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.

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

how to run for city council choosing your campaign team

Chandler for Borough President!

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

The Campaign Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Run for City Council – Get A Grip

How to run for city council

NYC City Councilman Christine Quinn – I just like this pic of her. She doesn’t actually look much like this in real life.

Running for city council is a lot like running for any other office…and yet different.  If you know nothing about political campaigning and this city council run is your first foray into the election process, keep on reading – I’ll walk you through the steps of designing a successful campaign over the course of the next few days/weeks.

Get A Grip On Your Mindset

There are a few different approaches to framing a political campaign and it’s very important that you choose the right one in order to create a winning ‘tone’ for your campaign communications.  Keep in mind, this isn’t about why or how you’re trying running.  You may seriously hate the guy currently representing your city council district, and want nothing more than to beat the pants off him in an election, but you can’t write a great, winning campaign plan with in that state of mind.

You need to approach this city council race in a way the voters can relate to it.  Every elected office has its own flavor.  You have to identify the flavor of yours, and go with it, at least on the surface.  This will be a key piece of putting together your campaign message. Think about it this way:  If you were running for mayor or governor or some other executive branch office, you would basically be auditioning to be the star in a one-man show.  Think about the presidential nomination process.  On both sides, candidates are selling their own life/personality/résumé, and making campaign promises like they can just wave their hand and make all your dreams come true (some of them really believe it, too).

Running for a state or congressional representative seat is a different story.  In these campaigns we see more of an “us” verses “them” mentality, and candidates running at this level tend to plan their campaigns like they’re running to be Team Captain for “Our Team.”  Imagine campaign slogans like “Joe Smith Will Fight for You” and “Jane Johnson Leads Us to Prosperity.”  These are the types of campaign messages that play well for representative elections.

Running for city council is a different animal all together.  In this scenario, you’re simply a freshman at tryouts, hoping you make JV and not even dreaming about varsity.  You just want to play the game.  No one expects their city councilperson to be argumentative, pushy or divisive.  They envision a city council full of ‘team players’ working together in very droll, drawn-out meetings to determine if this building or that one should be re-zoned.  Using a campaign message that suggests you’re a ‘fighter’ or ‘the leader’ is not going to fit with that picture in the voters’ heads (whether the picture is accurate or not is irrelevant).

Does that mean you have to run your campaign like you’re simply a follower?  No!  Pick some important city issues and promise to give them a voice (and keep that promise) – but do it in a manner that tells the voter you’re running to do your part so the whole team to win, not just you. Now go brainstorm some campaign slogans for your city council race!

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Republicans: Who We Are

Governor Andrew Cuomo tells conservatives to get out of New York

Here in the great state of New York, our governor, Andrew Cuomo, kind of put his foot in his mouth recently.  I’m not a journalist, so I’m not going to report the story to you, but you can listen to the whole thing here.  But here’s the important part of what he said:

“You have a schism in the Republican Party.  The Republican Party is searching for an identity.  They’re searching to define their soul.  Is the Republican Party in this state a moderate party, or is it an extreme conservative party?  That’s what they’re trying to figure out…the gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans, it’s more about extreme Republicans and moderate Republicans.  The moderate Republicans can’t figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans, and the moderate Republicans are afraid of the extreme conservative Republicans…their problem is not me and the Democrats.  Their problem is themselves.  Who are they?  Are they these extreme conservatives who are Right to Life?  Pro-assault weapons?  Anti-gay?  Is that who they are?  Because if that’s who they are, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

After this part he discusses some specific state issues, makes up some really, really bizarrely fake statistics, and kinda sorta endorses ‘moderate’ Republicans in general.  As you can imagine, conservatives all over the Empire State are riled up.  I could write a whole other post on how Mr. Cuomo could have more eloquently and less offensively made his point (which has been completely missed by all the media, it would seem), but I’m not here to solve his problems (although Peggy Noonan did a good job of it here).  I’m here to solve yours. At the end of this diatribe, Cuomo poses a really pointed question.  A question every Republican has asked themselves more than once over the past decade–

“Who are the Republicans?  And who wins between the extreme conservatives and the moderates?”

