Carol Way – Doing GOTV Right

It’s Friday before Election Day and I get a text from my husband at 6:30am – “Hey, guess who’s at the train station!”  Followed by this pic:

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It’s my hubby Matt with Connecticut State Representative candidate Carol Way, whose clever and memorable yard signs I simply LOVE.

The day before (5 days before E-Day), we got a nice mail piece from the Way campaign – I saved it to remind myself to contact them about getting a yard sign of my very own.  I finally remembered around 11pm, and shot off an email via the campaign website asking them to get me a sign.

By 11 am the very next day – *boom* – a volunteer had plunked a yard sign in our yard, and it’s a good thing, too, because despite covering the city pretty well, it’s the only one in our neighborhood.

I just moved to this area a few months ago, and therefore have zero name recognition with any of the candidates starting out in this election cycle.  A blank slate!

So let’s run this GOTV effort down:
First contact – Excellent yard sign distribution effort, most likely driven by a great group of dedicated volunteers
Second contact – One well-timed mailer, 5 days before the election – I’m curious to see if another hits on Monday
Third contact – Met candidate in person at the train station, the perfect hub for greeting large numbers of voters in a short amount of time.

So far the Way campaign is doing fantastic!  Let’s hope for her sake it continues.

Now let’s compare this to her opponent, Cristin McCarthy Vahey.  This campaign has clearly sunk a lot of money into mail drops, because I’ve gotten at least five separate mailers from them.

There’s nothing wrong with a focused mail effort.  However, there’s something very wrong with a mail effort that starts dropping pieces months in advance of the election, and then sends nothing in the weeks and days leading up to the election!  At least not yet; we’ll see what happens Monday!

I will give the Vahey campaign credit for putting together a decent door-to-door effort over the summer.  But her yard sign coverage is anemic at best.  Compound that with a longer and less memorable name and you get low name recognition numbers.

I do, however, recognize her tag line: Community. Service. Integrity.

It’s memorable because she’s using my 3-Word Campaign Slogan Strategy!  Kudos, Vahey communications team.  Clearly the Fairfield Dems are reading GOP Campaigner.

And finally I have to give a special mention to State Representative candidate Tony Hwang, whose campaign came up with the positively brilliant idea to advertise here:

Tony Hwang for State Representative

You know that restaurant in town that serves breakfast 24-7 and is positively packed on Sundays?  Every town has one, right?  That picture is of the placemat at ours.  Depending on how many franchises they did this in, I’d wager thousands of voters spent a lot of time with Hwang’s full-color campaign message right next to their orange juices and coffees.  Genius!  Definitely worth the money on the weekend before Election Day.  The Hwang campaign also has a solid yard sign presence.

Earlier this year, an editorial opined that Fairfield County would be make-or-break for the 2014 Connecticut Gubernatorial election.  If the local candidates’ ground game is any indication, I’d say Fairfield GOP has their act together and will likely pull through for repeat candidate Tom Foley.  Those factors coupled with the Independent candidate dropping out and endorsing Foley add up to very good news for CT Republicans.

I’m excited to watch the results come in Tuesday and see which strategies win out!

What’s the take-away for you future candidates out there?

Be where the voters are!
(and not just where they expect to see you)

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The Nurse’s Song

My clever daughter discovered this gem of a poem in her stack of library books and shared it with me, and now I’m sharing it with all of you. Enjoy this Roald Dahl classic!

political humor

The Nurse’s Song
by Roald Dahl

This mighty man of whom I sing,
The greatest of them all,
Was once a teeny little thing,
Just eighteen inches tall.

I knew him as a tiny tot,
I nursed him on my knee.
I used to sit him on the pot
And wait for him to wee.

I always washed between his toes,
And cut his little nails.
I brushed his hair and wiped his nose
And weighed him on the scales.

Through happy childhood days he strayed,
As all nice children should.
I smacked him when he disobeyed,
And stopped when he was good.

It soon began to dawn on me
He wasn’t very bright,
Because when he was twenty-three
He couldn’t read or write.

“What shall we do?” his parents sob.
“The boy has got the vapors!
He couldn’t even get a job
Delivering the papers!”

“Ah-ha,” I said, “this little clot
Could be a politician.”
“Nanny,” he cried, “Oh Nanny, what
A super proposition!”

