Posts tagged Conventional Un-Wisdom
Back in December of 2010, I reflected on the previous RootsCamp. Among the biggest negatives was the large crowd & less than stellar session leaders. The positives? The wonderful people and efforts of the New Organizing Institute, the activists and enthusiasm.
A little over a year later, we returned to the scene of the first RootsCamp (2006), the NEA Building. Attendance was limited to a more reasonable number and the quality of experience was back up to the expected (very high) levels.
There was one session that was horrifically bad and I would certainly like to see more content geared at challenger candidates/campaigns, but overall it was a great experience with some wonderful sessions/presenters/discussions.
One of the more amusing sessions Saturday was led by Adam Green & Stephanie Taylor of the PCCC, “Fire the Consultants: Venting & Solutions.” Similar to sessions they have conducted in the past, the intent is both therapeutic and to stop so many campaigns and organizations from repeating the mistakes happening far too often every cycle. Among the more amazing revelations, one participant discussed how a consultant was 4 months behind schedule on a 6 week deliverable. They asked what they could do about that, several in the room responded, “Fire them.” A better question would be, why weren’t they fired after passing 12 weeks on a 6 week deliverable?
Too often candidates and lefty non-profits find themselves in this sort of situation. Sometimes the result is a poorly communicated proposal, an inadequate or absent contract, or just the unwillingness to demand what was paid for by the organization. Refer back to the Rules of Organizing, #9 If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. The consultant telling you they have written a plan, collected the data, and so forth isn’t good enough. They have to both write down the plan and share it with the customer. A good contract will specify that all data procured or created by the consultant in the process is also handed over (or shared digitally) to the customer.
Some RootsCamp attendees were put off by the title, and the animosity directed at consultants. As a consultant, I say get over it. The profession is rife with leeches, hacks and stuffed shirts. The few good and honorable among us need to understand that, accept it, and not get hostile about being mistaken for one of vast majority of vultures that dominate the profession. Unfortunately the burden is on us to prove we aren’t part of that majority that serves only to inhibit or exploit challenger candidates.
Since I started publishing my analysis of Florida’s new US House districts, a number of candidates and/or supporters have challenged the label of ‘some guy’. One supporter sent a nice email, asserting her candidate was the real deal (the facts disagree thus far). Another sent an email with what might classify is disgust. And one ‘some guy’ sent an email to his campaign list using the label as a slur for motivation. Not a terrible tactic.
Candidates can cross from ‘some guy’ to real contender, it has happened before, but not very often and not typically in the span of a single election cycle.
Here are a few notes about what separates the real contenders from the ‘some guys’. Not all conditions need to be true to make you a ‘some guy’ and not all conditions are false in a ‘contender’.
Money: The most obvious indicator and the most unfortunate. Our system shouldn’t be predicated on wealth or access to wealth dictating who can and cannot represent us in Congress. But it does. I only work with candidate who will commit to changing that by supporting public financing as part of campaign finance reform.
If you are running for US Congress, to compete you need to be able to raise six figures your first quarter out, ideally $100,000 in the first 30 days. You should be able to write a list down before you do a day of campaigning, of people you already know, in the hundreds or thousands that you can reasonably expect to give you money. You can learn more about campaign finance/fund raising here.
Regardless of when you start this campaign, by 3-4 months prior to your Primary election (with or without a serious opponent) you should have already raised better than $500,000. In Florida, given the higher costs of doing so many things in most of our districts, you should be aiming for the $500,000 mark by mid-March or sooner. Once you start, you need to pull in six figures every quarter, upwards of $3000/day or $4000/weekday. Note that is a trajectory of roughly $250,000 a quarter, your race may dictate much more per quarter, particularly as you get closer to election day. The quarterly number should get larger as the campaign goes on, significant drops will be perceived as a drop in support or ‘hitting a ceiling’.
In the end, to be a contender as a challenger for a regular (not Special Election) Congressional seat, you need to raise upwards of $1,000,000. That puts you ‘in the game’, possibly as close as within the margin of error. To actually be in a position to win, you likely need somewhere between $2 Million and $6 Million. And in the end, if you spend it poorly, it doesn’t matter how much you raise.
Experience/Network/Credibility/Reach: The next major separator between ‘some guys’ and contenders we will look at is the equivalent of Twitter’s Klout score. This is how many people you know, how many people know you, how likely they are to listen to you, and how likely they are to repeat/share what you say. It is also important what the people know you for, do they see you as an expert/fount of wisdom on political things? Or are you just a person that they find funny from time to time.
When we (MPA Political, LLC) teach public speaking for candidates/campaigns, we talk about the credibility disconnect that occurs when you become a candidate. In normal public speaking, when you are introduced as a rocket scientist, you are automatically given some credibility on the subject by the audience. As a candidate, the opposite happens, everyone becomes skeptical about your qualifications and credibility. The best way to combat that is to have long standing personal connections (and surrogates with credibility) to help carry that credibility beyond the ‘candidate’ threshold.
If you don’t have a network of people accessible to the district that can project credibility upon you, and you have not been a well-known member of the community for a significant period of time, it will be very hard to break through the ‘some guy’ shell without an absolute monster haul of fund raising. The odds of you having that fund raising capacity without the network/credibility are obviously pretty slim.
Campaign Understanding/Experience: Far too many candidates think running for office is some mixture of the various campaign/political tv shows and movies they have seen. Some spice in what they’ve gleaned from CNN, MSNBC, PoliticalWire.com, DailyKos.com, etc etc. What ever picture those put in your head, it’s likely wrong. It isn’t all fairs and speeches. The biggest component of campaigning is phone to mouth. Before you can do that, you need to have a coherent message and you need to know how to stay on message all the time.
A good start is attending a Democracy for America Campaign Academy. The next step is hiring a professional who knows what they are doing. Conveniently for those of you in Florida, there are two DFA Training Academies coming up in March: Miami and Gainesville.
This is a tricky hurdle for candidates, as the majority who have little experience with campaigns on this level won’t even know where to start the hiring process. It isn’t unusual to see candidates with high potential fail from this step, blowing money on bad/opportunistic consultants/staff that provide them with little to show for the money spent. Mistakes often include a perverse desire to ‘hire local’ in districts that haven’t been competitive in recent history. If there was someone local who could make it competitive, they would have already. You can learn more about hiring here.
