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.

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!

 

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.

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.

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

NO.  HAT.

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???

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)

How to Run for City Council – Know Your District

City Council District Map

Guess what!  It’s time for a geography lesson!

Clearly, you need to know where your district actually is if you are going to run and win a political campaign there (duh).  But district boundaries can be tricky!  Often, you’ll find that the streets at the perimeter of your district may be split – perhaps the east side of the street is in your district, but the west belongs to a different one.  You certainly don’t want to waste precious door-to-door time talking to people who can’t vote for you (although if they’ll stick your campaign sign in their yard, it’s not a total loss).

Your first order of business, if you didn’t pick it up on your initial filing trip, is to stop by the voter registration office and request copies of a map of your district.  Some counties actually have them online now.  Hopefully the maps are of a good enough quality that you can take them to Kinko’s or Staples and get a good blown up copy to hang on the wall.  You’ll want to have several copies on hand to mark up and use with volunteers as well.

For a city council race, you’ll have one to ten precincts within your district; most will have about five.  I recommend you grab some highlighters of various colors and choose one to outline your whole district, then pick a different color and outline each precinct.  Or if you want to get super fancy, borrow your daughter’s glitter markers and color code each precinct.

If you can’t make up your precinct maps from the district map available at voter registration, you can make up your own at the American Fact Finder website.  It takes a little time of playing around to get the hang of it, but once you’ve got it figured out, this website has a wealth of information beyond precinct boundaries.

After you’ve made up your maps, you’ll want to do some research using the census data available on American Fact Finder.  You should be able to get a pretty good idea where in your district seniors live, what areas have kids at home, you can break your district out by race, household income, education level, etc.  This information is invaluable, because these factors influence the issues that will most likely resonate with your voters.  For example, young families will care a lot about the local schools, seniors might care about a proposed community center, etc.

Once you have your maps in order and have studied them well enough to have a solid lay of the land, you’re ready to move on to the second (and even more complicated) piece of the data mining process: deciphering past election results.  We’ll get to that next.

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

march political cartoon irish st. patrick's day

Top o’ the month, to you, my faithful politicos! I’ve got another monthly update for you. Let’s touch base with what your campaign should be doing now that spring is nearly upon us…we hope.

  1. It’s time to put the pedal to the metal on planning your campaign strategy!  If you’re running for city council, and even if you’re running for something else, take a look at the first couple of posts in my Running for City Council series.  They’ve covered the steps preceding and up to this point – be on the look out for another post very soon that delves into campaign planning a little deeper.  You can also check out the campaign planning posts in the get started section, and it’s a good time to get the Campaign Planbook if you haven’t already.  Between now and a week or two before Memorial Day is the last opportunity you have to really sit down and put together a plan and schedule before things get crazy.  The earlier you plan the campaign, the sooner (and better) you can actually start campaigning.
  2. Attend city council meetings.  One would think this is a no-brainer, but I know plenty of candidates who don’t bother to attend current city council meetings.  This is not a place for campaigning, but for learning.  You’ll pick up on the issues that are important.  You’ll see how the current city council members interact.  Maybe you’ll even make a few friends.  Get yourself ahead of the curve and start picking up the councilman lingo now – it’ll make you a more confident and prepared candidate and elected official.
  3. Attend community events, if there are any.  March is the beginning of springtime and the excitement of Easter is mounting.  St. Patrick’s Day is a huge event in some communities.  In some places Dyngus Day is big.  Is there a Maple Sugar Festival in your neck of the woods?  Conversely, some communities are still totally dead in the early spring, and don’t have any big community events until Memorial Day.  If you are lucky enough to have these springtime activities in your town, they are great ways to get your face out there in front of potential voters early in the year.
    *Important Note* Sometimes these events are politician friendly, and sometimes it’s poor taste to wear your campaign pin and pass out campaign literature.  Throw your campaign gear in the trunk just in case, but assume you’ll just be gathering the family and enjoying a good time with friends and neighbors.  Feel free to talk about your run for office with others – get opinions, rouse excitement, but don’t feel like you have to be Mr. Candidate just yet.
  4. Expand your horizons.  You probably decided to run because you feel passionately about a handful of key issues affecting your city.  But there are probably many, many more issues out there that perhaps you never even knew existed.  Scour your local paper for public meetings of special interest groups in your area that are discussing local political issues that are new to you and attend those meetings.
    Don’t worry if it’s hosted by a traditionally anti-Republican organization.  The point is to open your own mind, exercise your ability to discuss issues with people who may disagree with you, make connections with activists in the community, perhaps build some unlikely alliances, and take a chip at the giant wall separating Us and Them.
  5. Do some legitimate campaigning!  When the weather allows, that is.  In much of the country, March is half winter and half early-summer.  Of course, you never know which days will be which!  However, take advantage of the cold days to focus on planning, planning, planning.  And when a warm day hits, take a walk around the neighborhood and actually knock on some doors!  Maybe practice on some neighbors you already know, and then branch out to a few streets that are new to you.  You don’t have to have your shiny campaign button or a slick brochure, but if you can print up a professional looking flyer on your home computer it’s a plus to bring it along (remember to put “Paid for by Committee to Elect John Doe” – or whatever your campaign’s name is – at the bottom).

Here’s a bonus tip for those of you working on your Campaign Planbook right now:  If you’re struggling in an area, use the GOPCampaigner.com search bar – there’s a good chance there’s already an article about it on the site.  Additionally, do not hesitate to ask a question in the comments or email me at GOPCampaigner@gmail.com.  I love questions from campaigners ‘in the field,’ because if you’re wrestling with something, there’s a good chance other candidates and campaign managers are dealing with the same issue.  It helps me to better serve the rest of the GOPCampaigner.com community when I have specific issues/topics to discuss.

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

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.