“Okay,” I said, “let’s learn and note
The art of politics.
Let’s teach you how to miss the boat
And how to drop some bricks,
And how to win the people’s vote
And lots of other tricks.

Let’s learn to make a speech a day
Upon the T.V. screen,
In which you never never say
Exactly what you mean.
And most important, by the way,
In not to let your teeth decay,
And keep your fingers clean.”

And now that I am eighty nine,
It’s too late to repent.
The fault was mine the little swine
Became the President.

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How to Run for City Council – Finding the Magic Number

Election Results determining campaign strategy

If you’re super lucky, you’re running for city council in a district that has embraced technology and has all the election data for the past several election cycles, broken down by precinct and in Excel format, available online, ready for easy download.  If you’re not lucky at all, you’ll have to make another trip to the voter registration/elections office, sift through paper records, and pay ten cents a page to copy the data you need, and then enter that data into a spreadsheet so you can sort and filter that information.  Most likely you’ll find some results online that you can start with, but you’ll need to run copies of the precinct by precinct results.

Believe it or not, I prefer the old fashioned method of putting together an election data base by hand–it forces you to get up close and personal with each and every number on the page.  By the end of the process, there should be no doubt in your mind how many votes you need to win and where those votes should come from.

Determining Your Win Number

“Win number” or “target number” are terms used to indicate the number of votes you’ll need to win the election.  The equation for this is the total number of expected votes (T) divided by 2, plus 1.  Sounds super simple, right?  And it is.  Sort of.  The hard part – and it really doesn’t have to be that hard – is guesstimating what T is.  Here are some rules for figuring it out.

First, ignore the total number of registered voters.  Many voters on the books are dead or have moved and simply haven’t been scrubbed off the list (these things take a while).  And only a fraction of the voters that are legitimate actually vote consistently.  To determine the total number of reliable voters for a given district, simply look at how many people have voted in the past in your district over the past 10 years or so.

You’ll likely notice a trend that in election years that include a presidential election, there is a significantly higher number of voters.  In years where perhaps municipal elected offices are the only races on the ballot, voter turn out will be at its lowest.  Where does it fall for your current election?  If it’s a presidential election year, you’ll have a lot more voters to get than if it’s not.

Let’s say that your city council seat is elected every 4 years in an off-election year–it’s an odd year (2015) in which there are no national elections at play–and so the number of voters are typically low.  In 2011, 1,032 people voted on your election.  In 2007, 1,115 people.  And in 2003, there were 997 voters.  That’s an average of 1,048 voters.  Since we want to pick a Target Number that’s conservatively on the safe side, and since there are no glaringly obviously outlying numbers here, I recommend using 2007’s 1,115 number as your “T” or Total Number of Voters for the purposes of determining your Win Number.  You may even want to round up to 1,200, so you don’t have to break out a calculator.  Half of 1,200 is 600, add 1 and your Win Number is 601.

BOOM!  It’s that easy.

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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.

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How to Run for City Council – Know Your District

City Council District Map

Guess what!  It’s time for a geography lesson!

Clearly, you need to know where your district actually is if you are going to run and win a political campaign there (duh).  But district boundaries can be tricky!  Often, you’ll find that the streets at the perimeter of your district may be split – perhaps the east side of the street is in your district, but the west belongs to a different one.  You certainly don’t want to waste precious door-to-door time talking to people who can’t vote for you (although if they’ll stick your campaign sign in their yard, it’s not a total loss).

Your first order of business, if you didn’t pick it up on your initial filing trip, is to stop by the voter registration office and request copies of a map of your district.  Some counties actually have them online now.  Hopefully the maps are of a good enough quality that you can take them to Kinko’s or Staples and get a good blown up copy to hang on the wall.  You’ll want to have several copies on hand to mark up and use with volunteers as well.

For a city council race, you’ll have one to ten precincts within your district; most will have about five.  I recommend you grab some highlighters of various colors and choose one to outline your whole district, then pick a different color and outline each precinct.  Or if you want to get super fancy, borrow your daughter’s glitter markers and color code each precinct.