Common Pushback on ‘Some guy’ status: ‘Some guy’ candidates and their supporters often push back on the label with arguments about the campaign finance system being broken and they are going to prove it is wrong by a) forgoing contributions over XYZ dollars, b) only taking donations from within the district, c) refusing PAC money, d) raising no more than X total dollars or (new this year) e) promising not to seek re-election because re-elections means spending the people’s time raising money rather than serving. Many of these have good intent behind them, there is some honor in there. But you can’t pay for direct mail, radio or TV with honor. You can’t pay staff or consultants with honor. Good intentions only matter if the roughly 200,000 voters you need are aware of them. The system is this way, it is designed to protect incumbents, get over it, raise the money and change it.
Probably my least favorite ‘some guy’ money argument is candidates pointing at other challengers that raised tons of money and lost as indicators that the money doesn’t matter. First of all, just because you raise the money doesn’t mean you spend it well. Second, only one candidate gets to win, did the candidates opponent also raise serious money? Is this particular losing candidate running for the seat of an entrenched and well liked incumbent? Did they have a good message that resonated with their district?
Yes, you need the money to compete. No, it isn’t going to show up because you have the right issue positions or because your opponent sucks that much. Quit praying for a ‘Mark Foley’ and do the work.
Summary: It is very rare for challengers to win Congressional seats, period. It is even more rare for first time candidates (for any office) to win Congressional seats. The most common trait of winning Congressional challengers is having lost a campaign for Congress previously.
If you aren’t sure if you are a some guy or a contender, you are probably a ‘some guy’. The most common path to changing that is through successful fund raising. Put your comfy pants on, sit down (every day for 6-8 hours), and make a ton of phone calls. Call Time is the most important task for candidates to master.
‘Some guy’ candidates are frequently brilliant on policy and push it out by the truck load. None of the voters in their district read it or care, but they do it. And these candidates believe this makes them ‘serious’. It doesn’t. Please stop.
Whining about the system, whining about the media, whining in general…is not going to win you significant support or generate your miracle fund raising. Whining doesn’t reflect the strong leadership voters/donors want. But it does occasionally generate something funny for the rest of us to giggle at.
As the American media focuses on the circus that is the Republican Presidential Primary, people all over the spectrum are commenting. Near all of the people commenting from the center to the left want the primary to go all the way to the end, bloodying the eventual nominee as much as possible. Many on the right are calling for an end to the process for the same reason. Some on the right can remember way back in history, in a galaxy far far away, way back in the late…4 years ago. They remember that Obama v Clinton all the way to the end of the primary calendar generated additional data, money, excitement, volunteers, a huge chunk of energy. They remember that the Republican primary contest in 2008 had the same potential, but was resolved quickly producing a flat general election campaign. In the end, Obama had nearly 270 electoral votes locked up by the time he addressed the crowd at the DNC. The contest was all but over, and he was just moments out of one of the most brutally contested primaries in history. The “3AM” Clinton ad that was supposed to be a devastating attack on Obama? Well, he didn’t win West Virginia, but he was never going to win West Virginia. He cleared 270 by a huge margin. Republican strategists remember this, and I suspect some are wondering if President Obama can repeat the feat without the intra-party foreplay and associated energy for change. They remember and hope that an extended primary will do the same for them it did for Democrats in 2008.
Primaries aren’t bad. Challenger campaigns can and should benefit from competitive primaries.
The un-wisdom is that primaries burn resources (money) needed for the general election, that it is a zero-sum situation and only xyz dollars can possibly be raised by pdq candidate. The un-wisdom asserts that the competition of a primary will expose the flaws/weaknesses of the eventual nominee diminishing their chance to win the general significantly.
All of this is of course stupid. I’d be more delicate, but that wouldn’t penetrate the level of stubbornness within which this particular un-wisdom is sealed. Bad primaries are bad, of course they are. When two (or more) candidates forget what their message is, lose all sense of discipline, and generally demonstrate how much they suck as candidate and campaigns, it certainly does make it likely they will lose the general election. But not MORE likely, they were already likely to get waxed, they just got exposed themselves a few months earlier than they would have otherwise. Even in this scenario, the primary is positive, because it provides the nominee the chance to evaluate where things got so off track and implement corrections before the general election campaign is at full throttle.
In a good primary, two (or more) competing candidates get to articulate their values, present their vision of how the district/state/nation would be better if they were to be elected, they get to promote the party’s values for however long the primary lasts. The process of the primary campaign will generate energy, enthusiasm and DATA. Data about donors, volunteers, the concerns of the district, all sorts of information that can help win the general election.
The money? It isn’t Zero Sum. Howard Dean proved that with his 50-state strategy and the overwhelming success it provided. Success that laid the groundwork for Obama’s 2008 victory. Done well, the primary will dramatically increase the fundraising capacity of both candidates during the primary period, and in the aftermath they will have broader reach to bring in as much or more for the general election than they would have without a primary. More good candidates and good campaigns means more money, not less.
Candidates that benefited from competitive primaries in the process of ascending to high offices? We already discussed Barack Obama, who had a competitive primary for President, most don’t know that he broke in to the Federal Campaign scene with a failed primary challenge in 2000 of US House Member Bobby Rush, and then faced a multi-candidate primary for US Senate in 2004. Today he is the 44th President of the United States, those primaries really hindered his success. Other candidates to have benefited from primaries include Florida US Senator Bill Nelson and Governor Lawton Chiles (against each other for Governor), California Governor Jerry Brown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator John McCain, Senator John Tester, Senator Mark Warner (won primary, lost general for US Senate in 96, won Governor of VA in 2001)…and Governor Rick Scott who stole a billion dollars from medicare and was trashed by his eventual running mate during the primary. This is just a small sample.
I would encourage the Democratic Party to embrace primaries, not play favorites in the process and instead do everything they can to make sure ALL candidates running under the Democratic banner and supporting the (bulk of the) Democratic Platform run the highest quality campaign possible. Doing so would improve the strength of the Democratic brand, grow fund raising, improve candidate recruitment and of course, elect more and better Democrats. Personally, I only help the liberal/progressive candidates. If you aren’t for equality, election reform and women’s rights, call someone else.
