opinion, campaign buttons are too expensive and not terribly useful.  There will be a handful of older women that want one and will wear it everywhere.  If this is the case, buy 50 and leave it at that.  Regular voters have no use for them.

Fans – I guess these are okay for summer events, but I think they’re really stupid and don’t last long.

Nail files (emory boards) – Okay, so maybe my mom still has one of these from some local campaign in the 80s, but this kind of longitude is probably rare.  Nail files are kinda hokey and really only useful to women.

Hats – I have known a total of 1 volunteer who wore a campaign logo emblazoned baseball cap 24/7, which he had made for himself.  As a campaign item, it’s way too expensive to buy several.  People don’t really wear hats that much any more, either.

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