It’s September – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

The beginning of campaign season!

It’s September!  Welcome to the semi-official beginning of “Campaign Season!”

“What?!?” you say?  “But I’ve been working my tail off for eight months already!?!?”  Yes, yes you have.  But not highly visibly campaigning.  Labor Day weekend kicks off yard sign, billboards, tv ads, and all the highly visual aspects of a political campaign, so let’s get to it!

  1. Door-to-door!  Hasn’t this been number one for the past 5 months or so?  That’s because face to face voter contact, real conversations, and hey, stumbling into barbecues!
  2. Yard signs!  Communications comes into play in a major way starting in September and continuing on through to Election Day.  All those people you talked to (and hopefully kept track of on a spreadsheet or something) that said ‘yes’ to having a yard sign – go deliver them!  In most towns the earliest you want to do this is around Labor Day weekend.  Some towns have ordinances dictating how early signs can go out – 30 days before Election Day, 60 days, etc.  If there’s nothing written in stone, Labor Day Weekend is the general rule of thumb.  Make sure to keep 10-20 in your trunk for giving them out when the opportunity arises!
  3. Coffees and teas.  Having a ‘coffee’ meeting in someone’s home with a handful of neighbors is a good way to come inside and have some deeper conversations on issues that are affecting your constituents.  Sometimes these events manifest themselves in other themes, but the general idea is to get together with a handful of voters for an hour or two.  Make a lasting impression and these people will be your biggest supporters, and the excitement will spread.
  4. Campaign Events.  I’m talking here about public events created and sponsored by your campaign.  This could be reserving a large room at the library or senior center and posting flyers inviting the public to a ‘town hall’ or ‘meet the candidate’ type event.  You can focus on a specific issue, if there’s a meaty one, or leave it open to respond to voters’ questions.  It’s basically an opportunity for direct conversation with the voters, and also, possibly some media attention.  Be sure, of course, the local papers and radio and TV stations are aware of any such campaign events.
  5. Fundraising.  Yep, this is STILL something you have to think about.  Money propels the campaign forward, and in the next two months, you’ll likely spend MUCH more than you did in the previous eight.

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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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It’s June – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

Political Campaign schedule june

June is the eye of the political hurricane in most parts of the country.  Up to now, it probably feels as though your campaign’s momentum has been steadily building, excitement is bubbling, the volunteer list is growing, and campaign funds are beginning to flow.  After the thrill of Memorial Day, however, many communities experience a lull in activities, since July and August are the hot and happening summer months, kids are still wrapping up school, and there aren’t any major holidays to celebrate.  Your campaign, too, will have a sort of plateau in June.  So what do you do?

  1. Family first – take advantage of the break in events and plan a couple of long weekends with your spouse and kids.  Take off early on a Thursday and escape everything for just a few days before crazy time in July, especially if you started to feel the heat with all the hoopla at the end of May.
  2. Door-to-door – You should still be pounding the pavement!  Go talk to voters.  It’s lots of fun, and keeps you in tune with what issues resonate in your community.
  3. Fairs and Festivals – In some parts of the country, county fairs and 4-H events are in full swing in June.  Your local Republican Party will likely have a booth where you can hang out and greet voters, and you may even be able to participate in some publicity – goat milking contest, anyone???  In other parts of the country, festivals are big fundraisers and there’s a new one every weekend, all summer long.  If there’s an opportunity to meet and greet voters at any in your district, you should be there.
  4. Fundraising -The need for campaign cash grows ever greater as Election Day looms.  Fundraising is something you’ll have to continue throughout the duration of your run for office, so you might as well get used to it.
  5. Start working your PR.  That’s Public Relations, in case you didn’t know.  This can be as simple as writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper (or newspapers if your district is big enough to cover multiple papers’ areas) about current issues, or it can mean holding an official press conference to “kick-off” your campaign and layout your agenda for the media and the public.  Whatever fits the bill in your district, you need to get started on it to build name recognition and lay the groundwork with reporters for future communications.

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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 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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GOTV Canvassing: What to Ask And How to Capture New Data

Hopefully you’ve already organized your raw data and are ready to actually start contacting voters.  So how exactly do you do that, anyway?  And once you’re with them, what do you say?

The next step to building your voter database will be going door-to-door and/or phone banking in order to collect new information about registered voters and to clean up the lists you have by deleting people who have died or moved, or listed under the wrong party, or whatever.