As for that Republican Presidential Primary? Let’s end it right now, let’s give Mitt Romney the nomination and start the general election festivities right now. Since we can’t do that, how about the Democrats stay out of it and focus our attention and energy on recruiting more and better Democrats to run sea to shining sea and then do everything we can to provide them with the resources and training they need to succeed. I’m looking at you DNC, AFSCME, etc, spend that money recruiting, promoting and supporting candidates that support your values instead of trashing a potential Republican nominee 8 months before persuadable general election voters are paying attention.
Play this video and listen as you read this post. You’re welcome.
Jill Sobule @ Netroots Nation 2011
I sent the following to a request for comment/advice regarding a bright young man’s effort to make a difference through a “bi-partisan organization”:
I don’t do anything (political) non-partisan or bi-partisan. Partisanship isnt the problem, blind extremist ignorance is. Good ideas are good ideas regardless of party and corruption is corruption regardless of party, party is a key feature of our current electoral system and it is the party with the strongest brand that holds the advantages (and wins more often, enacting their ideas in to law). Until we stop tripping over ourselves to disguise the problem to make it more palatable, we wont start making real progress. Stand up, speak out and have no shame for your chosen party id.
Note that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever criticize or question your party of choice. Quality control is needed. Badly.
Change the electoral system and then we might have a different discussion.
While the Republicans pursue a hyper partisan agenda, with remarkable success, Democrats – under the leadership of our President and Senate Majority Leader are striving for “bi-partisan compromises,” seen by many of us as solving little while giving away tax payer money to the wealthy, gutting regulations and axing social programs crucial to the survival and recovery of so many Americans. No where in the Republican sales pitch do they disguise their allegiance to “conservative ideals”, no where do they beg for approval from Democrats. They make declarative statements about what (they believe) America needs and package their pitch in an emotional, passionate narrative. They embrace the Tea Party, ignoring or approving of the xenophobic racism and bigotry. They use fiery rhetoric and aggressive campaigning coast to coast to raise money and shift the debate radically rightward . That’s important. What they are doing IS radical. The proposals and ideas of progressives today are not at all radical. They are rooted in the preservation of the New Deal, the regulations and social mechanisms put in place to end the Great Depression and prevent a future economic disaster of similar magnitude. Republican’s, joined by a relative handful of corporate crony Democrats committed terrorism and/or treason in decimating the regulations and systems keeping corporate greed and the financial sector in check and stable. We need to remember that. It was radical action by “conservative leaders” in the 1990′s through 2006 that turned our economy in to a mob run casino and mired our nation in wars on multiple fronts without clear objectives or adherence to the Powell Doctrine. Actual wars, with huge costs, human and financial. Accompanied by none of the planning and consideration needed for such endeavors. They didn’t pay for the wars, they slid them off the books and made major tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest 2% simultaneously. Now they object to raising the debt ceiling, something they did repeatedly without reservation while George W. Bush was working with them to rapidly inflate the debt.
What’s my point? We don’t need less partisanship. WE NEED MORE. We need progressives to stand up and speak out about the atrocities foisted on the Nation and 98% of the population. We need to speak about the young men and women serving their country returning broken or worse – while Republicans work to diminish the services available to those soldiers and their families. We need to stand up for educators and the institution of public education, it is the future of this nation that is being destroyed with every cut and every profit based decision. Decisions in education must be based on one thing and one thing only, the highest possible quality education provided to every child everywhere in this great nation. They aren’t less partisan with their attacks on these vital components of America. Why are we (Democrats) acting under the premise that reducing our level of partisanship will be beneficial?
We have some great speakers unafraid of the partisan labels and attacks from the right, but we need more of them. If I could clone Van Jones and run him for Senate in every state, I would, but reality requires we all stand taller and speak louder, that we join great voices like Van Jones and take on the Republican Greed & Hate Machine.
We must have one hundred bold progressives come forward between now and the end of 2011 to run for Congress and Senate. They must be willing to do the hard work and under the sheer brutality of a Congressional Campaign. As it reaches the peak of stress, frustration and exhaustion, they need to remember why they are fighting and say, “I Fight for We the People! I Fight for America!”
We need bold progressives to run for State House and State Senate across the country. To step forward to lead their community back to a path that gets them an opportunity at the American Dream. We need men and women to stand up and declare that equality is a right of all Americans. That greed is not a right and should be put in check. That corporations are not people and are not entitled to act with impunity, manipulating elections and destroying America’s people, land and resources with little to no concern. This is the time to act. We have to be the ones we were waiting for, there may not be future generations if we don’t stand up to the GOP now.
Are you ready to join the fight as a candidate? A volunteer? A donor? Contact us today, we need your Talent, Time and/or Treasure ASAP to win this war, what investment can you make in America?
I got up early this morning to appear on WJCT’s First Coast Connect, hosted by Melissa Ross. I was joined by Republican political consultant Jim Varian and Abel Harding of the Jacksonville Times-Union, we discussed Jacksonville’s Mayoral election results featuring Alvin Brown, Audrey Moran, Mike Hogan and Rick Mullaney.
Here is the link to the audio via MPA Political’s Media Archive: 3/23/2011 WJCT with Melissa Ross: Jax Mayor’s Race
Conventional Un-Wisdom: The Candidate’s spouse is above the campaign, they are not subject to the rules and expectations and should not be subjected to training and preparation. They know the candidate better than anyone and thus are more than capable of representing the candidate’s character and capacity in support of the campaign without guidance or training. Their responsibilities are limited only to what they wish to do.
When you look in on campaigns that are operating without professional direction or even some that do have professional direction, one of the common early failures is not defining the role, rules and hierarchy of the campaign to the candidate and their spouse. This results in the candidate and spouse defining their own roles and making their own hierarchy, which likely doesn’t adhere to any concept of “organized campaigning.”
In the first meeting with the candidate and spouse, the campaign manager should sit down and discuss the rules and expectations for the each of them. There should be discussion of time commitments, health concerns, and priorities. There are two very simple rules for the spouse to latch on to early. Spouse’s Rule #1: If you aren’t happy, you need to notify the campaign manager and discuss the situation. Spouse’s Rule #2: If the candidate isn’t getting enough sleep, food or is otherwise showing signs of declining/poor health, you must notify the campaign manager asap. Some will scoff that these rules border in to “marriage counselor territory” and distract the campaign manager from their responsibilities. The first is true, but, this is your responsibility, if the candidate’s spouse is unhappy or the candidate isn’t healthy, there isn’t much about the campaign that isn’t going to be negatively impacted. These rules are also accompanied by a rule for the candidate, Candidate’s Rule #1: Your primary responsibility is to make your spouse happy, if your spouse isn’t happy, you won’t win.
