Posts tagged Staff
An associate offering condolences for this past Tuesday’s election results offered the reminder that we need a Constitutional Amendment to fix campaign finance. Amending the Constitution is the only certain means of leveling the playing field between self funders trying to buy seats, those willing to sell their values for special interest money and establishment support and those tried and true progressive warriors honestly trying to make the world a better place.
The decline in the quality of media coverage of elections has been a perverse accelerator of the downward spiral, favoring big money, the establishment and creating the illusion of similar qualifications/values where vast differences exist. Why? To make money, profit over truth, profit over quality of governance, profit over everything.
Until we have major campaign finance reform and media reform, we as progressives (and Democrats in general) need to stop making the same mistakes campaign after campaign. We need to invest drastically more in infrastructure that supports candidate campaigns. The key phrase being, “that supports candidate campaigns.” We have a number of great organizations out there that are improving some of the message and starting to push back on some of the right wing attacks on our Democracy in favor of the 1%, but they aren’t doing nearly enough to help us actually win elections and shift the balance of power.
We need a return to the 50 State Strategy. It isn’t even debatable which strategy is more effective. When we run more quality campaigns, we do vastly better at controlling the message and we win more seats. We raise more money. We inspire future candidates and activists. Incumbency protection is best served by expanding the playing field, not contracting it to a defensive posture.
We must do more to provide candidates with the resources to compete – not just money, but training, quality staff and research. Candidates need to start by recognizing that being a candidate is not easy, and they should do more to learn to how to be better as a candidate. Progressive organizations need to begin their actions six months or more before primaries/elections, they need to get in early to make a big impact. They need to to do more to promote the positive narratives for progressive candidates.
We need to stop hiring/promoting staffers based on arbitrary measures, winning or losing a prior race isn’t necessarily indicative of any one individual’s talent and capacity. Being on a winning team in one capacity is not at all indicative of a capacity to succeed in a completely different capacity on the next campaign. Carrying staff not getting the job done is extremely detrimental to campaigns, where resources are highly limited and the impact of team morale is far greater than many recognize. A person not living up to the responsibilities of their job will drag everyone else down, any temporary drop off felt from firing that person among the rest of the team will be overcome by the greater impact of bringing in someone capable of doing the job. Rip off the band aid, don’t let it fester.
We should be willing to pay quality wages for quality staff. When you buy at a bargain rate, too often you get less than a bargain of quality and capacity. Which leads to this – donors need to get involved earlier, need to get involved in primaries, and need to recognize that their money can and should be spent on things other than TV. When progressive donors opt to sit out primaries, they are giving a huge advantage to the big money/establishment candidates and crippling our progressive heroes. Money has a decreasing value over the course of a campaign – the earlier you have it, the better you can plan and execute a campaign for victory. Late campaign TV is rapidly declining as an effective means of communicating with voters, the value of field, online and targeted mail campaigns are all increasing rapidly. All of these require having money earlier. More staff, less consultants.
We MUST MUST MUST do more to keep quality staffers in the campaign system between cycles. We must pay them living wages in and out election season. We must provide health care and career advancement training. We must strive to keep the best of our warriors on campaigns for 5 cycles. 10 years. That should be the goal. We need to make it a viable option by increasing the quantity and quality of mentorship, by providing employment options designed to fit between campaigns that continue the work for advancing progressive values, and by doing more to make sure the right people are hired by the right candidates at the right time to be successful.
We have a handful of strong progressive candidates running across the nation and Democracy Corps tells us 54 House Republicans are in danger right now. We can make gains this November, and we need to work our butts off to make that happen. We can make bigger gains in 2014 and beyond if we start learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over.
For my part, I’m currently looking for the best opportunity to make a difference between now and November 6th. If you have ideas about what I should be doing, use the contact form.
After an intense three months spanning the nation, working with Connecticut’s Chris Donovan to sharpen his message and write an acceptance speech for the nominating convention and then packing the car, passing through Mount Rushmore and on to the Pacific Northwest where I ran Darcy Burner’s campaign for Washington’s First Congressional District, I’m now looking for what is next.
Does your campaign need a communications director? Some quality control auditing? Training and process improvement? I can make your campaign better. So long as you are a progressive Democrat that is.
Whether you are looking to hire a consultant or a full time staffer, you should contact us here.