If you can’t make up your precinct maps from the district map available at voter registration, you can make up your own at the American Fact Finder website.  It takes a little time of playing around to get the hang of it, but once you’ve got it figured out, this website has a wealth of information beyond precinct boundaries.

After you’ve made up your maps, you’ll want to do some research using the census data available on American Fact Finder.  You should be able to get a pretty good idea where in your district seniors live, what areas have kids at home, you can break your district out by race, household income, education level, etc.  This information is invaluable, because these factors influence the issues that will most likely resonate with your voters.  For example, young families will care a lot about the local schools, seniors might care about a proposed community center, etc.

Once you have your maps in order and have studied them well enough to have a solid lay of the land, you’re ready to move on to the second (and even more complicated) piece of the data mining process: deciphering past election results.  We’ll get to that next.

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It’s April – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Right Now

Guess what?  You get the month of April off!  No campaigning for you this month.  Take a spring break.  Go for a vacation.

…April fools!  No, no, my friend, April is just the time to get fired up and serious!

april-fools-day-obama-political-campaigning

  • Fundraising!  If you haven’t started in earnest, now is the time.  You need to put that Rolodex to work!  You know, if you still actually own one of those things, but you get my drift.
  • It’s tax time!  Sometimes candidates campaigning (especially for Congress or state level positions) will take the opportunity to send a strong tax message on or around April 15th.  Make a fundraising or public relations event out of it!  I knew one candidate that passed out flyers with his fiscally conservative campaign message close to the local post office (where everyone would be bringing their forms to mail in).  He was sure to check local/state/federal regulations on how close he could actually be to the post office, as partisan activity is prohibited within a certain distance.
  • Data.  If you haven’t started planning your grassroots strategy, put pencil to paper and figure it out.  Go to the courthouse or voter registration office and get past election results and voter files, and start planning where you plan to focus your voter outreach efforts.  I will have a very detailed post on how to do this soon in my Running for City Council series.
  • Door-to-door.  If you haven’t had a chance to begin honing your one-on-one communication skills as a candidate, spring weather is perfect for strolling around a precinct and knocking on doors to talk to voters.  Get your walking lists together for the first few precincts on your priority list and start talking.  Face-to-face, one-on-one communication with voters is absolutely priceless.
  • Get some goodies!  When you’re going door-to-door, you will definitely need something awesome to leave behind so that your voters will remember your name and how absolutely enlightening it was to speak with you (hopefully).  Name recognition will be everything come Election Day, so slap your name loud and proud on some campaign materials and be like a post-ghost Scrooge with them – generously give them away!
    I hate it when campaign managers – knowing the cost of each notepad, t-shirt or bumper sticker – try to be stingy with them, only wanting to give them to people who’ll display the items religiously, wearing their campaign-themed apparel every waking hour.  This is counter-productive!  If people want your stuff, give it to them!  Be generous and they will use and display your campaign materials appropriately.  This is a key factor in increasing the reach and saturation of your name and message.
    Need some ideas on what to buy?  Here’s a list of my favorite (and least favorite) campaign materials – but keep in mind what works for your community, too.  Maybe those canvas reusable bags are a good buy in your neck of the woods – by all means, get some made with your name, campaign logo and tagline emblazoned on it.  I’ve outlined some tried-and-true winners, so pick a few of those must-haves and pass them out (or leave them on door handles if the voter’s not home) when you’re making your door-to-door rounds.

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How to Run for City Council – Show Me The Money! Fundraising Money, That Is.

how to run for city council political campaign fundraising

Alright, enough him-hawing over the campaign plan.  Let’s see some action!  We’ll start with fundraising, because it’s really never too early to fundraise for a political campaign.

For a city council race, it’s terribly unlikely you’ll need all that much money.  Why would you?  In an average city, your district is still likely to be small enough that you can drive around the whole thing in ten minutes or so.  Are you going to buy a television ad that reaches the entire tri-county region just for that small, targeted audience?  No.  There are enough political ads cluttering up commercial breaks during campaign season.  Don’t be the jerk I can’t even vote against!

Chances are you’ll be spending your money where it has the most bang for your buck – attending events, campaign literature, and materials to support your grassroots efforts (but we’ll get to budgeting later).

How Much Money Do I Need to Fundraise?