When you put forward those simple rules in an honest projection of what the time commitment and expectations of the campaign are from the beginning, you are far likely to incur issues later in the campaign. After establishing these rules, you can move on to defining the hierarchy of the campaign and the commitments and behavioral expectations. If the candidate’s spouse wants to play a minimal role in the campaign, that must be established early. If they are interested in playing a large role, that too must come out early. Either way, there is training and preparation to be done. You cannot wait until there is an urgent need to prepare the spouse, such as a pending media story. If the spouse desires to play a small role, is unprepared and then by random chance encounters a reporter, good luck controlling the story. If the spouse expects to play a large role, they need to have the limits and expectations defined early or they will quickly put the campaign in the position of either honoring the spouses commitments, making an alternate deal, or hanging the spouse out to dry. Consider the statement to be made:
“Mr. Dough made commitments without consulting his wife’s campaign, had he done so, he would know his wife and the campaign are already committed to attend a different event on the other side of the district on the evening in question, we apologize to the super_awesome_organization_01 for the miscommunication and hope their event will be a tremendous success.”
Doesn’t exactly leave warm and fuzzy feelings does it? There will likely be additional tension between the spouse and the campaign, and possibly between the spouse and the candidate as well. By properly preparing the candidate and their spouse well in advance, you can avoid all of these headaches a long the way.
Like all surrogates, the spouse needs to talk with campaign communications staff about what they will say when speaking in support of the campaign, how they will answer questions, and what to do when they don’t know or don’t wish to answer a question. Often surrogates think they have the best ‘story’ to tell about why they support the candidate, but it is rare that the story in question fits with the campaign’s message. Some surrogates are such tremendous storytellers that the off-message anecdote may work fine, but more often it will be a too long, too far off course, inside joke that the audience won’t receive in the manner the surrogate intends. The most common mistake for surrogates, just like candidates, is to speak too long. Shorter speech with more Q & A will provide the audience with a better impression and create an environment were the audience is more likely to get engaged in the campaign. A well prepared speaker can put forward a short “stump speech” that evokes questions the surrogate wants to answer. The same statement made as a response to an audience question will receive a far different response from the audience then when made as part of a speech. Given preparation and practice, surrogates often learn to enjoy this and become more engaged themselves, better displaying their passion and confidence for the candidate/campaign.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is teaching surrogates, particularly spouses not to inject their own thoughts/feelings/expectations of the candidate/campaign’s positions. Teaching surrogates to say “I can’t answer that, but I’ll be sure someone will get back to you with the answer very soon,” requires a great deal more effort than you might expect, but has long rewards if the follow up process is handled well. The inclination is often to say something more like, “I can’t speak for my wife, but I personally believe that sporks are the best utensils and all others should be banned in the state.” The disclaimer that it is a personal opinion is of no value, the surrogate is standing as a representative of the campaign in support of the candidate. A surrogate should express no opinions that do not adhere to the campaigns message and stated positions.
One thing that is often overlooked is that there is a particular talent and skill to being a surrogate, and it doesn’t always correlate with the talent and skill of being a candidate. Some candidates/politicians make terrific surrogates, where you leave the room wanting to vote for the person they were supporting. Others are terrible at it, alienating potential voters or more often having voters leave the room wanting to vote for the surrogate, not the candidate. Most experienced politicians can learn to be good surrogates, but first they have to understand and admit that they aren’t the best surrogates they could be and ask for help. This is of course a rarity among experienced politicians, admitting weakness. When you are talking about the candidate’s spouse, they may be great about this, coming in with a “I don’t do this, teach me” attitude, or the may come in saying “I know her better than anyone, you can’t teach me how to support her, I’ve been doing it for 25 years.” Again, if you don’t approach the subject early, problems will develop and further complicate the process.
There are some odd quirks that come up depending on the spouse’s life, from career to recreational activities, the campaign needs to be as aware of the spouse’s life as they are of the candidate’s. Financial disclosure should be discussed early on, the spouse should be aware that they will be scrutinized in the public eye just as much as their spouse, if not more so (depending on their situation). They need to recognize that once the campaign begins, all of their actions, no matter how personal they feel they are, can and will impact their spouse’s campaign. This becomes particularly important in dual-career families, where both spouses have successful careers, there is potential for negative impact on their spouse’s career as a result of the campaign. Discuss it early, understand the possibilities and avoid traumatic fallout later in the campaign.
Children, particularly teenage children and young adults, should also be brought in to the discussion of how the campaign will impact their lives. They need to be warned that they could become a subject for gossip and media coverage, that their first kiss might make it to the front of the local newspaper. Use of social media should be discussed and the campaign’s new media person should help the kids “restrict” their Facebook access to just friends and family. Kids are incredibly resilient and much more tolerant to all of this stress if they understand it before it happens, the opposite is true if they are not prepared honestly in advance. They are more likely to lash out and feel as if they are being persecuted, blame their parent(s) and generally disrupt the campaign. I do not recommend using children as surrogates.
When a campaign is built on a strong foundation from early on, with open and honest discussions about expectations and responsibilities for everyone involved, the opportunity for success is far greater. When we make assumptions and leave things ambiguous, they will create problems we won’t know how to fix. With all of this, fold back in those Rules of Organizing, “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.” Write down the defined roles, responsibilities and expectations for the Candidate, Spouse, Campaign Manager, Surrogates and other staffers.
Conventional Un-Wisdom: We lost because they beat us at Vote by Mail (or Early Voting), next year we will focus on closing the VBM (EV) gap.
This Un-Wisdom was heard in a number of states following the 2010 elections, often spoken by prominent establishment figures as part of recapping the 2010 elections and setting the agenda for 2012. I can’t know that they weren’t just trying to put forward a positive tone coupled with an easily quantified and correctable problem. What I do know is that this is a dangerous path to follow if we want to actually do better (which would include winning) in 2012.