And if you’re running for office in 2014, this is the perfect time to ponder this question, because the success of everything you do from this point on – developing a campaign messaging strategy especially – rests on how you answer this question for yourself, and how firmly you’re willing to stand by that answer. Let’s take a look at the history of the GOP, shall we?

Technically, there have been two Republican parties in our nation’s history, and the first one cropped up in the 1790s when the founding fathers were still on the political scene as the Democratic-Republican Party (basically, Thomas Jefferson’s anti-Federalist party).  The party’s philosophy was much more nebulous than would be acceptable as a party platform these days, but generally revolved around Jefferson’s concept of “republicanism” which, by his definition, narrowly focused on the themes of liberty and equality.

“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.” –Thomas Jefferson

After the Federalist Party petered out and the Era of Good Feelings began, the Democratic-Republican Party faded away as well. Though the first Republican Party became obsolete, the principles behind it–freedom and equality–were the same values that prompted abolitionist political leaders to form the Republican Party that still exists today.  Abraham Lincoln is, famously, the first Republican president.  And is there a greater national representative for freedom and equality?

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

Along the way, we’ve had a few truly legendary men to serve as bastions for the GOP.  But here’s the funny thing–the coolest Republicans have never fallen in lockstep with a boilerplate political platform.  They set new standards.  They think of republican principles first, and only after that do they define Republican platforms.  Teddy Roosevelt was an environmentalist, for example.  That’s not a value typically assigned to the Republican platform, but it should be noted it was there.

“I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Freedom, for our nation as a value but also for  individuals, is the one common thread that has held the Republican Party together for decades.  In his later years, when the issue was thrust onto the national political agenda, Barry Goldwater–the conservative standard-bearer Barry Goldwater–became an advocate for gay rights.  Some people think maybe he was off his rocker toward the end.  I think he understood the republican value that my rights only extend so far as they do not infringe on another man’s freedom.

“Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.” – Barry Goldwater

So when you’re determining your campaign’s key issues, when you’re interacting with voters–especially those who don’t completely agree with you–and when you’re trying to decide what “type” of “Republican” you’re going to be, please remember Thomas Jefferson’s original vision for what it means to be republican.

“I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.” – Ronald Reagan

So what is the answer to Mr. Cuomo’s question?  Lincoln said “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” and that’s just as true today as it was when our nation was ripping itself in two.  Will the Republican Party split itself out of existence, leaving only moderate Democrats and Socialists to run the country?  Or will we find some common ground to stand on?  If you intend to be a candidate for office this year, no matter how big or small, you are an integral part of answering that question.

What kind of Republican will you be?  Hopefully one who thinks for himself.  Don’t allow yourself to be trapped by terms like “conservative,” “establishment,” “Tea Party,” and so on.  You can be a part of those things without being a slave to them.

“The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas – a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated.” – Ronald Reagan

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Bracing Yourself to Lose – 9 Reasons You May Be Destined to Lose Your Political Campaign

Losing a political campaign isn't always bad

I know, it’s not the most upbeat way to start out your campaign journey, but preparing yourself in the chance that you should lose your political race is quite possibly the most critical step in the early part of the process of running for office.  So here are some thought jump-starters to help you come to terms with the idea that God may be calling you to lose this election…and that’s totally okay.

