Thursday, May 17, 2018

Candidates Who aren't Really Running

Why, you might ask, do people throw their hat in the ring, when they plan to spend no money on an actual campaign. They might buy a few signs, maybe print off their policy points on a sheet of paper from their home computer and attend a couple of debates. But that does not make a serious candidate. Without any effort to raise money, not a lot, but just a enough to get one or two mailers out to voters and have a walk piece to carry around to people in the precinct. Never mind a consultant to help you craft and effectively market your message, what's the point?

Is it just to see your name on the ballot? Just to make sure the incumbent has some competition, even if it's a token race? Or is it some kind of misplaced ego thing. Do these people really believe that even with no effort on their part, somehow, voters will decide they are the best person for the job?

In a recent race for Supervisor in a southern California county, of the eight people who filed, only four raised any money at all, with only two of those hiring a campaign consultant and sending mail into voters' homes.

The other four filed form 470, the form that you file with the County and State, that says you plan to raise and spend no more than $2000. For a Supervisor race, even in a small county, you need to spend several thousand more than that just to reach any voters at all. Most people never get to candidate debates. A few more, but still a low percentage of the total, read the local newspapers. And guess what: Signs don't get you votes. That's generally where the $2000 is spent.

I guess the reasoning is, "If I spend a lot of snazzy red, white and blue signs and plaster them all over the place, in the road medians and freeway exits, everyone will see my name and be sure to vote for me."

So not true. The rule of thumb is the voter has to be "touched" by the candidate at least 7 times, and more than one of those ought to be in a mail. Other ways to reach out to voters are walking precincts, for which you need a good catchy piece to hand out, along with several volunteers to help you deliver materials, phone calls to the voters' homes, preferably by a live person and not a robo call (although there are times and circumstances when these can be very effective, if done correctly), letters to the editor, opeds in the local papers, ads online and in print, and signs. In that order of effectiveness. Notice what's last on that list. If you're in a large County, you might consider TV and radio, plus a savvy internet campaign that is carefully targeted to reach your voters with the best message that will resonate with them.

Polling at the outset to get the lay of the land and help craft your message effectively, is always a good idea, but not necessary. In any event, even in the smallest of communities, $2000 does not get you very far. 

You might just throw a big party with that money instead for the candidate that comes closest to your values and invite all your friends. You can have a caterer come and maybe even a small chamber orchestra. Or donate it outright. That way, you can feel your money is being put to good use, and not just adding to highway clutter with more signs.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Millennials Rock the Vote

It's great to see the number of 16 and 17 year olds who are pre-registering to vote. See this LA Times story of April 6.

After the Parkland shootings, the #metoo movement and an accumulation of startling evnts in the recent past, teens and other millennials are coming out in record numbers to protest, speak out and register to vote.This is all great. It reminds me of my own youth when we stood up against the Vietnam War and for civil rights.  Many of us did not vote however, not only because we had to be 21 to even register in that time, but because we didn't think it would make a difference.

Today's youth seem to understand tat it will, but only if large numbers of them follow through and actually vote when they turn 18. It will be interesting to see if they follow through, especially as so many will be off at college when election day rolls around, and either have to vote by mail at the address they registered at, usually their parents, or re-register and vote at the address they are currently at.

The best way to make sure this follow-though happens is, in my opinion, a peer system. Young people encouraging and reminding others to vote. To keep their registration current and to keep up with the elections they can vote in.

Do it in groups. Make it a social event. Have debate watching parties in the dorms or local hang outs. Go to the polls together. Car pool. Volunteer to work for a candidate of your choice (and maybe even get credit for it), or help on election day.

Registering is one thing, staying involved is another, and actually casting that all-important ballot is what really matters the most in the end. Every vote counts. Make sure yours is among them.
What to eat when getting ready to register your friends to vote: from the Millennial Cookbook.

Cheesy chicken. You take a chicken breast, saute in some olive oil, maybe with some onion bits and garlic, turn it over, add a can of mushroom soup, or if you are feeling industrious, make some white sauce and then put in sliced mushrooms, then add a bunch of the cheese of your choice and don't let that sucker burn. turn frequently, make some rice, I like white basmati, it's tasty and fast, steam some veggies if you like, and dinner is served.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Blast from the Past - Good Advice from Past Blog Post

How to Keep Your Campaign on Track

This post first appeared in 2014. Anyone running today needs to read and heed it. No, I didn't write it (Darn, I wish I had, but I say similar things to my clients all the time so I know it's good advice). It is from Campaign in a Box. All these pointers are right on, and good to hear to keep sane during these last two weeks of campaign season. Thanks for reading.