Why? Deficiencies in Vote By Mail and Early Voting GOTV efforts are real, and should be taken seriously and corrected/improved wherever possible. However, in many cases you will find it wasn’t the GOTV programs that were deficient, it was the inputs to the GOTV program. What are these inputs? Quality candidates and campaigns that motivate people to want to volunteer and vote. If people are not motivated to volunteer, not enthusiastic about the candidate/campaign, they don’t transfer their energy to others, successfully activating them to vote and volunteer. Hence, they don’t Vote by Mail, nor Early Vote…because they don’t vote at all.
That makes the correction even more obvious, and yet infinitely harder to enact. Present conviction and activate the base, by spending the early phases of your campaign identifying, energizing, and empowering those most inclined to support the campaign. Too often Democratic candidates are or project themselves to be moderate, or soften their stances on key issues, making them less appealing to the Democratic Base, less likely to activate and energize. The end result is less support of all types and a greater reliance on expensive media efforts, particularly negative advertising.
That is why we, as the base, must get more engaged at influencing the process much earlier. Like now. Whether a candidate emerges from being “pushed forward” by the establishment or “from the grassroots,” or they just stumble (or charge) on to the stage seemingly from nowhere, we must aggressively vet them, for their values, their capacity to campaign and for their conviction. We must think about what inspires candidates to run and how we can improve the quality of their candidacy and campaign, should they prove worthy of our support. We must speak out and challenge flawed candidacies early, and demand primary challenges of both challengers and incumbents when they fail to measure up. Primaries are good, they make good candidates better.
We must help all candidates running as Democrats run better campaigns, be better candidates, it is our brand they are diminishing when they flounder. We should trust that in the end, the voters will judge their worth, and we will likely play a role in influencing that process later in the campaign. From the onset, we must direct all candidates interested in running as Democrats to taking the right first steps. Once they have built their foundation and given us something more quantifiable to judge, we can choose among them the strongest and best voice of our values. Polling in the early stages should be ignored, or even mocked. It has little bearing on the outcome unless you give in the credence to sway hearts and minds. It is a flimsy campaign that focuses on insignificant factors to trumpet their strength. Look for the candidate/campaign the portrays confidence without expressing disdain for their opponents in diminutive terms.
When we empower all those willing to step forward and put their names on the ballot as Democrats to run higher quality campaigns, we as a party emerge victorious. We will have activated more voters, more volunteers and more donors. We will strengthen the candidate and campaign that wins the nomination for the rigorous challenges of the general election. They will already be on a steep upward trajectory when the flag drops to start the general election campaign, volunteers and staff moving at full speed all the way to the finish line. The emotional bonds from supporter to candidate will be thick and durable, a strong deflective shield for the upcoming attacks of their opponent and even potential missteps of your own campaign/candidate. Or you could coronate your candidate as the nominee two (or four) years out, ignore the issues that motivate the base, and lose to a billion dollar thief.
Vote by Mail and Early Voting should absolutely be a part of your GOTV Plan, but the first component to your GOTV plan should be to remember that it is “Get out THE vote,” which should indicate to you that you need have already identified and motivated people to want to vote. Otherwise it should be “GORV”, Get out Random Voters. Before you can GOTV, you must know who your voters are and that there are more than enough of them to hit your win number. To get your win number, a GOTV plan and to be sure you are doing it right, contact MPA Political now.
Focus on closing the vote gap — be less concerned with how people vote and more concerned with getting them to vote at all. It would be great for your entire universe to vote the first moment they can, but you keep working for more votes and get them in by whatever method you can anyway.
For your conveinence, here are all the Conventional Un-Wisdom, Unconventional Wisdom, and other posts that pertain to better campaigning sorted by what aspect of the campaign they primarily pertain to. You will also now find this list as a big button on the bar above and in the menu to the right. Please visit our Services page or Contact Us if you have any questions or desire more specific and intensive training.
Organizing – The Foundation of Progress – The basic rules of organizing
Tools for a Better Organized Campaign – Basic Fund Raising Spreadsheet
Events / Advance:
Tools for a Better Organized Campaign – Event Request Form
As I looked back on 2010 and saw the great big failures, they troubled me. Messaging failures, generally unprepared or unqualified campaign staff, candidates unwilling to learn, listen and/or improve, and of course strategies that were designed to fail from the start… But then there was a feeling of downright anger. How the hell can Democratic campaigns fail so often at the very basics of setting up an event? Does no one teach this stuff anymore? Do people not learn from event to event? Do they not see the big greasy piles of fail due to some form of rose colored glasses?
What am I talking about might you ask? Podiums with corporate logos instead of campaign logos, candidates speaking in front of mirrors or distracting paintings, rooms with 10 times as many chairs as attendees… This stuff isn’t at all hard to avoid and the positive impacts on your campaign are high for low cost in terms of time, effort and money. Why not give it a shot?
Starting from the beginning, long before the event. In political campaigns, this could be months in advance, or it could be a day or three prior. Fill out an Event Request Form, just as I explained in Tools for a Better Organized Campaign. This will give you the basics of the event, written down, because as we learned in Organizing – The Foundation of Progress, rule #9: If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Some where in the future, I’ll introduce a full event briefing, which will put even more of the details on paper (or on your smartphones) and better prepare you and your candidate for the event.
In this first step of completing the form, you will answer some very important questions such as:
Is this an event we the campaign are hosting, executing and in “full control” of? Is this an event someone else is hosting, executing and in “full control” of? What are the objectives and opportunities of this event? Who will my candidate, surrogate or staffer be meeting, speaking to or with? Will there be press present, audio? video? both? print? Will we, the campaign, be able to record/photograph the event? Will the host have photos taken? What potential challenges are there and how can we mitigate those challenges?
In this process, it is important to talk to as many people with information and experience with the event as possible, particularly with regard to events external to the campaign that are repeated/annual. History is a strong data point with regard to events. If the event has had 30-40 people attend the past 4 years, but the organizers are telling you they are going to have 200 this year, be realistic. Assume 30-40 is more likely until significant evidence indicates otherwise. You should visit and walk the venue, take pictures. Think about where attendees with enter, where they will gather, will there be food/drinks somewhere drawing the mingling crowd? How many chairs will there be, how will they be arranged, where will the walkways be? Are there tables? Sketch these things out as best you can.