  • You could be running to shine light on an important issue that’s currently in the dark. Palin’s VP candidacy forced Americans to think about pro-life issues in a whole new way.  Between her daughter’s teen pregnancy and her own Down Syndrome baby, her run for the vice presidency really forced people to consider issues that, while they’ve been an undercurrent in today’s society, had never before held a national spotlight.  Maybe there’s something about you, your family, or your platform that your community desperately needs to ponder, but until now they haven’t had the chance.
  • Your campaign could be about forcing your opponent to deal with specific issues he would otherwise evade.  I generally advise against focusing on your opponent instead of yourself in a campaign, but sometimes there are things that just can’t be left unsaid.  Maybe it’s an incumbent flagrantly abusing his elected office, or maybe your opponent has a horrible voting record on a particular critical issue, like education, that must be brought to light.  Even if you don’t win, your opponent will still have to deal with the public’s new awareness to such issues.
  • You may be on the campaign trail to meet new people who will change the course of your life.  Those people may have something to do with your political campaign, or not.  They may take an active role in your world for many years to come, or may just be a blip on the radar.  Maybe it’s campaign volunteer, or a prominent community leader who’s put their faith in your campaign, or someone who doesn’t even live in your district that read about you in the paper.  Maybe it’s even just one brief conversation with someone whose name you won’t remember that changes you.
  • Just like you may meet someone that changes your life on the road to elected office, you may also be the person who inspires others.  Maybe you’ll never even know it.  Or maybe thirty years from now you’ll be casting your own vote for the kid who filed papers in your campaign office after school twice a week.  You just never know.
  • Campaigns bring out the best and the worst in people, and you’ll be no exception.  You may find that you learn something about yourself you never would have known without this experience, and hopefully it’s something that changes you for the better.
  • Maybe you’re being tested.  It happened to Job, right?  I can’t find any real evidence that God actually puts people ‘to the test’ with overwhelming challenges just for the purpose of testing them, so likely there’s a deeper reason you’re being pushed to your limits.  Figure out what it is, and deal with it appropriately.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…right?
  • This is probably the only truly strategic reason it’s okay to lose that I have for you.  Even if you don’t win a run for state representative, being in a higher profile race will increase your name recognition in case you choose to run for mayor or city council in an overlapping district next year.  And taking a look at your election results will give you a good idea of where you actually won, and help you choose a district that better suits your political strengths for your next run.
  • It could be you’re just not meant to win yet.  I mean…Abraham Lincoln has an incredibly intriguing political history, full of wins, losses and lots of setbacks which led to him being president at exactly the time United States of America launched into full-blown crisis mode.  Coincidence?  I think not.
  • Even in a losing campaign, you’ll gain real-world experience managing a team, running a ‘business,’ handling complicated finances, working with a variety of personalities–all skills that will come in handy in whatever career field your ‘real’ job is.  Embrace those lessons and put them to good use.

Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t expect you to watch unfavorable election results rolling in with a big smile on your face or anything.  It’s fine to be sad, to be disappointed in a loss.  What’s not fine is letting it eat you up inside.  If you are a person that struggles with rejection and failure, losing a political election–having the voting public essentially tell you they don’t want you–would be a devastating blow from which you may never fully recover.  That’s why it is so incredibly important that you are sure you can handle losing should that be your fate.

So what does it mean to be prepared to lose?  It means starting with the end in mind–and I don’t just mean the end of this election cycle.  Make a promise to yourself to be true to your convictions, always to be mindful of how you affect others, and keep yourself open to new people and new ideas.  Know that there are so many possible outcomes that are better than winning.

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

Running a campaign in the new year

Happy New Year!

Welcome to a brand new election cycle.  Even though the national media has already completely blown off the 2014 elections in favor of covering the eating habits of every potential 2016 presidential candidate in the country, here at GOP Campaigner we care more about who’s running for town council.  And with that in mind, I’ve decided to start the new year with a post that will hopefully get you focused on your goal for 2014 – winning your political campaign!

So what should you be doing right now?