A good place to start when determining your fundraising goal is to take a look at the campaign finance reports of previous city council candidates in your district from prior elections – including your opponent’s, if he’s an incumbent – and shoot for a figure in the same range.  You can also take a look at how they spent the money and get inspiration to either replicate or do something different.

I can tell you right now, however, that unless you’re in an unusually large city, you are likely looking to raise $5,000 – $10,000, ball park.  There’s a really good chance $1,000-$3,000 will actually cover it.

How Political Candidates Raise Money

The Fundraising Letter

You are going to start your fundraising campaign the same way everyone else does – a fundraising letter.  I call this the “Friends and Family Letter” because in most campaigns, those are the people you’ll reach out to first.  If you were running for a state or federal election, you would branch out to PACs and other political organizations, and local and statewide individuals and businesses that support your agenda.  But for the purposes of running for city council, you won’t need that kind of money, and those types of donors aren’t paying attention to municipal races anyway.

So who do you send your Friends and Family Letter to?  This is where you and your campaign teammates pull out your rolodexes (just kidding!  I mean open your smartphone’s address book) and begin putting together a contact spreadsheet.  You’re probably not going to send a letter to every single person you know, but chances are if you have their address, they fall into the category of people you would ask for a little money.  If you’re having trouble, ask yourself – would I send this person a wedding invitation?  A Christmas card?  If the answer is yes, put them in the spreadsheet.

The letter should be a simple, one page letter that let’s your folks know you’re running for city council, and that you need some initial start-up funds to get things going.  I always like to include a reply envelope with your campaign’s name and address already on it, if at all possible.  Don’t forget to put “paid for by <Your Campaign’s Name>” at the bottom of the letter.

The Fundraising Event

Bigger campaigns – for, say, governor, congress, and some statewide races – can throw their own parties.  You can, too.  But I am of the mindset that, like a bridal or baby shower, someone else really ought to do it for you.  I don’t know why, but having your own fundraiser just seems tacky.  Is it just me?

You can, however, co-opt virtually anyone else to do it for you.  Regardless, you’ll be sending out the invitations, coordinating the itinerary, and doing all the other planning work.  Just find someone to allow you to list them as the ‘host.’  It’s particularly useful if you know someone up the ballot – a candidate for state senate or an established elected official – to be either ‘host’ or ‘guest of honor’ at the event.  It gives your campaign more credibility and gives invitees more of a reason to pay to attend.

As for what the event actually is – it really doesn’t matter.  Pick a theme, any theme.  Independence day celebration?  Weekend barbecue?  Golf outing?  Whatever suits your fancy.  Do something unique, fun, and well suited to you.  Don’t plan a black tie affair if the candidate’s only worn overalls every day of his adult life.  Be true to who you are, and what your campaign is.

There’s no set number of fundraising events you should have, or when you should have them.  You should definitely have at least one; make it early enough to get money into your hands that you can start using on the things you’ve budgeted for, but late enough that people are actually thinking about political campaigns.  A fundraising party in mid-January after the days and days of holiday gatherings will not be well attended!

You also don’t want to plan to have too many events.  You likely have only a small pool of people to invite, and tapping that resource too often will just lead to wasted money on poorly attended events.  One or two events, well spaced out, is plenty for a city council candidate.

Personal Solicitation

This is the tough one.  If you’re lucky, maybe you won’t even have to do this one at all.  Generally, you’ll personally ask a donor – usually a politically involved business owner in the community – for an amount in the $500+ range.  If, as noted above, you’ve determined you only really need a few thousand bucks, you may be able to save yourself this step with one or two great fundraising events.  If your fundraising goal is closer to the $10,000 mark, you’ll likely be calling some of these high dollar donors up for a meeting.