Where will the candidate enter the room? Will the candidate have access to a “green room”, or a restroom, prior to entering the venue? When they enter, will they be overwhelmed with the crowd as they enter? Who will walk the candidate in, meet the candidate at the car/bus? Will someone be introducing the candidate to the attendees as they mingle? Will the candidate be going straight to the “stage” upon entering to speak, and straight out after speaking? How will they enter and exit? Is the facility handicapped accessible? Where are the rest rooms and are they Handicapped accessible? Where will people park and how far will they walk to the entry. What can we do if the weather is bad, do we have umbrellas and volunteers to meet people at their vehicles and walk them in?
One of the aspects to think about is photos/video, what will be seen and how can we make sure the candidate looks good and campaign logos are included in photos? If the event is “campaign owned”, you have very few restrictions on where you can put signs, banners, balloons, etc. Every organizer should have high weight clear fishing line, sticky-tack (the blue stuff is better than the white stuff), clear tape, a staple gun (and staples), coat hangers, paper clips (variety of sizes, binder clips as well), and whatever selection of rope/string/twine you can amass. Having your own folding tables, table cloths and such also comes in handy as well, plus a chair or two – you may be able to borrow these from local supporters, organizations (VFW halls, churches, local county party, even a friendly restaurant/bar, if you don’t ask you won’t ever get what you are looking for.)
So you have your adhesives and such, where do you put signs? I start with where the candidate will be speaking, the front of the podium if there is one, and then behind the speaker’s primary location, picture a tic-tac-toe board on the wall. Put signs in the top and bottom corners, and in the center…obviously if you start with the center at the candidate’s chest height it is easier to achieve symmetry. The logic is that you want any picture taken to include the campaign logo (and url if possible), assume photographers will reject any preset media areas and take photos from wherever they please. The sign over the candidates shoulders will be the most visible in photos, often you can remove the center sign after
putting up the outer corners and use that sign for the front of the podium or somewhere else in the room.
If there are flags behind the candidate, this is where those coat hangers come in to play. First, research flag code and observe the rules therein. Here is a key passage, Section 7.k.:
When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.
Now, the coat hanger… When you have flags hanging from staffs, they are generally limp and in many cases hard to identify. As photo backdrops, they can look a bit “lacking” as a result. To correct this, take the coat hanger, upside down, and tape the stem of the hook end to the staff just below the bottom of the flag, as seen in the photo at right. The end result can be seen in the photo at left featuring three hanger’d flags
behind a microphone stand/podium at an Alvin Brown for Mayor (Jacksonville) Press Conference. Note that the American flag is the tallest, slightly forward and at the speakers right (photo left), with the State of Florida flag in the center and the city of Jacksonville flag on the right. Be sure not to put the hanger too high on the staff, causing a very unnatural draping in the flag, angles can be used as I did with the Florida State Flag to alter the drape and emphasis a key symbol or section of the flag (Florida’s state seal in this case).
To the left, you have the final product, candidate Alvin Brown surrounded by some of the areas elected Democrats. Positives: Flags are visible and identifiable, well presented and adhering to code. Podium/mic stand has a campaign placard with logo including the candidate’s name. Negatives: podium/mic stand is a bit low or the placard should be affixed higher, to be sure it is included at least partially in photographs (particularly in newspapers that will crop the photo down significantly.) The large placard below the podium is angled quite a bit, thus creating a reflective glare in the photo, it needs to be firmly propped up and affixed to prevent it from shifting during the presentation and fixed at closer to a 90 degree angle to prevent glare. There is no url on the placard on the podium. Nit Picking: Voters and people in general have preconceptions of leadership and appearance is part of that, in this case, one of the focuses will be height, the candidate looks tall if you crop the right of the photo off, but with State Senator Tony Hill behind him (over his left shoulder), the candidate “loses a few inches” in perception. Project power and power will be perceived. If your candidate is not tall, create presentations where they appear taller. In this case, the short podium does that nicely, but the offset of Senator Hill erases that effect.
Throughout the rest of the room, if you have the opportunity, you should place placards at or just above shoulder height on walls at whatever density you can achieve with a pleasing aesthetic. Assume people will take photos during the mix and mingle portion of the event, the logo/candidate name/url should be displayed in those photos if at all possible. In a very large room, you might put one placard on the wall every 4-10 feet, in smaller rooms, put them closer, even down to just the width of one placard between placards. You can create nice visuals by “stair stepping” or “checkering” the placards. Affix them all in a straight line adjacent to one another (add a laser level to your tool kit), then adjust the 1st placard up one placard height, so the bottom right corner is touching the top left corner of the 2nd placard in the row, then drop the 3rd placard down one placard height, so the top left corner of the 3rd placard is touching the bottom right of the 2nd. There is all sorts of visual art that can be achieved, you can take out the center row leaving the high and low…get creative, find a good look that works in the room. HANG THE PLACARDS WITH STICKY TACK AND COLLECT AND RE-USE the sticky tack when the event is over. The placards and sticky-tack should last the duration of the campaign. Store it in a zip lock back (add a box of bags to your tool kit, as well as trash bags, large heavy duty trash bags, don’t go cheap, you will suffer the consequences, I prefer drawstrings too). Look around the room, think about where people might want to take photos, how can you make sure there is a logo in that shot? If you had taken photos when you first walked the venue, you should have looked at those with that thought in mind and had a plan. If you have banners or 4×8 signs, is there a good place for such in the room? Will it be effective or distracting? Putting a 4×8 with the candidate’s face right behind where the candidate is speaking will not play well. Placards on the doors entering and leaving, 4×8 or banners at the sign in table can be useful in drawing attention and indicating “this table is official.”
An important aspect of setting up and event is knowing who and how many people will be there. You must have a hard count, people you are certain will show up, people who have verbally told you (or an organizer, staffer, volunteer) they are attending for certain, within one week of the event. Anyone confirmed more than a week out should be reconfirmed a few days prior to the event. EVERYONE should be called in the last three days and reminded, typically the script of this something like so:
Campaign_Caller_001: Good evening Mr. Jones, My name is Campaign_Caller_001 with the XYZ_Candidate campaign. How are you this evening?
Mr. Jones: I’m fantastic, Michigan lost, how could life be better?
Campaign_Caller_001: That’s wonderful, I’m calling to ask if you have any questions about Tuesday’s event at Your_Town’s High School Auditorium with Celebrity_Draw_002?
Mr. Jones: What time am I supposed to be there again?
Campaign_Caller_001: 5:30pm sir, do you need directions to the school?