  1. Decide.  I mean really decide.  Get introspective, and deep, and truly determine whether you’re ready for this monumental challenge.  How to do this?  Here are some questions you need to answer for yourself:
    • Why do I want to run for office?
    • Do I want to be mayor/city councilman/state representative because I really want the job?  Or is it because I don’t like how the incumbent does it now? (Hint: Running just to unseat a jerk is not a good reason!)
    • What do I want to accomplish in this elected position?  What issues are important to me?
    • Is my family prepared for a run for office?  Remember, it’s not just your life that will be in upheaval.  Your wife and children will definitely be affected, and will suffer if you don’t prepare.
    • Finally, search your heart.  Sit in silence in some peaceful, spiritual place, and just wait.  Do you feel excited at the prospect of running a campaign, like you’re starting a great adventure?  Or do you feel apprehensive about your ability to handle the attention, the work, the upheaval?
    • Is your spouse on board?  Because it’s never worth it if you don’t have full spousal support. 
  1. Mentally prepare yourself for losing.  Yes, you could lose.  That’s always a possibility, even in races that seem a sure bet.  So make sure you’re emotionally capable of handling a loss.  Too many candidates put their whole self worth into the voters hands on election day and let me tell you, the voters do not care about your ego.
  2. Consult the family.  This is the time for scheduling out the important parts of your life so that later you can schedule campaigning around your family life, instead of the other way around.  All too often soccer games and dance recitals and supporting your wife’s interests and hobbies are an afterthought, after you’ve already set up a campaign schedule that dominates your evenings and weekends.  If you’re in a stage of life where you’re raising a growing family, they should always come first.  Always.  The voters will forget about you by December, whether you win or lose.  Your kids will never forget that you missed their biggest events of the year.
  3. Figure out your one big reason.  When someone says, “Why are you running for county commissioner?”  You should have a simple, heartfelt, one-sentence response that lines up with both your values and the community’s needs.  It needs to be genuine, not strategic.  It needs to be specific, not vague.  Make it universal and personal at the same time.  You’ll know it when you find it.
  4. Paperwork.  You’ll have to go to the courthouse or voter registration office in your town (or county seat) and file documentation stating that you intend to run for elected office.  You’ll also have to open up a business bank account for your campaign.  Now before you go running to the city building to sign up, you should know that it’s not always in your best interest to file on the very first day.  There are plenty of reasons you may want to wait and file as late as possible.  Usually, however, just making sure you get the paperwork done in a timely manner is good enough.  This is the first official step you’ll take as a candidate for elected office.
Here’s some further reading to help you through this process:

That’s pretty much it for now.  Don’t worry about talking to voters, getting the media’s attention, or pulling your campaign team together for recurring meetings.  It’s way too early for that.  Enjoy the rest of January, because when spring rolls around, the crazy starts, and it only grows from there until you’re barreling into November at break-neck speeds.  Now is the time for a calm, peaceful, family-filled start to the new year.

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How to Deal With Abortion and Other Off-Agenda Social Issues

Brace yourselves, folks, for a rant, because that’s just the mood I’m in.

I am oh so ever annoyed with the way many conservatives are painting the party into a corner by constantly beating the drum of several less-than-popular social issues that, quite frankly, aren’t important at the moment and likely won’t be until after 2016.  I’m just spit-balling, but I think it’s pretty evident that ObamaCare, the economy, and maybe education will be the top (and virtually only) issues in 2014.

I’m going to tackle an issue I happen to be fairly knowledgeable about: abortion.  But the general rules outlined in this post could also apply to other hotly-debated social issues like gay marriage.

abortion social issues

The Facts

Join me for a quick hop over to Gallup, the nation’s top public opinion research company, and see what they say that we say.

Hm, well, look at that.  According to study after study, year after year, Americans as a whole are NOT pro-abortion.  In Gallup’s in-depth review, they even state that the all-or-nothing terms ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ are inadequate and misleading.  Here are the facts:

  • The country is not split on abortion.  The media quote stats that indicate about 1/2 the country is ‘pro-life’ and half is ‘pro-choice.’
    What they don’t tell you is that half of that ‘pro-choice’ group is:
    1.  Against 2nd and 3rd trimester abortion.
    2.  Against abortion except in cases of rape/incest/life of mother.
    3.  Against partial birth abortion.
    4.  Less than 3% of abortions are due to rape/incest/protecting the life of the mother.
    That means roughly 75% of Americans are against 97% of abortions.
  • Republicans are reliably pro-life by about 70%.  Democrats actually vary widely from 19% to nearly half, depending on demographics…curiously, under-educated and poorer democrats are actually more pro-life, hm…
  • It’s not the young and frightened teen getting most of the abortions - they’re only 17% of the equation.  The majority lies with unmarried 20-something white women who cite ‘financial stress’ or not wanting to be a single parent as their reason.  A surprisingly high number are repeat abortions and abortions for women who already have a child (or children), again the vast majority unmarried.
  • There may be something to this Black Genocide theory.
  • 1 in 6 voters hold abortion as a ‘make or break’ issue in winning their vote, nearly half view it as one of several important factors.

The Point

There are a gazillion more statistics I could throw at you, and this may all seem irrelevant to your political campaign, and maybe it is, but you need to know it anyway.  Because someone will ask you.

If you’re running for Congress it matters because abortion is a classic national level public (a.k.a. media) agenda issue.

If you’re running for mayor, city council or a county wide position and there’s an abortion clinic in your district, it matters.

It matters most for a state senate or state representative seat because state legislatures are the true battleground for the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

Not to mention, there’s always the potential for you to progress up, and it may come into play in another race.

The Problem

You might be wondering why I feel the need to write an in-depth post about this topic.  For the record, I’m pro-life.  And I’m constantly ripping my hair out because some ‘staunch pro-lifer’ in a committee in some state legislature has killed a bill that would have curtailed abortions by some percentage on the grounds that it wasn’t ‘strong enough.’

As if that isn’t enough, I rip out whatever hair I had left because some promising new candidate gets caught off guard and says something religious/sentimental/fundamental on the topic that the media then happily takes out of context and over-plays on every newscast from now until election day, and a would-be ally doesn’t get elected at all.

There are some things that pro-life candidates (and current politicians, too) need to keep in mind:

  • This is a war.  We are not going to win it in one sweeping battle.  It will take incremental changes to peel back the over-reach of Roe v. Wade.  It will take a great deal of sly cleverness to get any sort of pro-life legislation past the long and well-funded arm of the pro-abortion movement, namely Planned Parenthood.  They stomp on any legislation that’s even remotely pro-life, regardless if it’s damaging to greater issues like women’s health.  Inspect abortion clinics? Require basic health standards?  Let women see their ultrasounds?  Tell them about adoption?  How dare you!
  • Accept that Roe v. Wade is probably here to stay, at least in this lifetime.  If you take an all-or-nothing approach to your pro-life agenda, you will fail.  You should approach any and all pro-life legislation by asking yourself, “Can this save one life?”  If the answer is yes, support it!  For God’s and the unborn’s sake, don’t kill the bill yourself because it’s not stringent enough, and don’t change it to the point that no democrat will support it.  Saving one at a time is infinitely better than saving none.
  • There are other, more effective ways to curb abortions.  Think about the women who have them – unmarried, often already has one child or more, low-income.  How can you help these women to not fall into these categories?

The Rules

This delicate subject requires a complicated web of rules when it comes to addressing it publicly – or even privately – during a political campaign.  The last thing you want to do is scare away would-be supporters because you make an overly sentimental display of support one way or another – these candidates are (usually outrageously unfairly) labeled right-wing fundamentalist evangelical looneys.  And your words will be taken out of context and go viral online.  I promise.  So bear with me through what promises to be the most tedious – but potentially campaign-saving – post you’ve ever read.

For the sake of convenience, I’m going to assume anyone who’s tripped upon this post is pro-life and Republican.

