Hat in the Ring, Not on Your Head!

Political candidates should not wear hats.

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

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

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

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

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

no hat bush


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

Leave the hats at home!

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

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What’s In A Name? Using A Crazy Name To Yourself Get Elected

funny names on political yard signs

My favorite posts to write are the ones that answer real questions from real readers of my blog!  Here’s one I received via GOP Campaigner’s Facebook page:

” I would like to run for office in the foreseeable future. I have always been very passionate about politics and serving others…but I have an unusual name that people usually find very uncommon. In your experience, how important is your name? I know this question is little weird but I can foresee it being an issue especially in conservative states, I am republican, however. I even thought about changing my name to something little more Anglican.”

My dear reader, don’t change your name!  At least, not if you like it, anyway.

There was a time when boring names like John, George, James, Thomas, etc. were the rule in politics, but that’s probably also reflective of the make up of the country at the time.  America is becoming more ‘ethnic’ by the day, and you need only take a look at the names of some of our current congressmen to see that.  Oh, and our current president is names Barack Hussein Obama.  Having a unique name doesn’t mean you have to abandon any hopes of running in a successful political campaign.

A funny name can actually be a good thing.  It’s different, so it stands out in a radio ad or on a yard sign.  Things that are ‘different’ are easier to remember, giving your name identification a boost.  There are a lot of ways to leverage an interesting name in your favor in your run for office.  Here are just a few:

  • Use word play to tie your name to your district, your platform, or the elected office you’re running for.  A little cleverness will not only help voters remember your name, but also a little about your campaign.
  • Use your nickname.  You can use any variation of your name that you choose on the ballot, including some nicknames.  If your state doesn’t allow using the nickname alone (“Smiley Smith”), they may at least allow you to include your nickname in the complete name on the ballot (“John ‘Smiley’ Smith”).  Not only are nicknames more memorable, they help to make you seem more relatable.
  • Shorten your name.  If your name is difficult to pronounce, consider finding a way to make it shorter or easier without changing the ‘essence’ of your full name.
  • Emphasize paid media that boosts name ID, like radio ads, billboards and yard signs, in your campaign planning and budgeting.

Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is that you own your name.  You can be proud of your heritage and be a patriotic and dedicated public servant at the same time.  In fact, nowhere is that more true than in our great country.

The 2012 elections made it pretty clear that the Republican party knows it needs to embrace cultural and ethnic diversity within its own ranks in order to garner much needed ‘minority’ votes in national elections.  They just haven’t quite figured out how yet.  We desperately need brave Republican candidates from Latino, Asian, African American, Native American, Arabic, Jewish, and many other backgrounds to step up and plunk their funny sounding names on the ballot with a big fat (R) next to it.  Without them, the GOP will be going out of style along with names like Albert and Eugene.

And hey, just for fun, check out some of these funny political candidates’ names.

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Paid Communications

political campaign budgeting for paid communications

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

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

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

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

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5 Quick Tips on How to Throw An Awesome Campaign Event

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

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Politics And Parenting – Are They Mutually Exclusive?

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

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

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

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

Warning:  Tangential Rant Below

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

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

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

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

Back to Parenting and Politics

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

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Running for Congress: Should You Hire an Image Consultant?

political Consultant Services

What are the chances you’ll actually need an image consultant?  Probably not huge.  But if you’re running for Congress, there’s a better chance you’ll need their help in the event that your race becomes competitive or pivotal on a national scale.

An image consultant is someone you hire to come in and tell you everything you’re doing wrong.  Your hair is too shaggy.  Your tie should be solid blue, not red with paisleys.  Your wife needs a girdle.  Your voice is too high.  You get the idea.  These people are experts at making you look and sound good on TV.  I generally don’t endorse hiring consultants at all, so I’d say start with common sense, some internet research, and maybe going to the salon for a make over (yes, male candidates as well).  But if you really feel like you need the guidance, here are some guidelines when it comes to hiring consultants to keep in mind:

  1. Determine if you really need an image consultant in the first place.  You don’t have to be super-handsome to get elected.  Your choice of tie (unless it’s really, really bad) probably isn’t going to have an effect at the polls.  However, if you have problems speaking publicly that you can’t remedy on your own, for example, you may need outside help.
  2. Don’t hire a consultant until you have the money to pay them.  Find out their fees upfront and set aside a portion of your budget for consultant fees, then make sure you’ve raised enough funds before you sign any sort of contract.
  3. Don’t hire a consultant until you are absolutely sure you need one.  A lot of campaigns, especially at the Congressional level, hire consultants early on, without the funds on hand, because ‘that’s just what you’re supposed to do.’  It’s not.  Don’t do it.  It’s an insult to your donors to be so frivolous with their money.
  4. Don’t hire a consultant unless you are sure you can accept what they might tell you.  It can seem really offensive when an image consultant tells you to whiten your teeth, lose some weight, and get rid of your unibrow.  Or when a media consultant tells you that you basically need to change your personality altogether.  It happens.  But here’s the thing – it’s probably true, and you’re paying them to tell you these things, so just suck it up and do it.  I’ve had candidates that hire consultant after consultant, then fire them because they don’t want to hear that they’re doing things wrong.  Don’t be that guy.  Or if you know you are that guy, don’t waste your money in the first place.