Mr. Jones: It’s at the high school on Unpleasant View Drive, right?
Campaign_Caller_001: Yes, that is correct, and you will want to park in the back and enter through the East doors, we will have signs directing you there around the school.
Mr. Jones: Great, I’m really looking forward to it, thanks for the call.
Campaign_Caller_001: My pleasure, please call us at 555-867-5309 if you have any questions. See you Tuesday at 5:30.
Now you’ve reminded them to attend, and likely generated a bit of positive mojo for being “on top of it” as a campaign. Adjust your hard count based on the feedback of these calls. Facebook “I’m attending” doesn’t count in a hard count. Call the people and make sure they verbally commit to attending. Maybes don’t count. Numbers matter, be precise. Once you have this hard count, and you know what the setup of the room is, if you are doing a presentation with attendees seated, take the hard count, subtract 10-20% and setup that many chairs. You can always add more chairs (make sure they are available, but if there are more chairs, people will naturally filter to the back and the ends of aisles, creating a sparse crowd. You want the candidate, press and attendees to feel like the place is packed, whether it is 20 or 2000. If my hard count is 45, I set up 25 to 30 chairs, depending on the room configuration. As you configure the room, remember to allow for a “press box” area, if possible a media riser (a platform typically 6″ to 32″ in height that allows the media to setup a camera on a tripod to see over the crowd, typically the same height as the stage or a bit higher). With a higher riser, you can put people directly in front of the camera shot, causing the room to look more full, with a lower riser, you may want to leave an aisle to allow a clear shot of the candidate and presentation. The media riser should have a “Mult Box” for the media to connect to the microphone audio feed and any other sound feeds (if you are presenting a video or have a call-in speaker for instance) as well as access to power (via extension cords, taped and covered with a mat for safety if possible).
Behind the flags in the photo above you see a curtain obscuring what’s behind the presentation, in this case it is the stage/podium of a union hall. They utilized what is called “pipe and drape” to create a false background behind the candidate, making the event look more formal/official. These are fairly simple in design and can be rented relatively inexpensively and also allow you to hang banners from the pipes, particularly handy in situations where there is no other means to hang a banner in the room. You can also create pvc pipe frames for your banners fairly inexpensively, find someone crafty – this can be particularly handy for walking in parades with banners. With the pipe and drape, you can create an alternate entry method for the candidate or other speakers, potentially allowing a “surprise effect.”
Candidates/campaigns often shoot for quantity over quality with events, trying to hit 5, 7, 10 events in a day, as was discussed in Conventional Un-Wisdom: Scheduling, in most situations, quality is more important than quantity. The candidate should take the time to speak to as many people in the room, specifically ask for their support (vote, money, and/or time), and thank them for coming out to the event, as is possible. If you over schedule the candidate and rush from one event to the next, you are missing opportunities to activate volunteers, increase output from existing volunteers, and of course positive donor and voter impacts as well. If your campaign feels like speed dating, you are probably doing it wrong.
The candidate should work the room with a local surrogate, someone who knows much of the audience and easily connected with them, and ideally a campaign staffer is also nearby to collect notes, business cards and answer any questions beyond the candidates purview as needed. That staffer can also assist in increasing efficiency by helping to transition the candidate away from one target and on to the next by either taking over the existing conversation or introducing the next person. This requires talent and practice to be executed gracefully and without negative impacts, but in larger rooms a necessity or the candidate will be bogged down by the small handful of people who are already maxed out in support or rejection of the campaign, extra time with the candidate isn’t going to change anything.
Signs identifying the presence of the campaign event should be visible along the path leading to the event as far as a few miles down the road. People who were already soft on attending will absolutely flake if they become unsure they are at or headed to the right place.
The last piece of the basics is flow in and out, with data capture and personal contact. Ideally you want a sign in table just inside or just outside the main entry, if you have a large hallway outside the event room, setting up outside the room will allow you to have some control getting people signed in before they enter. If the event is ticketed, you have further control, as well as additional complexities I won’t get to here. Sign in should be efficient and orderly, and if an extra staffer/volunteer and “work the line” to keep people happy, calm and understanding the process, things will go smoothly.
If you do sign in outside, you can do further data capture inside, with staff/volunteer asking “ID questions” to those that enter, and then re-asking the same questions to those same people post event. ”Do you support XYZ Candidate?” Coming in they may be unsure, going out they may be excited and strong supporters…take the time to ask why and of course ask them to volunteer, donate, etc. There is a delicate balance between approaching attendees enough and harassment, courtesy and friendly demeanor go a long way to maintaining balance. Apologize and take the blame, don’t pass it off on your peers, staff or boss.
Capturing sign in only on the way in is not enough, you need to capture feedback/data on the way out too. Was the event good? Did they like what the candidate had to say? Did something said or done upset them? What corrective measures can be taken before their support/vote is lost?
The more you do it, the better you get at it, and you will learn and grow, as with everything else. These are just a few of the basics, there is so much more that can be done, and good event/advance staff are extremely valuable. Anyone can be trained to do the basics, but there is real talent and doing great events top to bottom.
In honor of the FDP’s dentist endorsed sugar coated retrospective of the 2010 election season, a look at how candidates and campaigns should handle the aftermath of a campaign in preparation for a future campaign.
First, despite amusing quotes projected by some of 2010′s candidates, no campaign is perfect, no campaign is without mistakes, no campaign is without missed opportunities. If you can’t locate your mistakes and missed opportunities, you need to seek help with the process from actual campaign professionals, not sycophants or cronies with titles of professionals, actual professionals.
Second, admitting weaknesses is the only path to correction and (continued or future) success. Often the notion of “protecting morale” is put ahead of admitting weakness, thereby causing the use of excuses. The biggest problem with excuses used to protect morale is that the people projecting them, begin to believe them. Those that are ignorant of the reality of history, including their own, are doomed to screw the constituents of their district again. Please spare us from that – we have too much experience with that already.
In the later stages of a campaign, there is value to morale and the general projection of a positive attitude, in this retrospective time, preceding the next campaign cycle, there is only value in honest assessments that result in improvements for the campaigns to come. However, even in those late stages of campaigns, while projecting confidence and positive attitudes, you must be able to assess your weaknesses as a candidate/campaign and take action to correct those weaknesses or mitigate the impact of those weaknesses on the outcome of the election. This is something that Republicans traditionally do very well and that Democrats typically do terribly, particularly in states of “inbred talent”.
