Friday, June 13, 2014

Finger Pointing - More about negative campaigning

The old adage is negative campaigning works. Everyone hates it; from candidates to the press, to the average voter. "I'd never vote for anyone who goes negative," they say. But they do.

Time and time again, the one who hurls the mud wins. Fair or not, negative campaigning does work.

Except when it doesn't.

When doesn't it work? When you've had the mud hurled on you already by the other guy and you try using the same mud you've scraped off yourself to fling back at him.

No one will believe it.

I've been on both ends of this. In one campaign, my candidate showed the truth behind who was supporting the other guy. One piece of mail, pointing out his long list of corporate donors. His reaction was to accuse her of having corporate donors too. Trouble was, she only had two and they were mom and pops as opposed to multinationals and hedge fund managers.

He looked petty and she won.

In another race, the other guy made stuff up, but it sounded bad. So my guy (and I wasn't the one making the decisions this time, by the way), said, not me, that's you. And it was true but too late and too little and too snarky. My guy lost, badly, because the first guy was nastier and tapped into people's fears.

But, you say, what are you supposed to do when you get unfairly attacked? Fight back, but do it cleverly - call them out for calling you out. What are they afraid of? Do they think your support for higher taxes will mean they will go broke? Really, pitting safe roads and cops on the street against more profits in some corporate coffers?

We did it with a candidate who was getting blamed for all the ills of the District, most of which were completely out of his control. Let's tell the truth, he said, let's shine a light on the underbelly of the other guy's campaign. Oh look, it's crawling with lies. Deflect, expose, document, and use humor when you do it.

Don't be snarky. Don't say him too! Don't make stuff up.

And if you're running against an incumbent, you have to do this. You have to tell the voters why they should fire him and hire you. Just  do it with class.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Ferragamo campaign - Marketing your Brand

I dreamed last night of the "Ferragamo campaign" (think high end and interesting shoes) and I realized that running for office is a lot like marketing a brand.  Only the brand represents you and what you'll do in office.
 Marketing your brand is crucial to success. Of course you have to have a brand to start with. Thats why you need a good consultant, who can distill the essence of your issues into an easy to understand message that resonates with voters. Your brand is more than your logo, but a good logo can help identify your brand and make it stand out in a crowded field.  
The logo for GreenDog Campaigns, my campaign consulting site
You'll need the tools to market your campaign, a strategist to plot it out, a designer and a writer to get the message across.  And a message delivery system - mail, perhaps TV or radio ads, social media and good old fashioned door to door, ear to ear.

Yes, your best marketer is still you, meeting voters at the door, on the phone, at events and public places we're people gather, farmers markets, fairs and festivals.  Talking one on one and handing each one you meet a piece of well-crafted literature is important.

But if you're in a large race covering a vast expanse of real estate, you won't get to every voter in person, not by a long shot.  So make sure you have compelling materials to put in their mailboxes, strong ads that get their attention on the small screen.
Our candidate for County Assessor visiting some unique homeowners
You have to live your brand. Whether it's saving open space, growing the economy, getting more cops on the streets or fixing potholes, make it sexy, make it sharp, make it ubiquitous.
At least with frequent voters. Effectively targeting those voters is the topic for another day.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How Leland Yee got his Groove Back

Here is one pundit's explanation for how Leland Yee received so many votes for Secretary of State, even though he was disgraced, indicted and dropped out of the race.

Leland Yee's startling finish in California election race explained


In a largely sleepy California election, there was one startling result: nearly 300,000 ballots cast for Leland Yee for secretary of state, good enough for third place even though he dropped out after being accused of gun running and political corruption.

Yee’s tally, which is likely to grow as more than 750,000 uncounted ballots are processed, pushed him past a pair of good-government candidates also vying to be the state’s chief election officer--a bit of irony adding to a widely held notion, especially outside the state, that Californians are a bit nuts.
Yet while vexing and a cause of no small amount of ridicule, state Sen. Yee’s surprising vote total can be explained by several factors beyond the supposed shallowness and stupidity of the California electorate.

