What I Learned Running for Political Office

My Political Campaign VolunteersYep, you read that right.  I, the behind-the-scenes political consultant type, ran for a local political office this past year.  And I learned a TON.  I also RELEARNED a ton as well.  I almost don’t even know where to begin.

I know.  I’ll just begin at the beginning.

So, we’re new-ish in town.  We moved from New York City (where neighbors rarely ever even look at each other) to suburbia (where people mostly gossip about each other).  One of the first things I tend to do in a new place is reach out to the local GOP group.  They’re always my type of people, obviously.  So my husband and I attend a few events, meet some new people, the usual.  It’s a nice way to get involved in a new community.

One day a couple years down the road, I get an email that the local party is a little hard up for candidates in my district.  Even though I’ve sworn I’d never actually put my name on a ballot, I felt a pull to at least respond with something like, “if you can’t find anybody else…”  Well, they didn’t find anybody else.

Now before I go any further, you should know that I can check off at least half the items on this list of reasons NOT to run for office.  I am a homeschooling, work-at-home mom of five (yes FIVE) kids ages 1-8.  You might say I’m a little busy.  I don’t have a lot of time to put into a campaign.  Who am I kidding?  I don’t have any time to put into a campaign.  That was definitely mistake number one.

Don’t jump into an election without rationally weighing the pros and cons.

Seriously, it’s one of the first articles I ever wrote on this blog.  Think it through thoroughly!

But here’s the thing.  I wanted to meet other people in my neighborhood.  For the first time in our married life, we lived in a place where a family can put down real roots.  What better way to meet people than by knocking on their door and handing them a flyer with your bio on it?

And that leads me to the next lesson:

Winning the election is not the only reason to run for political office.

I was already aware of this, and guess what?  When your aim is something other than winning, it takes a lot of pressure off!

Believe it or not, there are plenty of positive outcomes from losing political campaigns, not the least of which is lots of knowledge and wisdom.  Networking.  Laying the foundation for a future campaign.  The possibilities really are endless.

Now, I’m not most people.  Most people run for elected office to, you know, be an elected official.  But not everyone thinks that far ahead when they jump into a campaign.  Which leads me to this-

Run for a job you actually want to do.

A lot of career-politicians-in-the-making want to eventually be a Congressman, so they plot a course from city council, to clerk-treasurer, to mayor, to state house, and finally to Congress.  If you don’t actually want to be those first four things, don’t run for them!  It’s entirely possible to run for Congress right out of the gate and win.  The exceptions would be governor, senate, and of course president – those require some name recognition in advance, either from public service or some other notoriety (like owning and going bankrupt on a bunch of real estate, or developing ground-breaking medical advances in pediatrics…).

Okay, back to my campaign.

For my campaign, I was running for Town Meeting Representative.  A Representative Town Meeting (RTM) is a traditional New England form of local government that is basically is a modern version of the original town meetings that date way back to colonial times.  It’s really cool, but really confusing.

Which leads me to lesson #2:

Know your district and your race well.

I had familiarized myself with the RTM style government, but there’s a lot more I still need to learn.  It’s not as important for the campaign itself – that part is simple – but it’s nice to have a good handle on what doing the job actually entails when you’re talking to voters.

It took a while for me to mentally get into the idea that I was actually running for office.  Honestly, summer brought swim lessons four days a week for 3 of the kids, and we homeschool year-round, so despite the longer daylight hours, I simply didn’t make the time for ground work.  Then when fall came, school got more serious and the extra-curricular activities kick in, and I’m driving kids to sports/music/scouts when I would otherwise be working on voter outreach.

I did sit down at Starbucks one Saturday afternoon and draft out a brilliant campaign plan using my very own Campaign Planbook.  And it was a great, winning campaign plan, too.  I totally should I have won with that campaign plan.  If I’d used it.  At all.

I had some creative, out-of-the-box ideas for reaching out to voters.  Ideas that would work better for me as a super-busy mom of lots of kids.  Unfortunately for my candidacy, I second-guessed every piece of my plan.  That was a big mistake.  What was I thinking?  I was afraid to take risks.  I opted to fall back on the tried-and-true tactics that I know by heart, but that don’t really work for me as a candidate right now.  Which is the next lesson I relearned:

Don’t be afraid to try unorthodox campaign methods.