  1. You do not need to talk about it.  If some one asks you, of course, you can simply tell them you are pro-life and are free to answer any follow up questions, but you don’t need to shout it from the rooftops, include it in your stump speech, or mention it in a bullet point on your palm card.  You should have a fleshed out issue stance about abortion on your website, as every other conceivably important issue.  Websites are for voters who really need to know you – typically independent-minded informed voters.
  2. When you do talk about it, especially when you’re on the record in any way, quote statistics, not Bible verses.  The liberal media wants you to talk about Jesus.  They’re dying for you to bring up Bible verses no average American has heard before.  That’s exactly the soundbite they need to make you look like a Bible-thumping, ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian with a close-minded and backward view, completely lost in these modern, free-spirited times.
  3. Use the opportunity to talk about other issues and initiatives that support women.  Show sympathy for the women who may find themselves in this situation.  Surely many feel like there is no way out.  What are you doing to help them out?  How are you making adoption an easier choice?  How are you making employment with kids easier?  How are you building a supportive environment for the nuclear family?  How about addressing the issue of fatherlessness head on?  That’s a good angle for a black Republican candidate in particular.  Show voters you love them both.
  4. Redirect, redirect, redirect.  Answer the question if you must.  But embrace the freedom to give an answer completely unrelated to the question.  Focus on the issues that matter, and most importantly, the issues that are already imbedded in your communications strategy.

Okay, so now that I’ve written it out, it isn’t really complicated at all.  So take it to heart, apply it to appropriate hot-button issues, and win.

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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.

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Top Ten Reasons NOT to Trust Your Political Party

Lincoln Roosevelt republican party campaign

Yep, that's about right.

 

  1. They want to win.  They don’t necessarily want you to win.
  2. They are supposed to be neutral in primary elections.  They aren’t.  They will support, either tacitly or explicitly, the candidate they think is most likely to win in the general, regardless of whether they are the best Republican choice.
  3. They are comprised primarily of people who’ve failed in real political endeavors.  They aren’t elected officials, they aren’t actually working on a campaign.  They’re just…hobby politicos.  In other words, there’s a good chance their ‘campaign knowledge’ comes from watching West Wing, not real life.
  4. They usually don’t have much money to throw your way, but they’ll try with all their might to make you think they do.  And require you to jump through hoops of all kinds to get any of it.
  5. Like the last point, they also lack follow-through on providing volunteer support.  You always have to do your own recruitment and grassroots organization.  Don’t count on county or state GOP to provide it for you.
  6. The state party is not a business, it’s a network.  It’s not producing a product (winning Republican candidates).  It basically functions as a buddy-boosting good ol’ boys club that lends itself more to supporting friends and cashing in favors than to analyzing data and critically thinking about win-loss potential.
  7. The state party fills it’s worker bee positions with kids whose dad donates a ton of money to the party or ‘knows a guy.’  And those kids generally can’t get a job anywhere else, or worse yet, haven’t tried (as a side note: if you’re looking for real talent for campaign interns and the like, look at legislative aids – they usually have to prove their chops, daddy-advantages or none).  So we’re not talking cream of the crop here.  They generally have no campaign experience or education at all.
  8. If you thought actual politics was bad, consider internal party politics the seventh layer of hell.  The lying, the back-stabbing, the crazy wicked plots you thought only villains in movies hatched – it’s all there.  And trust me, you don’t want any part of it.
  9. The Tea Party is confusing the crap out of everyone.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re doing what needs to be done by infiltrating the establishment GOP.  Their platform is basically what the Republican platform *should* be.  However, the average American just associates ‘Tea Party’ with fringe weirdos.  Until this feud ends, political candidates need to set themselves apart from the partisan in-fighting.
  10. Republican Parties, particularly at the state level, have so many of their own problems, they can’t even begin to care about yours.

The GOP is at a crossroads.  We are in the process of redefining what it means to be a Republican.  Throughout this turmoil, we’re all experiencing the growing pains of a political party being reborn into a new era.  Not everyone is sure the party will even survive it.  

But there are too many conservatives and freedom-lovers out there to leave them party-less.  It’s my hope that in the next few years, saying ‘I am a Republican’ will have true meaning again.  Hopefully it will evoke feelings of patriotism, freedom, moral charity, and fortitude.  Until that day comes, it’s your responsibility to embody those characteristics, and in doing so, the Republican ‘brand’ will begin to change in the minds of Americans, and the GOP leadership will turn over to better reflect what we’ve become.