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.
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.
Back in December, I posted Organizing – The Foundation of Progress, the most basic rules of organizing. I also promised to begin posting some forms and other tools to assist in organizing campaigns. I’m going to start with a basic fundraising spreadsheet, based on what is used on my December 7th post on fund raising: Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising and an event request form that will be involved in a future post on basic event execution.
On this spreadsheet, as described in Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising, you find a simple setup for collecting and tracking fund raising. This spreadsheet is not a replacement for a full featured fund raising database, like NGP, and certainly not an alternative to a qualified finance staffer. Across the base, you will find four worksheet tabs, Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 and Phase 4. These tabs are for use in this exercise, start from Phase 1.
Phase 1/2 is the first steps, as detailed in Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising, it is the first step of listing everyone you (the candidate) know, are related to, went to school with, worked with, shared a cab with or saw pass out at 31 flavors. Focus on the names and how you know the people at this point, friends, family, volunteers, interns and later finance/campaign staff can help fill in details.
The immediate focus is creating a list that will help determine whether or not your candidacy would have the necessary support in the first 90 days to push forward. Unless you are a self funding candidate or some form of “rock star” candidate, there is no need to send mail or email in this first phase, except thank you notes. As such, mailing addresses shouldn’t be fretted over during “call time hours”.
As you flip to Phase 2, you see the addition of phone numbers and email addresses, and first ask/pledge tracking. Phase 3 adds more ask/pledge/collection data, and in Phase 4, you have a complete process sheet. There are notes columns for each fund raising quarter, and you will note that the first two donors are given a red background as they have maxed out and can no longer contribute to the campaign.
Some of the terminology / codes used:
|1st Contact – M – Ask|
= First contact – Method – how much is the ask
|1/11/2011 – F2F – $1000|
= the date of first contact – face to face – asking $1000
Other Methods of contact: Ph = Phone, Ev = Event, S = Surrogate (You might use S# to indicate a particular surrogate, ie S1 for the candidate’s wife/husband, they might be keyed as “S1 Ph” for instance.). At later stages of the campaign you will have contributions come in through methods that are not instant-direct contact, ie letters, the interwebs, etc. Of course, don’t expect this to be significant – roughly 80% of your fundraising will come from direct solicitations by the candidate via call time. That is, if you are raising money effectively, efficiently and on a level to compete in six and seven figure races.
I think all the other abbreviations/terms are understandable, but please feel free to post in the comments if you seek further clarification.
The second tool is an Event Request Form, a basic form identifying the who-when-what-where-why and how for events that the campaign is requested to appear at. The use of these forms will help campaign management triage the candidates schedule as well as the schedules of staff and surrogates. The more you know about an event in advance, the better prepared the campaign can be to properly execute the event.
This is a sample of a completed event request form using a fictional event hosted by the Fredonia City Democratic Party. The request is for the candidate, John Dough, the time, date and location are given as well as a contact number for the venue itself. The candidates arrival and departure times are provided, this is very important given that in some cases a candidate may have a very narrow window to appear at event, or may need to attend the entirety of a 2 or 3 hours event.
The event description identifies the event as a Pig Roast and that the MC will be the local party chairwoman. The keynote speaker is identified as well as the subject of the keynote speaker’s remarks, the program is vaguely described, though more information is desirable. Often at the times these forms are initially completed, some of the details are still in flux and thus follow up is needed. Before the day of the event, the campaign should ascertain where in the speaking lineup the candidate will appear, any additional information on appropriate attire, and more information about the audience composition.
We also note who is filing the request, in this case it is a campaign field staffer named Kelly Marks, and her contact information is readily available. Below, in the box, we have the contact information for the host organization.
As with everything else, the best thing you can do is hire high quality professionals to run your campaign, implement efficient processes and of course, bring in the best trainers. Before and after that, I hope tools like these will help your campaign deliver the results needed to advance progressive values.
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…
Conventional Un-Wisdom: If a candidate has a strong profile, the correct issue positions and public speaking ability, they will attain institutional and establishment support. Donations and support will flow from party organizations, unions and traditional donors.