So reality really sank in the first time I tried to go door-to-door with kids in tow.  This was a serious bubble burster.  I think we made it halfway down one side of the street, maybe, before turning back for home.

I haven’t been boots-on-the-ground campaigning since I was single and child-free.  After meeting several strained families of campaign professionals, I had decided before I ever had children that if I did, I wouldn’t put them through that crazy lifestyle.  You basically might as well be deployed overseas for the bulk of heavy campaigning season, because that’s how often you’ll see your family.  That’s why I write this here blog instead (for now).

My feelings haven’t changed.  I don’t want to spend my evenings and weekends knocking on doors and attending public events and community functions while my spouse is left single-parenting it and my kids have forgotten what I look like.  But since I’d abandoned my campaign plan I was left with traditional campaign tactics that don’t fit my current lifestyle.  Lesson learned:

Once the campaign plan is in writing, STICK TO IT!

Sure, there will be adjustments.  But by and large, the main content of the campaign plan should stay the same, and be followed!

Speaking of campaign plans…I used the Campaign Planbook to whip my plan together in about 2 hours.  Pick up yours here.

Post to Twitter

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!

 

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

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!

Post to Twitter

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

May political campaign plan

May is quite possibly my favorite time of the campaign year; It’s warm and sunny but not blazing hot like mid-summer, and the campaignable (I totally made that word up) events are starting.  “But the Memorial Day Parade is weeks away,” you say, “what is there to do before then?”  Plenty, my friend, plenty!  And enjoy the sun while you’re doing it!  Because after May your entire life unravels….

  • Door-to-door!  Yay!  It’s finally time to start knocking on doors!  I know I said to do this in April, but April weather is hit or miss so you probably didn’t get enough time pounding the pavement, and people are much more likely to stand on their porches and chat in warmer, less rainy May.  Make this a fun activity and take a kid or two along.  This is the most important thing you will do in your whole campaign, so you have to make it enjoyable if you intend to win.
  • Get your campaign materials!  This is one of my favorite campaign activities, maybe because it’s kind of like shopping, or maybe because I have a hoarder-like obsession with collecting campaigning paraphernalia.  Be sure you order this stuff in time to receive it before you have any big events (parades, festivals, etc).  You also want to make sure your local GOP headquarters has materials available.  Read my post on the best and worst campaign materials to buy, it’ll steer you in the right direction if you don’t know where to start.
  • Parade prep!  If you live in America, and I’m guessing most of my readers do, there’s undoubtedly a Memorial Day parade in your town or district, and it’s very likely your local Republican group has a spot in it.  Get in touch with them and get on the list!  Get a banner, some T-shirts, and maybe even some of those awesome parade bags, and lots and lots of candy.  Get out and talk to your voters.  I promise, it’s fun!
  • Hold a fundraising event.  A barbecue themed Memorial weekend fundraiser is actually fun!  Friends and family can help out with food, decorations, and prep, making it a cheap and minimally time consuming way to get a fast infusion of campaign cash.  Just don’t forget to record any cash or in kind donations as well as your expenses for your campaign finance reports.
  • Enjoy your family a lot!  Ideally they’ll be running right along side you for the duration of your sprint on the campaign trail, but you’ll still spend a lot of extra time away from them.  May is likely your last opportunity to plan real, quality time with your spouse and kids without the stress of feeling like the clock is ticking and there are a million things to do.  Make. It. Count.  And for the love of Pete, do not forget Mother’s Day.

Post to Twitter

Can I Win? Analyzing Voter Data

abeautifulmind002

Now that we know how to mine the data we need, it’s time to put it to work for us. Analyzing voter data is not much fun. It’s mind-numbing, in fact. But it’s the type of thing where if you stare at it long enough, eventually all the pieces fit together and suddenly you have a plan.

There’s no works-every-time system for analyzing voter data.  Every town is different, and every precinct within that town is different.  You may need to devise different strategies for different precincts depending on the demographic and political make up of the neighborhood.  Sometimes geography makes a big difference in how you approach campaigning, messaging, and grass roots / voter contact efforts.