Here’s how it’ll go down:

  • Call the donor, introduce yourself and tell them you’d like to talk to them about donating to your city council campaign.  Ask them if you can come and meet with them at their convenience.
  • Always confirm via phone (email might work) the day before.
  • Show up on time, and plan to spend 30 minutes – no more! – going over your executive summary (the Campaign Planbook helps you put this together), covering your basic platform, and making the actual ask.
  • Actually ask for money.  And a specific dollar amount.  If you think the person you’re approaching can give $500, ask for $1,000.  This is a situation where it is flattering to high ball the other person, and you never know – maybe they’ll give you the $1,000!
  • Leave.  Once the donor has given you a solid verbal ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ get the heck out of there.  Follow up with them by phone in 2-3 days if they don’t give you a check on the spot.  If they give you a wishy-washy ‘maybe,’ or seem reluctant to say ‘yes’ but unwilling to say ‘no,’ ask them what they need to see from you to be confident in giving a donation.  But don’t waste a bunch of time trying to convince someone unwilling to commit.  If 30 minutes has passed, find an opportunity to exit and tell them you’ll follow up with them later in the week by phone.  Also keep them on the list to hit them up the second time around.

There are other creative ways to raise money for your campaign, but the vast majority of your fundraising will fall under these three categories.  Now, go get that money!

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It’s March – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Right Now

march political cartoon irish st. patrick's day

Top o’ the month, to you, my faithful politicos! I’ve got another monthly update for you. Let’s touch base with what your campaign should be doing now that spring is nearly upon us…we hope.

  1. It’s time to put the pedal to the metal on planning your campaign strategy!  If you’re running for city council, and even if you’re running for something else, take a look at the first couple of posts in my Running for City Council series.  They’ve covered the steps preceding and up to this point – be on the look out for another post very soon that delves into campaign planning a little deeper.  You can also check out the campaign planning posts in the get started section, and it’s a good time to get the Campaign Planbook if you haven’t already.  Between now and a week or two before Memorial Day is the last opportunity you have to really sit down and put together a plan and schedule before things get crazy.  The earlier you plan the campaign, the sooner (and better) you can actually start campaigning.
  2. Attend city council meetings.  One would think this is a no-brainer, but I know plenty of candidates who don’t bother to attend current city council meetings.  This is not a place for campaigning, but for learning.  You’ll pick up on the issues that are important.  You’ll see how the current city council members interact.  Maybe you’ll even make a few friends.  Get yourself ahead of the curve and start picking up the councilman lingo now – it’ll make you a more confident and prepared candidate and elected official.
  3. Attend community events, if there are any.  March is the beginning of springtime and the excitement of Easter is mounting.  St. Patrick’s Day is a huge event in some communities.  In some places Dyngus Day is big.  Is there a Maple Sugar Festival in your neck of the woods?  Conversely, some communities are still totally dead in the early spring, and don’t have any big community events until Memorial Day.  If you are lucky enough to have these springtime activities in your town, they are great ways to get your face out there in front of potential voters early in the year.
    *Important Note* Sometimes these events are politician friendly, and sometimes it’s poor taste to wear your campaign pin and pass out campaign literature.  Throw your campaign gear in the trunk just in case, but assume you’ll just be gathering the family and enjoying a good time with friends and neighbors.  Feel free to talk about your run for office with others – get opinions, rouse excitement, but don’t feel like you have to be Mr. Candidate just yet.
  4. Expand your horizons.  You probably decided to run because you feel passionately about a handful of key issues affecting your city.  But there are probably many, many more issues out there that perhaps you never even knew existed.  Scour your local paper for public meetings of special interest groups in your area that are discussing local political issues that are new to you and attend those meetings.
    Don’t worry if it’s hosted by a traditionally anti-Republican organization.  The point is to open your own mind, exercise your ability to discuss issues with people who may disagree with you, make connections with activists in the community, perhaps build some unlikely alliances, and take a chip at the giant wall separating Us and Them.
  5. Do some legitimate campaigning!  When the weather allows, that is.  In much of the country, March is half winter and half early-summer.  Of course, you never know which days will be which!  However, take advantage of the cold days to focus on planning, planning, planning.  And when a warm day hits, take a walk around the neighborhood and actually knock on some doors!  Maybe practice on some neighbors you already know, and then branch out to a few streets that are new to you.  You don’t have to have your shiny campaign button or a slick brochure, but if you can print up a professional looking flyer on your home computer it’s a plus to bring it along (remember to put “Paid for by Committee to Elect John Doe” – or whatever your campaign’s name is – at the bottom).