As I look for candidates to help and support around the nation, vet potential clients, and generally try to support the progressive movement, this is one of the fallacies that stifles any chance of success dead in its tracks. Many candidates belief is that if they take on an incumbent or an incumbent party on an issue they see as greatly important to the district, the support will come to them in the form of dollars, donors and volunteers. These candidates believe this because no one has given them a proper education on how candidate fund raising works, just slammed the door in their face after saying “come back after you’ve raised $xxx,xxx.” No clue is provided on how or where that money should come from, the proper techniques to attain it or where to find quality staffing. That is the reality of the Democratic Party in most of this country.
The reality is, those door slamming establishment figures aren’t wrong, but they aren’t helping themselves by not providing more information or explanation. To be a serious contender for a US Congressional seat anywhere in the country, you need to be able to raise roughly $200,000 from your own network in the first 90 days of your candidacy, assuming you started on the first day of a financial reporting period, subtract a day from the time frame for every day in to the period you start. What does “from your network” mean? Your friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, college classmates, high school classmates, kindergarten classmates and every member of your Little League team. Yes, even the kid you used to beat up in high school…or the one who beat you up. No, it doesn’t matter what their personal ideology is. They will contribute in support of having someone they know in Congress, they will contribute based on knowing someone with the same experience (attending X school, living in Y town, or enduring the same miserable boss at a job ten years ago), they will contribute because you asked them. That is the key, you have to ask. You have to reach out and make the effort to talk to them, in direct communication, not through an email or a letter, but face to face or over the phone.
What those door slammers are thinking as they slam the door is, “this guy/gal can’t get his own family to support his campaign, why should anyone else?” I can’t count how many candidates have complained to me about their struggles fund raising that I have pulled their disclosure reports to find they have less than one hundred unique donors. Their friends and family have not given even $20 to their campaign. Before approaching traditional donors, you should have a minimum of three hundred unique contributors, ideally more. This is how you demonstrate that your candidacy and campaign are a worthwhile investment to donors who don’t have any personal knowledge or understanding of you or your experience. This is where the resources come from to build your campaign staff, purchase your first materials (NOT YARD SIGNS), and begin developing a more complete campaign. During the process of collecting from these initial donors from your own network you don’t need fancy literature or precise messaging, it is a personal outreach from you to someone with a preexisting relationship or shared experience. It isn’t about your position on issues, it isn’t about your party affiliation, its about what you share – there is absolutely no benefit to lying.
To get started, there is a basic exercise. Sit down and write it down. This is a common practice in campaigns, one of the basic rules of organizing is “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.” The easiest way to do this is using a spreadsheet application, start just by listing the people you know will contribute and a conservative estimate of what they will give in the first 90 days. Build out the list using multiple columns for contributions and relational identification columns.
Here is an example (Click to enlarge):
At this point we are just looking to get the names of everyone you expect to contribute in the first 90 days “on paper.” The first run through might just be the names themselves, with the additional information added in later passes. Eventually the list will be expanded to included phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, etc. It is very important to be honest (and conservative) with the dollar amounts assigned on this sheet. If you are over-confident in this exercise, all subsequent events in the process will fail. Column E is the amount you expect this specific donor to give in the 1st 90 days (first filing period), Column F is some mid campaign date, in a 15 month or longer campaign, I would use the end of the first calendar year, ie 12/31 as in the sample. Column G, “Potential”, is the maximum knowledge or research suggests the donor could give, or the maximum they have committed to giving over the entire length of the campaign. Remember that money not yet in the bank, isn’t anything you can count on. Until it is in your hands, it doesn’t exist.
A dollar raised 15 months prior to election day is worth significantly more than a dollar raised one month prior to election day, I estimate it to be around a factor of 25 to 1, but typically, campaigns bring in 1/3 to 1/2 of their total fund raising in the last 30 to 90 days. If that same money was harvested six months out, it would deliver far more impact. Money raised a year or more out is used to build a foundation, bring in higher caliber staffing, and build a complete and thorough campaign plan. It further helps to expand outreach to widen the base, develop larger fund raising networks and help to establish the narrative and define the candidate in the manner the campaign sets forth rather than the definition the opposing campaign prefers.
Start early and do the work before you start the campaign. Make your list, have someone you trust go through it with you, allow them to ask questions and expand the list through them. In this process you can also begin creating a timeline of your entire life experience, which you will need (on paper) later in the campaign building process. At this point you should also attend a DFA Training Academy, or similar program – really this is a step you should take when you start considering you might run “some day”, or if you just want to be a more effective activist and/or campaign supporter.
