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."



Friday, November 24, 2017

Running in 2018? Start Now!

As I've said ad infinitum on this blog, it's never too soon to start your campaign. Going to Holiday parties? Have something to hand out; even a business card with your name and what your running for on it. A remit envelope is handy too. And get those first fundraising letters to friends and family in the mail. Yes, your holiday card list is a good place to start. Why not? Send Aunt Rose a card and tuck a note with a remit into it. She probably doesn't know what to get you for Christmas/Hanukkah anyway.

You're doing her a favor.

Don't be shy. Even at the office party, the neighborhood block part, your union's big do; tell people you're running. They'll be thrilled. And it gives you a chance to practice your elevator speech with a friendly crowd. If you get business cards in return, dash a note on the back to remind yourself how you met and any other pertinent facts about the person, then enter it in your data base as soon as you get home.

Follow up. Your fund appeal letter can go to them; a friendly phone call, or maybe even a lunch scheduled after the holidays, if they seem open to helping out. You never know when you'll meet that next big donor or stellar volunteer.

Above all, have fun, keep it a little bit light in keeping with the season, and know you are getting launched on your next big endeavor.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Election Day

Today is Election Day. You have voted or, more likely, not. They expect a low turnout as usual in an off or odd-year election, that is one with no major races on the ballot to stir emotions and partisan zeal. Races for Governor, Senator, Statewide offices. That's why the legislature in this state - California - decided to do away with them altogether and move all elections to even years.. There are only a few City council and special District elections today. I have one of them, in a small northern California town.

My candidate has never run for elective office before. But she has a long history of public service and community volunteerism, including positions on important local boards, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission. She will probably lose, because she is too qualified. We live in the era of the unqualified. Look at our so-called President, Commander in Chief, Leader of the Free World.

Just look at him and talk to me about qualifications to serve. And look at his cabinet. Or what's left of it; what's to come; they are dropping like flies, folding their wings and spiraling to earth; don't even need a swatter

What if he too spiraled out of the sky he imagines himself inhabiting; on top of; on top of his own world where he is the greatest.

He is the Muhammed Ali of his imagination, such as it is.

What if he tumbled like a giant baby with a diaper full of doo doo down the stairs, and oh oh, cracked his baby noggin on the cellar floor.
Oozing blood and bone and wads of putrid waste; we would dance in the streets, wouldn't we. We'd hold all night celebrations and drink ourselves silly with relief.

We'd hug our neighbors and their neighbors and the guy down the block, homeless and afraid; we'd take them all home and feed him like stray dogs rescued from the pound, that's how grateful we would be.


But I digress. It is now two days after the election. Alas, my candidate lost, she ran hard, two good mailers, that we did, and she walked a lot, but was just a little too shy and unwilling to ask for volunteers to help her walk and make calls. To schmooze at every event. And we needed to coach her better for endorsement interviews. She should have won based on her grasp of the issues and community service. One more mailer maybe? Phone calls for sure. And helpers. There were two incumbents and one associated with the incumbents. They won.

And that's hard to overcome. Without big issues, easily understood where you resonate with the voters and they don't.  Next time, as I always say. Next time.