If you ran in 2010 and are considering running again, in 2012 or some other future date, how do you proceed? First you need to start from the beginning, what were the goals set at the start of the campaign, where they the correct goals? Were those goals achieved, where did the campaign come up short? How does the landscape assessment from the start of the campaign match with the reality of what happened during the campaign? Were key factors ignored in the setting of goals or drafting of the landscape memo? What additional goals should have been set and tracked? What goals were set but never measured? Can we go back and measure them now?
Second, look for the most obvious mistakes, identify them and follow the trail thereafter to how many later missteps were caused by that “big mistake”. Identify each individual component of the mistake and think about how you/the campaign could have better handled the situation. Look at both the near and long term effects thereof…such as supporters you had that were lost and the potential future supporters that were lost before they could even be found. Utilizing timelines of different aspects of the campaign can be very helpful, charting fundraising, volunteer hours, voter commitments, event attendance and other measurable aspects of the campaign and then being able to overlay those timelines with the “missteps” as well as the “shining moments.”
Given a thorough assessment of the campaigns goals, mistakes and a complete timeline of the larger events/actions of the campaign, now we can drill down to more specific time usage. In campaigns there are three primary resources:
While many (novice) advisors will focus on the first two, as they are easily measured and leave a direct impression on observers, the most important and the only non-renewable resource is time. You cannot get back time wasted, you can recruit more volunteers and raise more money, but you can’t go back to the beginning and apply those volunteers and money to the campaign retroactively. The easiest time to gain money and volunteers is in the last stage of the campaign, the final 15-90 days preceding election day, they are both infinitely more valuable 91 to 300 days prior to the election.
Look at the candidates time expenditures in the first stage of the campaign, how were the hours of the day consumed in the first weeks and months of the campaign? Was there a staffer or volunteer assisting with the management of time and ensuring that time was utilized efficiently and effectively? Are there notes and reporting of productivity? Did the candidate have tangible goals throughout this early stage or were they flailing around trying to generate support haphazardly? Were long term relationships being built and did those relationships bear fruit later or was time invested that never paid off? Why? Was money being spent in this early stage wastefully?
In most “blow out” campaigns, you will find that the biggest problems occurred in the early part of the process, candidates were not provided with the proper training, knowledge and/or staffing to adequately build an effective campaign — or the candidates rejected that training/knowledge in belief they could do it different. If you as the candidate still believe you can win your race by having a million dollars fall in to your lap from some miracle online action, I can’t help you. If you expect the party (local, state or national) to carry you, raise the money for you, convince people you are worthy of their votes, I can’t help you. If you are ready and willing to do the work, the work starts now.
Through this process one must assess every staff person, from candidate on down to super-volunteers, and assess whether the person was in the right position, up to the tasks and responsibilities they had or would have in an alternate position and whether or not that person should be a significant part of any future campaign involving this candidate or district. Often we are quick to promote people in Democratic campaigns strictly based on the “top line” of their experience, the title they had — we need to look deeper and assess actual competence, talent and whether or not they learned and grew through the experience. Were they provided mentor-ship for moving to the next level? Expecting someone to magically attain the knowledge, training and understanding to do a very intense job through enthusiasm and desire is foolish, and yet common in Democratic campaigns. There are a number of great organizations that provide training like Democracy for America, the New Organizing Institute (new toolbox here), Emily’s List, Wellstone, and of course… MPA Political.
Many of the “powers that be” in the Florida Democratic Party and 2010 statewide campaigns are pushing out the notion that “national messaging” and “factors outside of Florida” doomed the 2010 campaigns in Florida. This is ridiculous. Was National Democratic messaging bad? Yes. Did it have an impact on Florida in 2010? Yes. Was that the most significant reason Florida Democratic candidates got smoked up and down the state and lost the Governorship to an unlikable crook? Hell no. Florida Democrats failed to project any quality messaging while the opposition worked unified effective messaging from early 2009 and through election day 2010. Florida Democrats campaigned for just a portion of the state while Florida Republicans went after the whole state. Fun fact: had every minimally financially viable Democrat running for state house and state senate won, we would still be in the minority in both bodies. In nearly all of the counties Alex Sink lost by 10% or more, we failed to field a candidate at either State House or State Senate. This failure to recruit and even try to compete was extremely costly, we also failed to effectively compete at the Congressional level, even in districts where we fielded quality candidates. Further costly was Democratic candidates being ashamed of Democratic values and attacking Democratic achievements. You didn’t see Republicans, even Tea Party super conservatives, trashing Republican achievements or distancing themselves from the GOP brand. They found ways to provide contrast without projecting embarrassment. If you are running as a Democrat, here’s a newsflash, the Republicans are going to portray you as a raging liberal, whether you are or not. The people who buy that aren’t ever going to vote for you, you can’t win them over by taking stabs at the left or adopting anti-progressive positions on key issues. All you will do is fracture your base and reduce the quantity and quality of volunteer support you will receive. Project strength and confidence in your values, whatever they may be.
None of our statewide Democratic nominees had good messaging post-primary, the first demonstration of effective unified messaging by the slate was 1/8/2011, with the projection of the message that the FDP committed no crimes and endured no investigations under the reign of Chairwoman Karen Thurman. Congratulations on unification, now lets find messaging that doesn’t suck. Being proud to have not (been found to have) committed crimes is the epitome of aiming low.
Nearly all of the emphasis at the 1/8/2011 meeting was put on improving performance in the later stages of campaigning, GOTV, Vote by Mail, etc, where yes, improving systems and strategies for those aspects of campaigning is always good, but problems in those areas can also be a symptom of greater problems in the early stages of campaigning, for which late stage process improvements cannot help. The greatest problems we face are in recruitment and training of candidates AND STAFF and message development and dissemination. Those problems won’t go away because we came up with a killer method of signing people up to vote by mail or a great database for managing volunteers on election day.
Maybe the projections and posturing of the 1/8/2011 meeting was just that – not the realities of the focus of the FDP, just a projection to maintain and improve morale while real changes are being made behind the scenes and honest assessments of mistakes have been made and significant changes are being made to correct those flaws/weaknesses in 2012. But, I’m not optimistic. I’ll wait for my phone to ring, I’m sure the FDP will call me to help train candidates and/or staff any day now…