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Political Technology: Why You Probably Shouldn’t Care

Quick story:

One fine day, I was managing a campaign for a typical Republican candidate in a slightly left-leaning district when, about 48 hours before Election Day, I was informed that I’d need to take 30 of my volunteers off important jobs like phone banking, door-knocking, and giving voters a ride to the polls, and have them sit in the polling stations next to the Big Book of Registered Voters, using their cell phones to tick off the names of the Republicans who came in to vote for some new technological doo-hickey thingamabobber…apparently the state party had put this all together for all the Republican candidates.  I still don’t know what it was, because it probably hasn’t been used since.

Anywho, I tried to cobble together some kids to do this incredibly boring task, but when E-Day came, I had better things to do and, whoops, apparently my race was the ONLY one not popping up numbers on their fancy new thingy they probably spent WAAAY too much money on, and boy did I get an unprofessionally worded phone call from my napoleonic boss!

Oh, but I won that race.  By a significant margin.  And you know who didn’t win?  Every. Other. Republican. In the state.  Well, running for a contentious seat in the state legislature.  We lost a ton of seats that year.

And what did I get for my insubordinate success?

you're fired political campaign

Except Trump is way better looking than my then boss.

But I was like –

Whatever political campaign

Whatevs, sucka.

And I moved to DC and never looked back.  Luckily, this experience was on-the-job learning gold.  After that, I had a whole new set of rules and tools that helped me avoid future techno mistakes.

So without further ado, here are the 5 rules of political technology:

  1. Don’t be distracted by shiny new gadgets or digital online thingies that promise to make Election Day run smoothly and give you the biggest win since GW the original was nearly crowned king of the USA.  
  2. Facebook likes and re-tweets are not votes.  And they never will be.  Even national level candidates still need to learn this fact.  I’ve actually seen campaign plans that based their numbers on the idea that maybe they were.
  3. If it’s not already in the budget, don’t spend money on it.  
  4. Yes, there are a few ‘technologies’ that you should invest in, the first being a website.  But not a $3,000 website some scheister tries to sell you on.  One your teenage son makes for you for like $10 a month through Hostgator (like this one!) and then uses to double as his final project for computer class.  You should have a presence on Facebook and Twitter because it’s fun and it’s free and it’s a great way to communicate, but it is NOT worth spending ‘real’ time or money on.
  5. Don’t let the state party, local party, a special interest group, or any other entity or person outside your campaign push you into spending time or money on something that’s not in your campaign plan.  You may be a Republican, but that does not make you beholden to them!
  6. Bonus rule!  You are running for county commissioner (or an equally local race), dude.  You do not need some crazy start up business sending texts on your behalf to every cell phone in your area code!  Do not pay for that $h*t!
At this point you are thinking, “Great!  I now know to be leery of political technology.  But I’m really not sure what that is.”  Ah, well, I’m glad you brought that up!  The term ‘political technology’ doesn’t really have a definition yet, but what you’re on the lookout for is -
  • anything online, including email and online fundraising
  • anything on cell phones, like apps voters can have on their phones, or texting services.
  • most things that give you ‘data’ that you can’t somehow dig up yourself, like a voter database.

These are the types to avoid, at least, because at the local level they’re really not worth the money.  If you’re in a really hot race and they really are worth the time and money, I guarantee a friendly special interest group will be more than happy to shell out the cash and manpower to make it happen.  If they aren’t willing to pay for it themselves, it’s probably not worth paying for.

In conclusion, while technological advances have definitely changed the way campaigns are run and won at the congressional and presidential levels, they simply don’t make much of an impact below that point yet in most of the country.  In more urban areas, *free* technology (not specifically political in nature, however) like Facebook has proven to be a method of breaking through the noise to get some attention, but still has no real impact on election results.  Stick to the basics, the methods that have worked from our nation’s Day 1, and you’ll carve out a clear path to victory.

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