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Reacting to Negative Campaigning: The “Stop, Drop & Roll” Approach

My candidate’s opponent just announced he’s dropping out of the primary race. He was caught in a couple lies and then claimed a conspiracy between my candidate and the Democrat incumbent. After going public with his conspiracy theory he decided he did not like the person he had become and dropped out of the race.
First, how do we unite the Party after such an event? Second, we still have a primary to win; both names will be on the ballot. How do we tactfully handle the issue of our opponent forfeiting the race?

This is a fantastic, specific example of a typical PR problem you may approach on the campaign trail.  Special thanks to the commenter who posted it so that I could share the answer with everyone.  In this situation, we’re dealing with what seems to be a flighty primary competitor now, and anticipating taking on an incumbent in the general.  So it’s a double whammy.

Let’s deal with this question one part at a time.  The first issue is that your primary opponent has sunk his own ship and is trying to do as much damage to your campaign while he tanks.  He’s thrown out some negative information in accusation.  How do you handle that?


First thing’s first.  If someone points to you and yells “LIAR! LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!” Stop and look at your pants before you do anything else.

Did you in fact have any role in what happened to your primary opponent?  If not, relax.  Your opponent has already been established as a liar, and no one will be surprised if he’s lying about you, too.

When someone throws negative accusations at you, WAIT and see if the story “has legs.”  If you give a knee-jerk reaction and hurriedly put out a press release rebutting the accusation, you’ve just signalled the media that this story may be worth looking into.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!  If your opponent wants to throw out a couple of false accusations before his campaign breathes it’s last, let him.  Don’t assume anyone else will pick the story up until it actually happens.


What if you get a call from a journalist wanting your response to the accusations?

This is where we can learn a good lesson from Herman Cain’s PR faux pas.  Here’s my recommendation:  Tell the truth as fully as possible.  Always.

In Cain’s case, there was a grain of truth in the accusation leveled, and denying it completely or not addressing it with the full truth right away allowed the public’s imagination to go wild.  If you don’t fill in the blanks, the press or the public will do it for you.  I promise.

We’re going to assume that you had nothing to do with your opponent’s flop and aren’t involved in a conspiracy with the Democrat incumbent.  I would say the chances are FAR GREATER that no recurring stories will pop up and people will forget the accusations or brush them off as yet another lie completely, especially if it sounds concocted and fake to begin with, which it probably does.  The public will DROP the story, and you should too.

Should the press call you up, explain that you aren’t in contact at all with the Democrat incumbent and that you have no knowledge of the events your opponent’s accusations mention.  Just drop it.


Now, if you’re on the phone with a media person about the issue, you do have to ROLL with the punches.  This is actually an opportunity.  You must follow your ‘drop’ response up with the message you want the press to write about.

You could:

  1. Site the failures of your opponent and point out how you are different.
  2. Redirect the conversation completely.  Brush off the primary opponent as yesterday’s news, and outline your campaign message for the general against your Democrat opponent.  This is where you can start your effort to reunite the party.
Now let’s address the other parts of your question:  “How do we reunite the party?”
The party divides and reunites itself all the time.  And if you’re the only Republican candidate, they certainly aren’t going to work against you.  The most that they will do is just not help you much, which isn’t that big of a loss, because the ‘help’ the county/state parties usually give is rarely ever worth much.
You need to focus on voters.  And 95% of voters are completely unaware of what ‘the party’ thinks or does.  Don’t waste any money or time on ‘reuniting’ the party.  Just be sure at party fundraisers and events that you make your support for the party clear and openly express your desire to work together with them.  Talk the talk, ya know.
It really sucks that your primary opponent will still be on the ballot.  But since he’s no longer campaigning, you just need to make sure that you still do all the work you planned to do to get your name out there.  When voters go to the polls and see your signs everywhere and have heard your message through the GOTV effort you’ve already been working on, they are going to vote for you.
And the final part:  “How do we handle the issue of our opponent forfeiting the race?”
I’ve seen campaigns that have had to handle similar issues and usually when a campaign tries to explain the issue to voters, it just confuses them, and doesn’t really change the outcome.  I say deal with the issue as minimally as possible and shift your focus to being the Republican candidate and running against the democrat incumbent.  Go ahead and start your general campaign messaging now.  That way you’ll have a strong head start when the incumbent is only just starting his campaign.
Hope this helps – let us know how things shake out!



















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