By Jason Chambers

Campaigning Isn't As Intuitive As You Think

Every campaign season - often in October - I get an "aha!" question from a candidate that goes something like this: "I was talking to Dave the other day and he said that if we add QR codes to our mail pieces, everyone will scan them and visit our website. Maybe we should call all of our volunteers and have them put QR codes on our doorbell pieces this weekend?"

Rarely is a last minute deviation from the campaign plan a good idea. Throughout your campaign, you'll begin to better understand how campaigning works, but be careful about some of the less intuitive aspects of a political campaign. Your campaign strategy is developed in April (not October) for a reason - repetition and following a well thought out plan is the key to winning elections.
Here are a few examples of some of the ideas I've run into that you should be wary of:

More Targeted Voters, Not More Voters

Often candidates will get concerned late in the campaign season that the targeted lists we use to knock on doors are ignoring too many important voters, and they'll ask if we can hit every door while we're out.

Let's say you're running in Lexington, Kentucky for Mayor. Lexington has about 308,000 citizens. Of those 308,000 citizens, about 209,000 are registered to vote. In an off year election like 2014, about 42% will turn out to vote. That's around 87,500 voters.

Of those 87,500 voters, approximately 30% vote Republican exclusively. Another 30% vote Democrat exclusively. The remaining 40% leaves about 35,000 voters who can be persuaded to vote for you. That's 11% of the total number of people living in houses in Lexington. So about 1 in every 9 homes you doorbell - assuming you choose to doorbell every home - is worth your time.

Repeat the same message, over and over

Another thing and understandably frustrates candidates is staying on message. By the end of the campaign you've heard yourself say the same thing over and over and over. Your friends and your spouse are telling you they're bored of the same thing, and you probably need to mix it up because the voters are going to get bored of hearing the same thing.

The problem here is that your friends and family are paying close attention to your election. Nobody else is. Between work, church, the kids soccer game, budgeting for next month and the football game this weekend, most voters have 1,000 things on their minds, and elections are low on the priority list. That's why repetition of your message is a must - by election day, if a voter knows one thing about you, you're on the right track. So repeat that one message over and over and over, until it makes you sick. Then repeat it again.

What Your Opponent Puts on Facebook Doesn't Matter

My name has never been on the ballot, so it's hard for me to completely understand how difficult it is to hear negative things about yourself and not want to react. But you have to learn not to react. If your opponent writes "John voted to increase taxes last month" on his Facebook page and it's not true, remember two things:
  1. The people following his Facebook page are already voting for him, so don't worry about whether they think you voted to increase taxes last month.
  2. When you respond, you potentially turn a quiet attack into a public debate - and you don't want to debate whether you raised taxes or not if the attack will quietly go away by ignoring it. Half the voters will believe it, half won't. That's much worse than 95% of the voters not even knowing the attack happened. 
Commenters on News Websites Aren't Objective

It's helpful to get your supporters to comment on relevant stories on the newspapers website, but don't mistake the comments that disparage you as objective. Undecided voters don't jump on websites to blast you. Supporters of your opponent do. So don't freak out that some random voter doesn't like you - he's probably not random. Those comments are nearly always organized by the campaign of your opponent. Feel free to ask a few of your supporters to write positive comments about you, but don't assume that because there are 4 negative comments for every positive comment you're losing the race 4:1. Those comments are not representative of the general electorate.

Your Opponent Probably Isn't An Evil Genius

If you pick up a weekly neighborhood newspaper and see an ad for your opponent in it, don't worry. He doesn't have some mysterious insight about the effectiveness of weekly newspapers. He probably got a sales call from that weekly and got talked into putting an ad in it. You don't have to match him everywhere he's advertising - stick to the campaign plan and advertise where you planned to advertise.