Many, many political districts, especially at the state and federal levels (state representative or national House races), span both tightly packed city precincts and winding country roads.  You face very different challenges depending on where you are campaigning on a particular day.  Doing door-to-door voter contact in the city, you have to figure out how to get into apartment buildings that are locked to non-residents.  How do you get endorsements from local businesses? In the country you have to drive from one house to the next to go door-to-door; is there a better way? Should a local supporter hold a coffee with 10-15 voters instead? What message resonates with farmers and which with a small business owner? Career women and stay-at-home moms?

This is why in many cases you need to break out your voter data into individual precincts or groups of precincts and adjust your message and strategy accordingly.

So where do you begin?

Start with answering these questions about each and every precinct in your political district.

Are the voters heavily partisan or is this a fairly ‘swing’ precinct?

If it’s a strongly republican district, it’s ripe for GOTV and volunteer recruitment, and an especially important precinct during a primary. If it’s strongly democrat, you may not want to waste time there at all (although I very rarely advocate abandoning a precinct entirely. Every little vote counts.) Or perhaps there’s an issue that you believe will resonate well with Democrats that you can play up in this area.

How has this precinct changed over time?

Old voters die, neighborhoods gentrify, new people means new and different concerns. If you see an area, for example, that is gradually becoming more right-leaning, it could be that what once was a senior citizen neighborhood has been slowly taken over by new young and growing families who value keeping their tax dollars over social security concerns. That’s just one example. It helps to put boots on the ground in these neighborhoods and just feel out who lives there. Often a precinct is given up as “primarily Democrat” when, upon closer examination, it isn’t necessarily so.

What is the demographic make-up of this precinct? Race? Average income? Home-owners or renters? Religious, and what type, or unaffiliated?

Different groups care about different issues. It’s as simple as that. Tailor your message in that area to the voters who are receiving it.

Are the voters here voting in every election/for every candidate?

There are tons of people who go to the polls and simply leave blank the races in which they don’t recognize a name. This is a prime opportunity for voter contact! You know they go to the polls on Election Day, and getting them there is half the battle (the harder half). This is likely a place to show your face often.

Have voters favored different parties for different races?

Try to figure out why.

Some elected officials have such a hold on their electorate, or have just always been there, that everybody just continues voting for them, regardless of party affiliation. But they vote differently for other races with less familiar candidates. Maybe you can convince them to vote for you. Or maybe you can take a look at that “outlier” official and latch onto his positive qualities. Or if you’re actually running against that incumbent, it reveals to you how you should craft your message in regards to comparing/contrasting yourself with him.

How do the local issues affect this precinct?

Your district is unique and your message must match it. Focus on the things that matter to the voters here and now.

As you go through this exercise, you will probably come up with many more questions specific to your campaign and your district. You will also need to do additional research (think, microfilm newspapers at the library) to figure out what events and issues have affected past elections. As you put it all together, I promise, you will have an “Ah ha!” moment—or several, more likely—as you go precinct by precinct devising your campaign plan.

Rank your precincts

After you’ve done all that work, you need to prioritize which precincts are the most important, which you simply shouldn’t waste time and/or money on, and which are somewhere in between. You can throw them into these three tiers, or if you’re Type A like me, you’ll want to rank every single precinct in order, and maybe even have different ordered lists depending on the activity (communications vs. voter contact, for example).

The rest of your campaign strategy will grow organically out of this analysis.  These numbers will reveal if your campaign has a chance at winning, and what path to take to get there.  It’s important that you stick to it, because though current events, candidates, and circumstances chance, the numbers won’t. These are the hard facts upon which your campaign should be built.

Post to Twitter

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:

IMG_6110

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)

Post to Twitter

My Frank Assessment of the NYC Mayoral Race

Lhota, DeBlasio NYC Mayoral Candidates 2013

Caveat – this is by no means comprehensive.

Funny story: On Election Day for the primary this year, I voted very late – got in a few minutes before the polls closed at 9pm.  I recognized the poll worker from my Church :)  She gave me a card and directed me to the voting machine.  I pulled the lever back and tried to toggled my choices for the Republican mayoral candidates, and none of the Republican levers would move.  I stuck my head out from the curtain and asked for some help – I demonstrated that my choices wouldn’t move, and the poll worker said, “Oh, you’re a Republican.”  She and two others needed help figuring out how to switch the machine to allow a Republican primary ballot to be cast, because I was the first – and only – Republican to vote in my polling place!  After a few minutes of discussion they figured it out, and I was allowed to cast my ballot and go home.  On my way out, I chatted with Church-lady, and she confirmed I was the one and only.  Ha!  Life in Harlem…

Anywho.

