It’s October – The One Thing You Should Be Doing

meeting voters

October is about one goal, and one goal only: talking to voters.  You need to be walking your district as much as possible.  For you that may be every single day, three weekday afternoons and the whole weekend, or maybe just the weekend.  Whatever it is, you must be giving it your all.

You’re so close to the finish line, and this is the point at which you need to be sprinting.  Your volunteers should also be walking for you, writing letters to the editor for you, and of course talking to their friends and neighbors about you.

If you’ve kept up an email list for volunteers, supporters, and people who’ve promised to vote for you, good job!  You should be using that email list about once a week in October (you don’t want to drive them crazy with daily emails) to let your supporters know where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing, and how they can help.

Hopefully your yard signs are already fairly distributed, but you still need to keep some handy in case you run into new supporters as you go door-to-door.

October is about voter contact, voter contact, voter contact, and getting out the vote (GOTV).

Focus on:

  • Voter contact – meeting as many voters as possible, and asking them for their vote.
  • Making sure your name is everywhere, via yard signs, a PR push in your local newspaper and other publications, and through paid advertising like billboards, radio or TV ads, or whatever you’ve determined is the best medium for your district.
  • GOTV – getting YOUR voters out and to the polls, and following through on your absentee ballot initiatives.

Now is the time to push on the gas.  No sleep.  Not much family time.  The race is nearly over, you must push through to Election Day, just a few short weeks away.  They will be over before you know it!


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It’s Summer! – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

summer campaigning

By now your campaign should be in full swing, and hopefully your family isn’t missing you yet, because it’ll be a loooong time before you can sit down and have a regular meal with them again.  July and August are fun on the campaign trail because summer is often full of fun events and lots of opportunities to meet people, which is pretty much the singular purpose of a campaign in summer.  You’ll need to be laser focused on voter contact while the weather is amiable.

  1. Door-to-door.  I hope you picked some really fun campaign tchotchkes, because this is when they’ll get the most use!  You’ll knock on hundreds of doors this summer, and run through at least two pairs of walking shoes, but think of how awesome your legs will look at the beach!  (Just kidding!  You don’t have time for the beach, unless there’s an event there where you can mingle with voters!)
  2. Events!  Parades, fairs, and festivals are my favorite summer campaign activities!  Tossing candies to the little children?  Love it!  Be sure to make the most of these, but don’t just attend everything for the sake of being seen.  It’s about actually meeting and greeting and discussing the local issues with voters.  If an event doesn’t give you much opportunity for that, ditch it and go back to door-to-door.
  3. GOTV groundwork.  As you go door to door, make your best effort to recruit volunteers, record which voters are supportive, and ask people if they’re willing to put a your sign in their yard.  You’ll need all this data in the future when you implement your 72-hour GOTV plan.
  4. Plan your communications.  You’ll need to make a concerted effort to raise your name ID and spread your campaign message through a formal paid communications and public relations strategy.  Are you going to do TV or radio?  What newspapers or other periodicals do you need to be seen in?  Should you buy print ads for that or initiate a letter-to-the-editor campaign?
  5. Plan to spend some money.  Along with planning what you’re going to do, plan what it’s going to cost, and when.  Make sure to plan ahead with your fundraising.  I like to pay early if I can, just so that the important things are locked in, and I’m not left with empty pockets when the bill comes due.  Knowing what you’re paying for next gives you a selling point in your fundraising efforts as well.  Saying “We’re planning to make a large placement in radio on WTOP next week and we need your help,” plays very well with donors.  They know exactly what their money is doing, and they like that (I do, too).

Now go get ‘em, Tiger!

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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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What To Do When Your Opponent Cheats

voter fraud obama campaign

In most major election years like this one, there’s bound to be some voter fraud. Most states don’t have voter ID laws, and let’s face it, democrats are notorious for getting elected by dead people not yet cleared from the voting register and unions that bus in in homeless people from only God knows where to vote exactly how they pay them to. Aside from a significant push to create and enforce voter identification in each state, you can’t really do much after the fact.

That’s why you must be prepared for the possibility early on. If you think voter fraud is something you may have to contend with, factor it into your math. You’re going to have to work harder, turning out 2-3% higher hard Republicans in order to overcome your opponent’s unfair advantage. It’s also useful to have volunteers at the polls monitoring that the election is fairly executed, but even if it isn’t, you can’t really do much to stop it while it’s happening, and once a vote is cast, it’s cast.

Here’s what you don’t do. You don’t comb through the voter registries looking for voters with suspiciously old birth dates. Don’t waste time investigating your opponent’s campaign or their tactics. The best you can do is stay laser focused on your own campaign, try to account for imbalance caused by up-ballot shenanigans, and don’t ever stop.  And most importantly, you don’t sink to their level.  Your integrity is more important than winning anything.

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Voter Contact & Volunteers

I saved the best for last, y’all!  I happen to love everything to do with voter contact and caring for volunteers, even budgeting.  I covered paid communications earlier because a lot of the physical materials you’ll be buying in that category you’ll really be using as part of your voter contact strategy.  But since there’s still a Voter Contact & Volunteers section of the budget, obviously there’s still some more money you’re going to have to spend to get things into gear.