Here’s a bonus tip for those of you working on your Campaign Planbook right now:  If you’re struggling in an area, use the GOPCampaigner.com search bar – there’s a good chance there’s already an article about it on the site.  Additionally, do not hesitate to ask a question in the comments or email me at GOPCampaigner@gmail.com.  I love questions from campaigners ‘in the field,’ because if you’re wrestling with something, there’s a good chance other candidates and campaign managers are dealing with the same issue.  It helps me to better serve the rest of the GOPCampaigner.com community when I have specific issues/topics to discuss.

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How to Run for City Council – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

how to run for city council choosing your campaign team

Chandler for Borough President!

Now that you’ve gotten your paperwork in, you’re really running for city council!  Except not really, at all.  Anybody can slap their name on some forms and drop them off at the city building and get their name on a ballot as city council candidate.  Now you’ve got to prove to the voters–and yourself–that your heart is in it.  This is where the rubber really meets the road.

The Campaign Plan

I’m not going to cover the entire task of putting together a campaign plan in one post; that would be a disservice to you.  You can expect to see the various parts of the campaign plan systematically detailed in the coming posts, but if you’re really ready to hit the ground running, buy the Campaign Planbook, which will walk you step-by-step through the process of putting together a fully fleshed out, slam-bangin’ campaign plan in very little time.

The first step to writing a campaign plan actually has nothing to do with writing, yet.  You first need to gather together your gang/posse/crew – essentially, your ‘campaign team.’  There is a strict rubric you must follow when choosing people to be on this very short list.

  1. Do I really trust this person?  They will be keeping ALL your secrets.  You need to know they are telling no one.  Literally, no one.  You wouldn’t believe how much info I can milk out of your buddy’s 10 year old daughter’s classmate.
  2. Does this person have valuable input?  Just because Joe Shmoe is your best friend doesn’t mean he has anything meaningful to say about the city’s political affairs.  Additionally, just because some muckety-muck is the county representative to the state GOP doesn’t mean his opinion is worth two cents either.  You want to tap people who are close to you that are also actively engaged citizens.
  3. Does this person have the time to dedicate to this campaign?  Ideally, they should be able to put in as much time as you.
  4. Does this person have a talent or skill that is critical to campaign success?  If they are an accountant they’d make an excellent treasurer.  If they run a small business or manage a franchise (well, they’re probably too busy, but…) they’d likely make a good campaign manager.  Do not bother inviting people into the ‘club’ that don’t have anything to offer but moral support or a duplicate of someone else’s skill.  Pick the best man for the job and go with it.

Other things to consider: Will this person tell me to slow down when I’ve run myself ragged?  Will she pick up the slack if I need a break?  Will he tell me when I’m just plain wrong about something?  Will he put the well-being of my family/marriage ahead of the campaign?  In other words – is this person a true friend?

Because as a candidate you will likely give in to the temptation to believe that you are some sort of demi-god and the world revolves around you, or you will spend so much time going door-to-door that you miss every little league game of the season, or you will get so narrowly focused on what you think is important, you’ll forget to consider what the voters in your city think is important.  These people in your core campaign team are not ‘yes men.’  They need to be the ones that smack you in the face when you’re being dumb.

Once you’ve narrowed your group down to 3-5 individuals, then you’re ready to call a meeting and bust out the pens, the paper, and of course your brand new copy of the Campaign Planbook.

I should also mention here that spouses play a pivotal role in the development and implementation of the campaign plan.  I’ve been re-reading my favorite campaign planning book of all time (besides mine, of course) and it actually recommends keeping your spouse out of this group, citing that they’ll have the chance to help out by “putting up yard signs, answering phones, passing out literature, etc.”

“Um, excuse me?  So you’re basically saying my opinion means nothing to you but you still want me around for the grunt work, is that right?  Pfft!  Hope you like the couch, honey, because that’s what THAT conversation just won you,” is exactly what I would say to my husband if he relegated me to yard sign coordinator.

Chances are great that your wife couldn’t care less what’s in your campaign plan.  But you’re dragging her into this year of craziness right along with you.  It will affect her life tremendously.  And your actions as a public figure and political candidate will reflect on her public image, too.  That’s why I start every campaign plan with an agreement between candidate and spouse, so that all the cards are on the table, and both parties completely understand what’s expected of the other during this time.  Trust me, you need the support your spouse provides for you.  Additionally, you do not need the marital discord political campaigns can cause.