First things first: Questions to ask.  Much of these will depend on your race and your district, and maybe what’s going on with your opponent, but here is a list of suggested questions to ask as you canvass:

  • What is your party affiliation?
  • (If Independent,) do you lean conservative or liberal?
  • What issues are most important to you?  I like to leave this one open-ended so you can get the most candid response.  You may discover many people are very concerned about an issue you weren’t even aware of.
  • Do you know of/have you heard of (incumbent)?
  • Would you vote to re-elect (insert incumbent here) for (insert office here)?
  • Would you vote for a Republican candidate for (insert office here)?
  • Do you know of/have you heard of (insert YOUR candidate here)?  This helps determine your name recognition.
  • What is your opinion of (your candidate)?
  • Would you vote for (your candidate) for (insert office here)?
  • In a race for (office), would you be more likely to vote for (candidate) or for (incumbent)?  To make sure there’s no bias based on order, switch the order of candidate and incumbent every other voter.
  • (If the respondent seems supportive of your candidate) Would you like to get involved as a volunteer for (candidate)?
  • In September/October, we will be distributing yard signs.  Would you like a (candidate) yard sign?
  • Do you have any questions about (candidate)?  Your volunteers should be educated in advance on his bio and platform, and any questions they are unable to answer can be addressed in a follow up contact, possibly by the candidate himself.
  • Can I have your email address for our newsletter?
These questions and others that you think of can be weaved into a detailed script for your volunteers to use both door-to-door and over the phone.
Once you have a solid idea of the data you intend to collect, create columns in your database system for those attributes.  You’ll be able to use this information for your communications planning, most especially crafting your message and planning paid media.  You’ll also be able to strategize your candidate’s voter contact time around the information you dig up, and focus your campaign efforts in a geographically advantageous way.
Stay tuned; next post we’ll be discussing the actual mechanics of door-to-door and phone bank logistics during the canvassing process.


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GOTV Canvassing: Organizing Raw Data

The foundation of a well executed GOTV effort is canvassing.  Canvassing is the process of directly contacting every voter in order to collect data on them, which can then be categorized and organized, then analyzed to form a comprehensive, coordinated, logistical plan to recruit volunteers, supporters and votes.

Your canvassing will determine a number of factors in your planning, so this is another area where your campaign plan needs to be flexible.  You may find a theme-line running through your data that you hadn’t anticipated that actually becomes a centerpiece of your campaign.

It’s also helpful when canvassing to clean up your voter data – the stuff you get from the courthouse is usually outdated, containing duplicates and several moves/deaths that haven’t been accounted for.

So how exactly does one put together a canvassing operation?

Get the raw voter records from the county courthouse.  This is where you will start.  If you have access to a resource like VoterVault, that’s fantastic – but I find that often the data in those databases are still only 60-75% accurate.
Import your raw data into a usable electronic format – usually that’s Excel or Access.  You’ll be making a lot of changes, so it really needs to be electronic.  I personally like to breakdown all data to the precinct level.  This works well if your district is around 50 precincts or less.  If it’s larger, use other political boundaries like counties to create bigger chunks, then breakdown further from there.

For example, if you are running for governor or Senate and have an entire state to deal with, I would recommend sorting your data by quadrant or region, if it’s geographically convenient, or by congressional district, if it’s not a conveniently shaped state, and creating a folder for each one.  Then create county folders inside the region folders, and save all voter data in separate excel spreadsheets by precinct.  Name the excel files by county and precinct, e.g., Madison County, Adams 1 Precinct would be something like Madison_Adams1.xls.  You could also create one excel workbook per county and save each precinct as a different spreadsheet within it using the tabs at the bottom, but that can get complicated and difficult to maneuver.

Clean up your data.  Usually the files you receive from the county courthouse are crude, amateurish versions of spreadsheets.  You might have a few columns that give you names, addresses, registration date, and some other arbitrary information.  If you’re lucky it’ll include things like phone numbers, birth dates, number of times they have voted, and whether they have voted in primaries.  The chances of this information being organized in a logical manner are remote.

The first step is to move these columns around into a logical order.  Consider putting the address column first and sorting by addresses – this will put family members (theoretically) in the same house.  You’ll also be able to weed out people who have moved easier this way.  Names obviously need to be in a prominent place, and I’d put phone numbers, if you have them, toward the front as well.

Next, go through each piece of data and make sure that things like formatting are all in sync, and that all the data in uniform and very readable.  You’ll be using this document as a root for several other canvassing documents and materials, so you have to make sure the data isn’t distorted in the import/export process.  Go ahead and apply a very readable (sans serif) font and font size (at least 10 pt).

Once you complete the above, you should have a reasonably well-put-together platform out of which you can grow a good canvassing effort.  Next post, we’ll talk about adding new data: what to ask and how to capture it.

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