Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Some Local Campaign 101

This is a part of a series of posts about campaigning, and how best to do it -- both for the benefit of people who are thinking of running, as well as those who are thinking of getting deeply involved. Here's the first post -- some basic tips on what to expect to do if you want to win. 
  • You win by working your ass off, knocking on doors and identifying voters.
    • As an added bonus, you're going to be shocked at just how much you improve as a candidate or volunteer, learning about the district and what the people of that district really care about.
  • The easiest, most simple way of effectively doing something is the best one. Yeah, most campaigns need a couple high-tech tools, but generally the less you use them, the better. 
  • Time is the most important thing in a campaign. You can field more volunteers, raise more money -- but you can't get more time. So don't waste it.
    • Anything that keeps campaign volunteers and staff away from doing what needs to be done (identifying voters) is probably a waste of time.
    • Candidates will need to spend some serious time fundraising, but should spend even more time getting out there and asking people for their votes.
  • You can't win a campaign based on how you think people should act and behave. You have to run based on how they actually act and behave.
    • This means people may be more interested in the candidate's family photo than their five years on the Board of Selectman or the local nonprofit that they started up.
    • This means the policy issue you think is the biggest deal in the universe probably isn't even on the radar of most people.
    • This means that most people aren't even going to remember what happened last month, and only care about what's happening right now. We remember how we feel about a certain thing more than we remember the actual details of that certain thing, even the basic details.
  • The more decentralized your campaign is with competent people, the better. The opposite is also true: Micromanaging is a great way to ruin a campaign. 
    • For local campaigns, competent Town/Ward Coordinators are a must. Hard-working Precinct Captains are an asset.
    • As long as they're giving you back solid numbers of identified voters, you're probably good to let them go -- just make sure they have the resources they need and feel a part of the campaign. 
  • You need a coherent and cohesive message that you can deliver in 30 seconds or less. You have to answer why you think you're the best choice for the position in that time span. 
    • Saying, "As a member of the Board of Selectman, I've faced some of the toughest decisions this town has ever seen and come up with the real solutions, and that's how you know you can count on me," is much better than, "I've been on the board of selectman for 20 years." People don't care that you've been on a committee for 20 years, they care about what you've done.
      • Right after you deliver your message, always ask for the vote directly. "Can I count on your support?"
    • If you're not on message, you're off it. Every question you answer and everything you say should somehow tie into the message. This is another good reason to knock -- for practice. 
  • If you have difficulty calling people up on the phone and asking them for money -- some of whom you may barely know or don't know at all -- then you probably shouldn't be the candidate. A well-run, efficient State Rep campaign with all the necessary components to compete costs at least $50,000. It's sad, but true.
  • If you want to spend big money on newspaper ads, don't. You're better off hiring 10 people for 10 hours each at $10 dollars an hour to go door knocking, then you are paying $1,000 for a small ad. And the prototypical campaign newspaper ad costs a lot more than $1,000.
  • Ranked in terms of importance: Time > Volunteers/Staff > Money. 
  • Ranked in terms of importance: Door Knocking > Phone Calling > Direct Mail > Standouts > Lawn Signs > Newspaper ads. 
  • You need a voter universe. This is the group of people you're going to target during the course of the campaign -- the people who's doors you'll knock, who's phones you'll call and mailboxes you'll fill with dead trees. 
    • Create a voter universe large enough that you identify the right number of voters to win the election, then stop. Don't add people to the universe. Don't target people outside the universe. Just stop. The idea is to be able to have a focused list of good voters to make it easier to campaign, not an unwieldy list that keeps growing, making your campaign seem lost and/or unfocused.
      • Only add to your universe if you've contacted everyone in your universe and couldn't ID enough people, if you contacted everyone and met your ID goals so quickly that you have more time left in the campaign and want to 'run up the score,' or circumstances changed in the election to make you suspect the voter turnout will be much bigger than expected (ie an unexpectedly close contest in the top-of-the-ballot campaign, like Governor or Senator).

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