An intelligent and no doubt attractive new reader that happens to be from my town asked me my thoughts on New York’s mayoral race in the comments of my last post.  And when I thought about it I figured other candidates – especially in big markets – might glean some helpful insights.  So voila, a post is born.

Here’s his question:

“I just found your interesting site by chance while researching materials for an NYC grassroots campaign. Are you still located in NYC? If so, what’s your critique of the Mayoral Race conducted by Republican candidate, Joe Lhota?”

This is for you, Thomas! (Also because I’m too lazy to write up a review of the whole race for non-New Yorkers, I’ve included links – like this one – in case you want to get an idea what current events I’m referencing).

Interesting question! You know, I’m surprised he hasn’t wrapped himself more around the issue of school choice. Last week charter schools took a half day off to march in the streets with parents and children – Lhota marched with them, and if it hadn’t been for the debate, I wouldn’t have known about it. De Blasio is staunchly anti-school choice – this should be a single issue campaign!

Now, I live in Harlem, so my on-the-ground perspective may be a little skewed; school choice
would be a super-hot topic here, and in a good way for Lhota.  Don’t forget – parents who care about their kids’ education are much more likely to be registered/reliable voters. But I would expect a Republican campaign in the city to start in SI and Brooklyn and work from there, so Harlem may be the last place on their mind (and rightly so, story above is exhibit A).

One other issue is that this biking/road-rage incident harkens back to the bad old days of ‘wilding’ in the late 80s/early 90s. Manhattanites who’ve been around long enough may fear the results of rolling back Giuliani/Bloomberg policing policies and that could be a winning issue for Lhota, too. Here in Harlem, those bikers are a real problem. I often see them tearing down Fifth Ave from the Bronx, popping wheelies and caring very little about pedestrians.

I realize this critique sounds pretty negative on Lhota, but it’s hard for me to get a frank assessment on the positives because I don’t see anything from the campaign, no doubt because of where I live.

I will say in regards to the debate (which was a little pointless since De Blasio chickened out – he can only hurt his campaign if he exposes just how liberal his platform is), Lhota didn’t seem as calm, confident, and prepared as Carrion – not as prepared, perhaps, or simply not properly prepped on how to respond to questions you’re not expecting.  Be decisive, not flustered!

Holy smokes, I just realized I haven’t seen any Lhota commercials…I don’t watch a ton of TV, but that should start soon, if it hasn’t already.  You can’t even hope to win city-wide in NYC if TV and radio aren’t a major part of your communications outreach.  Well, I guess there’s always hope.

And before I close out the topic, I can’t resist mentioning that Lhota’s nomination in the first place is classic establishment-Republicans-shooting-themselves-in-the-footism.  They chose to back the man they thought could win, instead of the best and most genuine Republican choice.  When will they ever learn that the voting public has an eerie knack for seeing through that play?

Thomas mentioned he was researching for a grassroots campaign in NYC.  So come along with me on a stream-of-consciousness ride through that subject, will you please?

I have no idea what your issue or candidate is, but I’m betting this post about fundraising will be helpful, along with  this one on GOTV organization, and this one on 72-hour campaigning.  There are more, but three self-promoting links is enough for now, I think.

Here’s the rub – “grassroots campaigning” doesn’t really exist in NYC.  There’s always some loon on the corner using traditional grassroots techniques (that work out in the real world of ‘Murica) to try and recruit Communists, or that guy who runs for whatever race is happening every single year on the Upper West Side – you know, the one with his name plastered on a van he leaves parked on the street – but he never wins, of course.

What “grassroots” would translate into here in the Big Apple (and most major metropolitan areas) is actually ‘influencer collection.’ I just made up that term, because as far as I know there isn’t a formal term for it yet, but the concept is not new.  The book Applebee’s America digs into the idea much deeper, but in summation, it’s the practice of locating significant members in a community – organization leaders, respected pastors, other politicians, union leaders, neighborhood/apartment complex/block association presidents, etc. – and convincing them to support you, thereby winning the votes of all the people they ‘influence.’  And because this city doesn’t have any real community, this system strangely works really well.  Influencers direct, and followers do what they do best.