That One Big Idea Probably Isn't A Gamechanger

A couple of years back I was helping out a campaign for Congress and we got so many random ideas from volunteers and donors that we started our own inside joke, "GAMECHANGER!"
It's tempting to adopt every idea you hear from people, and often they'll expect you to and gripe when you don't. But you sit down and write a campaign months before Election Day for a reason - and you need to stick to that plan.

A few years ago, the wife of my candidate's biggest donor ask for a meeting with the campaign a week before Election Day. Because she was married to our biggest donor, we agreed to meet. She had developed an interest in new technology, and had an idea for our campaign. She wanted us to halt the campaign and put QR codes on every piece of campaign literature we had. She was convinced that QR codes would drive thousands of voters to our website and would be the key to victory on Election Day. GAMECHANGER!

But it wasn't a gamechanger, and we thanked her for her suggestion then went back to doorbelling. Most ideas you get from volunteers and supporters aren't worth changing your strategy for. Thank them for their time, and continue doing what you're doing. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Swag or Not?

Swag? Not until your basics are met: website, handout, mail, signs, all budgeted for and assured of being fully funded.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Campaign Committees - What are they Good for?

No, I won't say, like the song  - "Absolutely nothing!" because they are good for a lot. They can help keep you focused. Help you find elements of your message, inform you of ongoing or new developments you might have missed and of course, volunteering for all those pesky little campaign tasks no one should have to do alone.

But they also can be distracting, discouraging and, sometimes, downright dangerous.

Often, when candidates tell me they don't need my services, or they "are going in a different direction," that's code for "I have a campaign committee. why should I spend money on a paid consultant?" 

Let's go over some of the dos and don't of the Campaign Committee.

Campaign committees are good for: 

1. Providing local on-the-ground insight. Members of your committee, if chosen wisely, can keep you apprised of what's going on in various parts of your district, or with various constituencies. They can keep you up to date on issues, breaking and otherwise, that are on people's minds. All this helps you craft a message for the voters.

2. Cheering you up when times get tough. They'll stand by you through thick and thin. They'll give you good news from farflung parts of the district. If they're true friends and advisors, they'll bring you the bad news too, like when the local grocery clerks are extolling the virtues of your opponent.

3. Grunt work. These are your volunteer leaders. They can be the backbone of your field campaign. Willing to walk precincts in the rain; to encourage others to join in; they'll sit with cell phones glued to their ears for hours making those calls to undecided voters. They'll hold house parties for you and get their friends and neighbors to attend, to donate and even to hold their own events.

They will lick stamps and stuff envelopes, when a quick fundraising letter needs to go out. They'll forward emails and get all their friends to "like" your Facebook page.

3. The cream of the crop will become field coordinators, phone bank operators, finance committee chairs. Every member of the committee should donate whatever they can to the campaign war chest.
Now for what they are not good for, in fact, may be toxic for:

1. Writing the campaign plan. Yes, everyone has good ideas, and no one's ideas should be completely ignored out of hand, but this is not where your plan is created or your strategy worked out. This is a leaderless group who needs to take direction, not try to give it.

2. Crafting the campaign message, or worse, the actual campaign materials you will leave at voters' doors and mail to their homes. Your committee is likely to have English majors, maybe even ad execs. You'll have artists and everyone will have a cousin, sister, uncle or good friend, who's a brilliant designer. While all that may be true, and sometimes good ideas arise from brainstorming sessions around the coffee table, those are the jobs of your consultant and the professionals they hire who understand campaigns and the special way messages must be crafted and targeted to get the most bang for your precious campaign buck.

3. Second guessing. Don't let the committee second guess your consultant. Pick one or two trusted sets of eyes to review the pieces for spelling errors or factual inaccuracies. But if you let 12 people have a say in everything, you'll  have twelve opinions. Let them know you value their input, but make sure the lines of authority are clear. And remember, you are the boss. You can fire volunteers, even though you don't pay them and they have the best intentions. Some people are natural downers and must be gently sent on their way or channeled into a more productive role.

I've see all of these and more pitfalls on campaigns. If candidates whom I interview go "in a different direction," I wish them well. Occasionally, they win their race in spite of it all. More often though, I hear from them months or years later (often when they've decided to take another crack at running) "Well, you were right. My committee really didn't know what they were doing. Are you available to help me this time around?"