And if you need another reason: lack of communication can lead to major campaign faux pas in the future.  Let’s say, for example, you’ve decided you’re anti-spinach.  You’ve positioned yourself as the no-spinach candidate and the voters love you for it.  And then a reporter calls your wife and asks how she feels about spinach.  “Oh I love spinach, in fact I’m making creamed spinach for dinner tonight!”  Tomorrow’s headline: So-Called Anti-Spinach City Council Candidate John Smith Eats Spinach Twice a Week!”

Replace “spinach” with your town’s most recent fringe issue, and kiss your political aspirations good-bye.

Before you sit down with your team, you need to sit down with your spouse and determine how they would like to participate in the political process.  If she doesn’t want to be involved that much, that’s totally cool.  But if she wants a ‘seat at the table,’ I say give it to her, and take what she says seriously.

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How to Run for City Council – Paperwork

Ah, the bane of my existence, paperwork.  I hate the seemingly endless stream of paperwork that accompanies running for office.  The good news, if you’re running for city council, is that the train-wreck of federal campaign finance laws don’t apply to you.  However, your city, county and state will likely have it’s own requirements.

The first and most important thing I must mention up front – there is no way I can write a post detailing every piece of paperwork you will be required to do because each town and state will have its own particular procedure.  Therefore it is imperative that you march yourself right down to your local city building and ask them to have mercy on your soul and help you out.

A few tips on interacting with the friendly folks in the clerk’s office:

  • Always kill them with kindness. Clerk is also an elected person, which means this is a partisan office, despite needing to serve candidates from both parties.  Generally they are open and helpful to everyone (it would be unlawful if they didn’t help you because you were from the opposing party), but sometimes you run into employees with a particular ax to grind.  Simply be sweet and persistent with these folks until you get what you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask ‘stupid’ questions.  Government forms are rarely easy to understand.  If you have any question at all about what’s required of you for a particular form, ask for clarity.  Make sure you are 100% sure of what’s required, because if you screw it up, it could be disastrous.
  • Always be very grateful for their help!  Friendships formed with the people in the Clerk’s office are priceless.  I am not above bringing them treats and sending thank you cards to these fine folks!

Unfortunately, the paperwork for running for local office is not universal – every municipality will have its own requirements, but luckily there is a basic framework that most towns and cities adhere to.  Here’s a list of the common forms and paperwork you’ll likely have to file:

  • Declaration of Candidacy or Nomination Papers – the first form you must fill out, your declaration that you intend to run for city council.  You may or may not be required to collect signatures in order to officially get your name on the ballot.
  • Bank Account – this isn’t one for the city clerk’s office, but you’ll need to open a separate bank account for campaign related fundraising and spending.  I put it here because you’ll want the ‘name’ of your campaign and the ‘name’ on the bank account to match, to avoid any confusion.  I recommend a simple “John Doe for City Council.”  Don’t try to get fancy, you don’t want to make writing a check out to you more difficult than necessary.
  • Campaign Finance Reports – these will likely need to be done before and after the primary election, and before and after the general.  It could also be on a quarterly basis.  Ideally some math whiz kid is tracking every dollar raised and spent in an Excel spreadsheet and can do the majority of the work on these forms for you, but you need to make sure you are aware and in agreement with the final numbers (because it’s your butt on the line, no one else’s).

All in all it’s pretty simple, and yet still so easy to screw up.  Don’t be afraid to ask the folks at the Clerk’s office to look over your paperwork before you officially turn in it to verify you checked all the right boxes, signed in all the right places, etc.  Make extra certain everything on the form is 100% accurate.  You want to catch any errors before your opponent or the media does.

The first step (after reading this article) is to do an internet search for “file to run” or “candidacy” or some similar key words with the name of your town.  Chances are the information you need, and maybe even the forms, are available online.  You’ll find out exactly where you need to go and who you need to shmooze to get your paperwork through without hassles.  If you can’t find info online, it’s time to pound the pavement.  Start at your town’s Clerk’s office, as that’s very likely where you need to file, and if it’s not, they can tell you where.  Sometimes filing to run for city council requires a trip to the county voter registration office, but not in most cases.

What are you waiting for?  Get going!

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