So what belongs in the Voter Contact & Volunteers section of your campaign budget?

  • Estimated food costs for feeding volunteers during events throughout the campaign
  • Any fees associated with gaining access to databases like Voter Vault that store key political information on specific voters
  • Cell phone minutes or additional phone lines needed for big phone banks during GOTV
  • Random stuff your volunteers should have, like bottled water if they’re walking door-to-door on a summer day, clipboards, paper and pens
  • T-shirts for volunteers and supporters
  • Admission costs to get volunteers into events where you need them to work

There are probably other things you can put in this category; a lot will depend on your region and what is ‘customary’ for campaigns in your area.  Just be sure that this is an area where you do not skimp.  Volunteers are your absolute greatest asset – do not squander it by being stingy!  Recruiting and retaining volunteers is a key component of every campaign, large or small.

This is a pretty straight-forward section of the campaign budget and doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning, but it’s the last place you should cut costs.

Remember that volunteers are already saving you a bundle by doing work you’d otherwise need to pay someone to do.  Especially for those volunteers in ‘regular staff’ type positions like Campaign Manager or Fundraising Coordinator, you should side aside funding for them to be treated like professionals.

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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.

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GOTV: 72-Hour Campaign Logistics

What is the 72-Hour Campaign, you ask?  It’s a quasi-clever way of saying ‘the last 3 days of the campaign,’ although really we’re talking about the entire weekend, plus Monday, plus Election Day, so it’s really 4 days.  I guess whoever came up with that didn’t include Election Day…

Don’t plan on sleeping in the final days of the campaign.  This is when your GOTV efforts all come together.  A stellar 72-Hour plan is critical to making all that grassroots voter contact leg work worth it.

  • Phone-banks – have as many phones and volunteers as possible, and keep them running all day and night (until it’s too late to call, I mean)
  • Direct mail – you should have a very specific plan in place already for this purpose in the communications section of your campaign plan.  Now is the time to drop any negative campaigning bombs, sentimental issue pieces, and loud, forceful reminders to vote to your base.
  • Lit drops – Have I ever mentioned there’s really no such thing as too many volunteers?  Well there isn’t.  All those foot-soldiers that have faithfully been going door-to-door talking you up to voters young and old are now doing lit-drops.  In other words, shot-gun style running around key district neighborhoods sticking flyers and doorhangers on doors reminding folks to vote.  I personally love doorhangers that not only have your campaign message and the reminder to vote, but also gives the address and a little map to the polling location – there are truly no excuses!
What to say to voters during the 72-Hour Campaign:
  • Have you voted? (If yes, check them off and leave them alone!)
  • Do you need directions to your voting location?
  • Do you need a ride to your voting location?
  • Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!
That’s really it.  By this time, you know who’s most likely to vote for you.  The best you can do is push them to go vote.  Many counties allow early voting at the court house on Saturdays the weekend before (and sometimes a couple weeks before) Election Day – you should strongly encourage your voters to go early.  They’ll avoid phone calls from your campaign and you’ll be saved the work of calling them.
In most small campaigns, the difference between winning and losing can be less than 100 votes.  A solid GOTV 72-Hour campaign can make or break a race, right at the finish line.  Don’t let all your work go to waste, and make sure you plan, plan, plan!
Buy the campaign planbook

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GOTV: Planning The Final Push

For the first half of your campaign year, you’ll be canvassing – collecting and organizing voter data.  Over the summer and going into fall, the candidate, candidate’s wife and family and lots of volunteers will be knocking on doors, talking one on one with voters about the issues.  The last 4 or 5 weeks of the campaign, however, are what I call ‘the final push.’  It’s at this point that you want to start up the GOTV mindset.  There are 3 key components to the final push:

  • Phone banks
  • Targeted direct mail pieces
  • Literature distribution
There’s no one way to plan direct mail or literature distribution.  Phone banks will operate differently in different states depending on regulations.  Literature distribution may take the form of handing out flyers at targeted subway stations in an urban environment, and may mean driving door-to-door in rural districts, where houses are separated by acres of farmland.  Your direct mail strategy will be determined primarily by your communications plan, not your GOTV plan.  Whatever your situation, some form of each will take place in any campaign if you’re going to pull off an integrated and well-saturated get out the vote effort.  Since there’s no specific right or wrong way, here is a list of potential “to-do’s” for the final weeks of your voter contact activity:
  • Print walk/phone lists
  • Organize lists by precinct and priority
  • Finalize mail piece copy/design, send to print and schedule mail drops
  • Recruit and schedule extra volunteers
  • Plan weekend lit drops, followed by volunteer events
  • Coordinate lit distribution outside churches and synagogues Sunday and Saturday
  • Buy water, pencils for volunteer walkers
  • Buy/print lit drop materials (I love those little baggies you can hang on doors, but you have to plan time/volunteers to stuff them)
  • Buy cell phones or make special arrangements with the phone company for a ton of new lines
  • Secure an office space for phone banking
  • Organize yard sign distribution
Obviously, many of these items will need to be broken down into smaller action items.  I recommend finding leader-volunteers to handle each segment.  For example, designate a yard sign captain, and field coordinators by precinct (bonus if these folks have trucks or SUVs!).  Put one volunteer in charge of phone banking – this person will keep track of all the lists and distribute them to callers, and also oversee the data entry for the updating process.  Find lit drop coordinator to do the same thing for walk lists.
You can then help your leader-volunteers to break down their jobs into specific action items, then let them loose on the task.