Most have to do with the size and sprawl of the state and the lack of attention, by voters and the media alike, paid to so-called down-ballot offices like secretary of state.

Coincidence may have also contributed: another candidate named Yee, Betty, was on the same ballot running for state controller, also a relatively obscure office. She received a number of endorsements, including the support of several newspapers and labor unions, and some voters may have simply confused the two.

Above all, the results speak to the ephemeral nature of news — even events that are widely covered or hugely hyped — in this age of perpetual information.

“People can’t even remember who won the Super Bowl,” said Richie Ross, who managed Leland Yee’s campaign before Yee dropped out of the race in March, after his indictment but too late to remove his name from the ballot. “And people are surprised that ordinary voters--not the political insiders and smarty-pants who follow this stuff-- can’t remember who was indicted three months ago?”

“None of his opponents ran ads saying, ‘Don’t forget: Don’t vote for Yee,’" Ross added. “I didn’t see one newspaper story say, ‘Remember, voters, this man has withdrawn after he was indicted.’"
It takes a small fortune — literally — for a political candidate to become well known in California. There are 24 million eligible voters and 18 million registered; the latter figure is larger than the population of all but four states.

Most political contests, outside of races for governor or mayor of cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, receive scant attention beyond their immediate vicinity.
It takes a minimum of $3 million or so to run a meaningful advertising campaign for a little-noted position like secretary of state, political professionals say. No one running had those kind of resources for Tuesday’s primary. (A candidate lacking the celebrity of a Jerry Brown or Arnold Schwarzenegger needs $25 million to $30 million to wage a viable race for governor.)
Without much information to go on, voters tend to rely on other cues in picking their way through down-ballot races and that, too, probably contributed to Yee’s surprising vote total.

As a Democrat, he starts with a built-in advantage in this overwhelmingly Democratic state and his Asian surname doubtless brought him support within the large Asian American community.  His ballot designation, state senator, also offered validation for some who may have thought government experience was good for secretary of state, an administrative position.

Many voters were probably aware of the corruption case – one of three involving Sacramento lawmakers suspended this session — but the details may have been hazy.

Leland Yee doing the perp walk
“If you walked into a bar and said, ‘By the way, three legislators got in trouble,’ people would probably remember,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist and publisher of the “Target Book,” a nonpartisan guide to California elections. “But if you asked the names of those three state senators, most people probably wouldn’t know.”

Federal prosecutors have accused Yee of consorting with an alleged Chinatown gangster, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, in a scheme involving alleged firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution and what the law calls defrauding citizens of honest service, or political corruption. Yee is free on bail awaiting trial and could not be reached for comment.

There were two would-be reformers whom voters could have chosen over the indicted San Francisco lawmaker.

Dan Schnur, a USC political analyst and former chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, ran as an independent on a clean-up-Sacramento platform and finished fourth. Derek Cressman, a Democrat and former director of the good-government organization Common Cause, finished fifth.
The top two vote-getters, Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima and Republican Pete Peterson, head of a public policy think tank at Pepperdine University, will face each other in November.

Schnur said he was neither embarrassed nor discouraged by the outcome, seeing it not as a personal rejection but rather the nature of California politics.

“If voters had made a conscious decision to reject my message and embrace an accused felon, yes, that would have been very discouraging,” Schnur said in an interview. “But most voters were dealing with almost no information about either one of us.”

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Independents gaining in numbers except not in elected office --- yet.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, this article on the rise of the independent voter, but the lack of corresponding independent elected officials. With a few exceptions, most notably Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont. 

What does this trend mean to the future of the parties? Harder to know who to target in campaigns for one thing.