I never gloat.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Candidates that want to Pick your Brain for Free

Campaign managers and consultants will know what I mean In fact, anyone in any sort of profession must get this all the time. "Can I just ask you a few questions?" Then they proceed to try to get you to tell them the secret of success over the phone or in your first short initial "get to know you" meeting.

Watch out. These people are likely fishing for free help, whether it's with how to find endorsements, raise money, hold an event, or just finding out how far they can go on their own.

Now, if you've been reading this blog, you know I give free advice. I give campaign tips; the dos and don'ts of a successful campaign. But I like to think I give just enough advice that the savvy campaigner realizes they can't do it alone. Campaigning is, for the most part, not a DIY activity.

Some small campaigns do make it on their own with the help of a great group of volunteers, but chances are there are some seasoned veterans in the group, who've been down this road before and know the pitfalls. Those cases are rare. Even most small campaigns hire a consultant to guide them these days.

But I found myself in that situation recently. A lovely young man new to political life with just enough knowledge of website development and social media under his belt, to realize he needed something more. So he reached out. We talked extensively. He sounded promising. He sounded like he was on the verge of hiring my team to guide him and his band of volunteers on the path to victory. It wasn't a small race, County Supervisor in a mid-sized county. He knew what he didn't know. And I was (foolishly) flattered that he looked to me to provide it.

It was in our second meeting, when he said "I have talked to a few others (that's ok, that's due diligence), and I have a good feeling about you," that I realized his good feeling was that I could be counted on to talk passionately about campaigning just long enough to make hm feel educated, and no longer in need of paying for my services.

Of course he didn't say that at the time. It was the next day that he sent an email. It read, "Thanks so much for your time. I learned a lot, but I have decided to go in a different direction."

When I asked if he'd mind letting me know just what it was that determined his "different direction," he went silent.

Another one bites the dust. Well, you can't win them all. I will watch his race with interest, to see how it turns out. Anyone want to take bets?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

When not to run

You don't have to run for office. Sometimes you have to say no, I'm not going to do it, for a number of reasons. Perhaps the time isn't right for you. Perhaps the seat isn't right. Maybe you just cannot win, no matter what, because you're a progressive Democrat and the seat is held by a popular moderate Democrat with no bad marks against him.

That was the case with the young woman who came into my office the other day, hoping to get my support for her run for State Senate against the popular moderate Democrat incumbent. Only she wasn't even a Democrat. She used to be a Democrat. She ran to be a Bernie delegate and almost made it last year, but not quite. She also ran for this seat last year and came in third behind the Republican in the Primary with 13 % of the vote. This year she wants to energize millennials, not spend any of her own money (she spent a total of $3000 last time and most of that was filing fees), and raise $25,000. The winner raised $600,000.

No, she is now a "No Party Preference" voter. In this Democratic district, you need to make a commitment. You'll never get the unions, certainly not any Democratic endorsements.

"Why not stay in the fold, run as a progressive Democrat, " I offer her helpfully. "We are improving the Party. We can't do it from the outside. We can't do it if young people jump ship and make their mantra of "they are all the same" come true by their own actions."

"Don't run for Senate," I say. "Run for something smaller, school board maybe. So much easier to do, so much more in line with your background (educator, mother of a school age child), and as a young person yourself, it's a natural fit." Or get appointed to a board or commission in your town. Learn the ropes. Get some political experience under your belt.

And then, if she is successful, she might try for City Council in a couple of years. And so forth. This seat could be hers if she bothered to lay the groundwork. Just not this year. This gal is barely 30 years old for heaven's sake. She has plenty of time. She is so very sweet, very earnest, but that just isn't enough. Nor are her visionary politics, which I happen to agree with, but which do not answer the question, "What are you going to do for me?" which is on every voter's lips, whether they know it or not.

But this young woman is hell bent on being a sacrificial lamb. (Only doesn't know it herself.) She seems to really believe she can win with her $25,000 which she'll probably never raise. I do admire her spunk, but  all she will do is burn through her contacts, her friends, what supporters she has, and be left feeling bitter. I've seen it a million times. As she left my office, she asked for a hug.

Sweet, but no clue.

Don't be that person. 

And if you think I am talking about you, you are not the only one. And it's not just young people either. Think about it. Or as my mother always said, "Look before you leap."