Now, this phenomenon does work in more average towns and cities, too.  But not nearly in the extreme way it does here.  I believe it’s partly out of necessity.  With so many dwellings being locked-up apartment buildings and gated/guarded condos and townhomes, traditional door-to-door is impossible.

The point?  Aim for community leaders.  Get your candidate/representative in front of their organizations.  If that ends up being difficult – maybe your issue just isn’t in play right now and you can’t get the attention of any of the typical, busier influencers – aim for the tenant and block association leadership.  At the very least you can plan your grassroots effort around getting into those buildings so you can actually talk face-to-face with voters, leave campaign literature, and push your issue’s name ID.

They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.  While I disagree with most interpretations of that quote, I agree that NYC politics is about as harsh as it gets.  Anyone who simply survives it deserves a merit badge, and if you can win here, you can be successful in most of the rest of the political world.

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

Summertime Campaigning: Putting Together Your Summer Events Calendar

summer political campaigning

Woohoo!  It’s my absolute favorite time of the campaign year – summer time!  Parades, county fairs, strawberry festivals, and more!  That’s right, folks, all those summer events you love to attend will still be on your calendar.  The difference is that you’ll be chatting up voters and handing out campaign collateral at the same time.

It’ll take some dedicated organization to make sure you use your summer hours as effectively as possible.  I highly recommend finding a college or high school student to intern as a Summer Events Coordinator (one of my first political jobs!) to keep your grassroots campaign effort focused throughout the summer months.

Putting Together The Schedule

Before summer gets here, you’ll need to put together a calendar of all the public events in your district – include everything, even the dinkiest little pie eating contest or watermelon festival.  You can make this a part of your ‘official’ campaign calendar, but it’s likely you’ll need a separate calendar exclusively for summer events just because there are so many – especially if you’re running for something like the U.S. House of Representatives and your district covers many counties (the county fairs alone could fill your calendar).

Prioritizing Your Time

Next you’ll need to determine what events the candidate will attend, which ones will have a campaign presence, and which ones you’re skipping.  Here are a few guidelines for figuring out who goes where and when:

  • The candidate can’t attend everything. Consider having the candidate’s wife, kids (if they’re old enough), or campaign manager be the official rep for the campaign at some summer events.
  • Be sure you know what’s required to attend the event.  List out the cost to attend, how many staffers/volunteers you’ll need, whether you have space for a campaign booth, etc.
  • Use your volunteers wisely.  You only need a couple of people manning a booth at the county fair.  You’ll need as many volunteers as you can get walking in an Independence Day parade with you.  Make sure your volunteer requirements are listed in your summer events calendar.
  • Estimate how many of your voters will be in attendance.  If your district has only one precinct in Madison County, it might be a waste of time and money to attend the Madison County Fair when there are several other counties comprising the lion’s share of your district.
  • Don’t under-estimate the importance of small events.  A smaller event in the heart of your district may be worth the while for a candidate to attend if you think it will have the most active voters in attendance.  It may get press coverage in the local publications, and if you’re the only candidate in your race that shows, all the better.

Bargain With The Rest Of The Campaign

Summer events are important, but all the other normal campaign activities are still important.  You’ll need to beg, borrow and steal time away from fundraising, debates, media events, etc. to make it happen.  The good news is that the summer stuff is fun, so it can double as great family time (every campaign kids live on funnel cakes/elephant ears/cotton candy/corn dogs/lemon shake-ups all summer – which is AWESOME).  Additionally, you’ll be getting a lot of face time with voters that are involved in the community, which makes up (to some degree) for cutting back on things like going door-to-door.

Don’t worry, after Labor Day the number of community functions drops off dramatically, so you’ll be back in the campaign office soon enough.  Of course, that’s when the REAL WORK begins.

Put Someone In Charge

And it can’t be the candidate.  This is an excellent role for the Summer Events Coordinator, and you may need a back up in case there are multiple events in one day.  Having a designated leader helps to make sure everything goes smoothly, the candidate is where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be there, and there are plenty of supplies to last the entire event.

Apply those tips and you’ll be well on your way to having tons of summer campaign fun!

Post to Twitter