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GOTV: Organizing Your New-Found Voters

After you’ve completed your GOTV canvassing (although honestly, it never really ends), it’s time to utilize the data you’ve collected.  The purpose of reaching out to each individual voter, besides simply making direct contact, is to harness their information in such a way that allows you to push their butts to the polls on or before Election Day.  This is the step-by-step breakdown for turning all that paper and data entry into a winning endgame strategy.

  1. Separate the wheat from the chaff.  Knocking on every door in the district, you’ve definitely pulled up a bunch of weeds, er, democrats.  You can obviously sort those people out of your push-to-the-polls list, but it still might be worth keeping their information in case you decide to drop a negative campaign mailer or something like that.  Otherwise, don’t waste time or money on these people.
  2. Sort and prioritize.
    1. Filter the true Republicans directly into a GOTV list – these people need to be dragged to the polls, because if they go they will vote for you – it’s silly to lose votes just because you trusted the voters to actually go out and vote without being prodded.
    2. Filter out a list of ‘leans conservative/Republican’ folks.  These people will receive communications and hopefully personal visits from the candidate during his door-to-door grassroots efforts.  Usually a personal conversation with a candidate will seal the deal for fence-sitters.
    3. There are always tons of voters who vote by issue rather than party line – use this to your advantage.  Filter a third list of true independents who’ve expressed support for specific issues that your candidate agrees on.  These folks will get communications specifically about that issue.  You can also include these people in your candidate’s door-to-door lists.
  3. Create your lists.  Phone banking lists, door-walking lists, email lists, and mailing lists.  Have this data sorted and created well in advance so that when the time comes to use it, it’ll be right at your fingertips.  You might even start printing up your phone and walk lists a few at a time so you don’t have to pull an all-nighter at Kinko’s before a big volunteer event.
Don’t be fooled; the work is nowhere near finished.  These lists will be changed and edited as new information and responses come into play, so make sure your database is sophisticated enough to handle constant changes and updates.

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GOTV Canvassing Logistics: Training Volunteers

Whether it’s phone-banking, door-to-door, passing out literature at events, walking in parades, you name it – volunteer training is key.  Here are the essentials for training up volunteers before you send them out to do canvassing for your campaign.

Know The Candidate

Nothing is more of a turn off than a volunteer who can’t answer basic questions about the candidate or his platform.  Make sure your volunteers know the candidate’s personal and professional history (as detailed in the campaign plan) and that he is intimate with his stance on all issues pertinent to the campaign and the district.  There will always be questions that are too specific for volunteers to answer.  When this happens you have a prime opportunity for a follow up call, email or visit.

Maintain The Campaign’s Integrity

Rudeness is not acceptable volunteer behavior.  Ever.  Almost every volunteer will run into voters who are downright mean and bad-mouth the candidate with very dirty words.  The proper volunteer response is always the same:  “Sorry to bother you, thank you for your time, have a good day sir/ma’am.”  It is important to emphasize this etiquette in advance of knocking on a single door.

The same holds true on the phone.  If a voter asks to be removed from your list, be sure your volunteers mark them ‘do not call’ boldly in your database.  Volunteers must always be kind, courteous, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and never forgot that they represent the candidate whenever they make calls on behalf of the campaign.

Seek Out The Follow Up Opportunity

It is absolutely crucial that you stay in contact with the voters that are supportive of your campaign.  That’s kind of the whole point of GOTV!  When voters show even a little interest in the candidate, volunteers need to be trained on what follow up opportunities are available and offer them as soon as they have an opening.  For example, requesting the voter’s email, asking if they’d like a follow up call to discuss a specific issue, inviting them to an event to meet the candidate, asking to put a yard sign in their yard – these are all potential follow up opportunities that will keep you top of mind to the voter.

Know The Voters

To create volunteers that are invaluable to the campaign, assign them small areas, preferably a single precinct – one that is highly targeted on your list, to be their jurisdiction whenever they work.  Tell them to become deeply knowledgeable of the neighborhood and the people in it.  Naturally they will need to help in other areas, but allowing them to become an ‘expert’ on key precincts gives you a huge advantage.  It’s like having someone ‘on the inside.’  It will also help alleviate confusion and reduce duplicate work if one person is in charge of maintaining the lists for a particular precinct.

Once your volunteers are very familiar with campaign procedure, candidate and district information, and congeniality standards, you can move on to putting boots on the ground.

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