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 Summer! – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

summer campaigning

By now your campaign should be in full swing, and hopefully your family isn’t missing you yet, because it’ll be a loooong time before you can sit down and have a regular meal with them again.  July and August are fun on the campaign trail because summer is often full of fun events and lots of opportunities to meet people, which is pretty much the singular purpose of a campaign in summer.  You’ll need to be laser focused on voter contact while the weather is amiable.

  1. Door-to-door.  I hope you picked some really fun campaign tchotchkes, because this is when they’ll get the most use!  You’ll knock on hundreds of doors this summer, and run through at least two pairs of walking shoes, but think of how awesome your legs will look at the beach!  (Just kidding!  You don’t have time for the beach, unless there’s an event there where you can mingle with voters!)
  2. Events!  Parades, fairs, and festivals are my favorite summer campaign activities!  Tossing candies to the little children?  Love it!  Be sure to make the most of these, but don’t just attend everything for the sake of being seen.  It’s about actually meeting and greeting and discussing the local issues with voters.  If an event doesn’t give you much opportunity for that, ditch it and go back to door-to-door.
  3. GOTV groundwork.  As you go door to door, make your best effort to recruit volunteers, record which voters are supportive, and ask people if they’re willing to put a your sign in their yard.  You’ll need all this data in the future when you implement your 72-hour GOTV plan.
  4. Plan your communications.  You’ll need to make a concerted effort to raise your name ID and spread your campaign message through a formal paid communications and public relations strategy.  Are you going to do TV or radio?  What newspapers or other periodicals do you need to be seen in?  Should you buy print ads for that or initiate a letter-to-the-editor campaign?
  5. Plan to spend some money.  Along with planning what you’re going to do, plan what it’s going to cost, and when.  Make sure to plan ahead with your fundraising.  I like to pay early if I can, just so that the important things are locked in, and I’m not left with empty pockets when the bill comes due.  Knowing what you’re paying for next gives you a selling point in your fundraising efforts as well.  Saying “We’re planning to make a large placement in radio on WTOP next week and we need your help,” plays very well with donors.  They know exactly what their money is doing, and they like that (I do, too).

Now go get ’em, Tiger!

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.

Can I Win? Analyzing Voter Data

abeautifulmind002

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

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

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

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

So where do you begin?

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

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

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

How has this precinct changed over time?

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

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

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

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

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

Have voters favored different parties for different races?

Try to figure out why.

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

How do the local issues affect this precinct?

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

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

Rank your precincts

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

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

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.

What To Do When Your Opponent Cheats

voter fraud obama campaign

In most major election years like this one, there’s bound to be some voter fraud. Most states don’t have voter ID laws, and let’s face it, democrats are notorious for getting elected by dead people not yet cleared from the voting register and unions that bus in in homeless people from only God knows where to vote exactly how they pay them to. Aside from a significant push to create and enforce voter identification in each state, you can’t really do much after the fact.

That’s why you must be prepared for the possibility early on. If you think voter fraud is something you may have to contend with, factor it into your math. You’re going to have to work harder, turning out 2-3% higher hard Republicans in order to overcome your opponent’s unfair advantage. It’s also useful to have volunteers at the polls monitoring that the election is fairly executed, but even if it isn’t, you can’t really do much to stop it while it’s happening, and once a vote is cast, it’s cast.

Here’s what you don’t do. You don’t comb through the voter registries looking for voters with suspiciously old birth dates. Don’t waste time investigating your opponent’s campaign or their tactics. The best you can do is stay laser focused on your own campaign, try to account for imbalance caused by up-ballot shenanigans, and don’t ever stop.  And most importantly, you don’t sink to their level.  Your integrity is more important than winning anything.

Summertime Campaigning: Putting Together Your Summer Events Calendar

summer political campaigning

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

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

Putting Together The Schedule

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

Prioritizing Your Time

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

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

Bargain With The Rest Of The Campaign

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

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

Put Someone In Charge

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

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

Campaign Budgeting 101 – Voter Contact & Volunteers

I saved the best for last, y’all!  I happen to love everything to do with voter contact and caring for volunteers, even budgeting.  I covered paid communications earlier because a lot of the physical materials you’ll be buying in that category you’ll really be using as part of your voter contact strategy.  But since there’s still a Voter Contact & Volunteers section of the budget, obviously there’s still some more money you’re going to have to spend to get things into gear.

So what belongs in the Voter Contact & Volunteers section of your campaign budget?

  • Estimated food costs for feeding volunteers during events throughout the campaign
  • Any fees associated with gaining access to databases like Voter Vault that store key political information on specific voters
  • Cell phone minutes or additional phone lines needed for big phone banks during GOTV
  • Random stuff your volunteers should have, like bottled water if they’re walking door-to-door on a summer day, clipboards, paper and pens
  • T-shirts for volunteers and supporters
  • Admission costs to get volunteers into events where you need them to work

There are probably other things you can put in this category; a lot will depend on your region and what is ‘customary’ for campaigns in your area.  Just be sure that this is an area where you do not skimp.  Volunteers are your absolute greatest asset – do not squander it by being stingy!  Recruiting and retaining volunteers is a key component of every campaign, large or small.

This is a pretty straight-forward section of the campaign budget and doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning, but it’s the last place you should cut costs.

Remember that volunteers are already saving you a bundle by doing work you’d otherwise need to pay someone to do.  Especially for those volunteers in ‘regular staff’ type positions like Campaign Manager or Fundraising Coordinator, you should side aside funding for them to be treated like professionals.

New Voter Turnout – The Long-Shot Candidate’s Siren Song

New voter turnout.  What is that?  A few candidates in, er, interesting districts at interesting times, might find themselves drawn to the idea that they can win a fairly difficult, seemingly impossible race, by registering tons of new voters and then expecting all of those people you just registered to vote for you exclusively.

It’s not altogether an impossible scheme.  It can be done.  But the amount of effort involved is beyond monumental.  It requires a great deal of research, data storage, use, and tracking, and most importantly, a rock solid GOTV plan and execution.

To determine if you might be able to utilize a New Voter Turnout strategy, take these steps to see if your race is cut out for a successful go of it:

  1. Analyze your district.  Are there a lot of renters there?  Renters tend to move around much more than homeowners and usually don’t re-register at the new address.  Is it a college town?  Not only are those kids renters, but they are often not registered at all.  Since they spend 9 or 10 months of the year in their college town rather than their hometown, it’s easy to convince them that their vote will have a greater impact on their lives right here, in your district.
  2. Take a look at your past election data.  How close have the races been?  If the Democrat candidate takes the cake every election with a huge lead, the chances of registering enough voters, and then turning enough of them out, and then enough of those turned out voters actually voting for you instead of the other guy, are very slim indeed.
  3. How many voters are there?  If you’re running in a really small district, like I did in this city council race, a landslide victory percentage-wise may only amount to a couple hundred votes.  If you’re running in a district with 1,000 or less total voters (not registered voters, total of the voters who actually cast a vote on Election Day), you may have a shot at pulling off a New Voter Turnout based win.
If you decide to attack a new voter strategy, you’ll probably have to devote all your effort toward the registration process and then following up with GOTV.  That leaves very little time/money/energy to trying to swing independent and leaning voters – but if you’re counting on new voters for a win then there aren’t nearly enough swing voters to worry your head about anyway.  So focus on GOTV, and be sure to go through the entire canvassing process in the beginning to also locate your staunch Republicans so you can include them in your GOTV efforts.