Lack of party affiliation a popular idea, except in California’s election results


Shedding political party labels is increasingly popular among California registered voters, but in casting ballots they are reluctant to pick candidates who do the same.
The trend played out in Tuesday’s election, with 32 candidates designated as “no party preference” competing in partisan state and federal races where the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advanced to a November runoff.

Only three — all in congressional races — finished second, and all face a heavily favored Democrat incumbent in the fall.

No Party Preference 
One of the three is James Hinton of Napa, a 39-year-old former poker player and political novice who beat another no party preference candidate for the runoff spot against Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. Thompson swept up 81 percent of the vote in the 5th Congressional District, which includes Santa Rosa.

There was no Republican candidate in any of the three races, opening the door for the unaffiliated candidates who were, in most other races, shunned by voters.

One of the few exceptions was Marianne Williamson, a 61-year-old best-selling New Age author with Hollywood connections, who finished fourth, with 13 percent of the vote, in an 18-person race for the Santa Monica House seat vacated by Rep. Henry Waxman.

There was pre-election chatter that Williamson, who raised $1.3 million, might crack the top two, said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and former Republican Party policy analyst.

But the winners were Republican Elan Carr, a deputy district attorney, and Ted Lieu, a Democratic state senator, both high-profile candidates with major party affiliations.

The moral of this L.A. political story is that voter disdain for the Democrat and Republican brands doesn’t hobble candidates from the two parties, Pitney said.

“You need parties to bring people together,” he said. “Every major democracy is based on political parties.”

No party preference candidates “need to get money and attention,” Pitney said, “but without a political party that’s hard to do.”

California voters are flocking to the NPP fold. In the May 19 report on party registration, 21 percent of voters were no party preference, up from 12 percent in 1998.

Over the same span, Democratic registration dropped from 47 percent to 43 percent and GOP numbers dropped more sharply from 36 percent to 28 percent.

Lake County has the third highest percentage of no-party-preference voters in the state; Mendocino the 10th highest. Sonoma has the fifth-highest percentage of Democratic voters.

In an era of bitter political infighting and legislative gridlock, it’s become “fashionable” among voters to forego party affiliation, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Voters lose nothing, since California in 2011 adopted a top-two, open primary system, allowing all voters to cast ballots for all the candidates in partisan races. The open primary system does not apply to candidates running for U.S. president, county central committee or local offices.

But no-party candidates are isolated, McCuan said, because there is no organized movement to match their brand.

“It’s like trying to sell your home without a Realtor,” McCuan said. “When you hold an open house, no one comes.”

Should an no-party-preference candidate gain traction, opponents from both major parties and special interest groups will “team up against him,” McCuan said.

Hinton, a newcomer, said he spent about $500 on his campaign against Thompson, a 16-year House veteran with a $1.5 million warchest and for the first time in his career no Republican opponent.
Hinton got 11 percent of the vote, edging out another no-party and first-time candidate, Douglas Van Raam, 44, of Martinez, who had 8 percent.

“Number one, I don’t have a party to run with,” Hinton said, when asked why he ran in the NPP column. “I got this far by myself.”

Lack of press coverage hampers candidates unaffiliated with a party, he said, noting that it “makes it hard for people to believe in them.”

No-party candidates were scarce in this week’s primary.

More than half of them —18 — were in 13 of the state’s 53 congressional races, and 12 got from 1 percent to 3 percent of the vote.

Three such candidates competed in the 20 state Senate races, four were in the 80 Assembly contests and seven were in the seven statewide office races, including five in the governor’s race.

There’s a contradiction, McCuan said, between voters’ personal affinity for the no-party-preference brand and their reluctance to back those candidates when it counts.

But the presumed independence of the no-party voter is somewhat misleading, he said.
Surveys and focus groups that ask those California voters about controversial issues, such as the Bible, guns, homosexuality and abortion, reveal that about one-third lean left and one-third lean right, lining up with the two major parties.

That leaves one-third who are ideological hybrids, a faction located between red and blue and known as “true purple,” McCuan said.