After you’ve brought in your contributions from your personal network and filed your first quarterly report showing 300, 400, 500, 1000 donors contributing $200,000+, you can begin outreach to those traditional donors, you can begin asking the party and other organizations for support, you have demonstrated you are willing and capable of doing the work. Make no mistake, running for Congress is a full time job and then some…if you think you are special and you can get away with 8 or 10 hour workdays, that you can be home to kiss your kids goodnight every night, you are very wrong. There is no forgiveness in this process, it is brutal and I have a great deal of respect for the men and women that sign up to endure it knowingly. The ones who sign up because they don’t know any better, that’s a problem we as a party need to be held responsible for, particularly when they become the nominee and still run low quality campaigns. That hurts the party in a long term fashion. We must run real challengers for every seat every cycle.
As promised, here is the complete breakdown of performance versus the democratic performance goals I had projected for the Florida Governors Race. I will use the same sorting I used yesterday for the turnout breakdown, but I have adjusted the reference of the turnout – each county is reported by what percentage of expected turnout it experienced ie. Sumter is reported as 127.5%, or 27.5% over expected turnout.
Starting with the highest performance counties in the state, we see that in only one of the nine overachieving counties did Alex Sink take greater than 50% of the vote, Gasden County, where Sink/Smith took a whopping 72%, 3.88% over my projected goal. In Union County, Sink/Smith exceeded the goal by just over 7%, with 46.6% of the vote – a small positive negated by the higher turnout assisting Rick Scott’s majority of the vote.
Performance wise, Sink didn’t fare terribly in any of these counties, with Calhoun being the farthest under the goal, by 4.6% with 13.5% increased turnout. But as was discussed in the turnout analysis, these were mostly Republican base counties, so any increase in turnout was very beneficial to the Scott/Carroll campaign.
On the right, is the chart of counties that experienced high turnout, 105-110%. Look at the Sink % column, we again can note that nearly all of these are counties Sink lost, the only exception is Orange county. Orlando delivered for Sink/Smith with 108% turnout and nearly 4% better than the goal. Sink over performed in six more of these counties, but four of those just resulted in higher scores in the 30′s and one just pushed the score out of the 30′s to 44.8% (Seminole). All of these increases are offset by the higher turnout delivering a greater increase in votes to her opponent.
In ten of these 18 counties the Sink performance was within 2.2% of goal, the biggest differentials were Taylor, Seminole, Santa Rosa, Walton and Duval. The 4.6% over performance in Duval was very unexpected, north east Florida was seen as a dead zone for the statewide Democratic campaigns with minimal candidate time and very little staffing. Without additional data I would wager the most influential actor in this was the Kendrick Meek campaign, led by local organizer Tyler Fort and driven by several visits by Kendrick Meek in settings and events focused on driving out minority and union voters. I would further posit that had President Obama visited Jacksonville at any point in the last six weeks of the campaign, Alex Sink would be Governor-Elect Sink right now, particularly if his visit to north east Florida included a pop at Bethune Cookman (or nearby).
I won’t forget that certain Democratic nominees scheduled and cancelled stops in the Jacksonville area throughout the campaign – get your scheduling in order before making commitments and don’t forget your base organizations in the opponents base regions, 40% performance is bad, falling to 25% because you didn’t bother to show up or do anything to engage the activists – that’s just sad. Play the whole field, not just the area between the hash marks.
Sink gets one short smile for this bit… in Collier County, home of Rick Scott, turnout was 109.36%, but Sink out performed historical Democratic performance there by 1.29%. The smile ends fast though, that 1.29% over goal is still an abysmal 32.4%.
In the thirty four counties that performed within 5% of historical projections for turnout, it is a mixed bag for Alex Sink, the bottom seven counties on the chart (Left, yellow) shows under performances by the Sink campaign compounded by lower than expected turnout. Among the seven is Hillsborough, home of the Sink for Governor HQ in the city of Tampa, this was supposed to be a highlight of the campaign, part of the famed un-wisdom “I-4 Corridor” focus. The FDP/OFA/Sink coordinated effort had a large number of staff working the county and put a great deal in to media in the region. To have finished under 50% is a huge let down, and even worse when compounded by reduced turnout (96.5%). Pinellas (St. Petersburg), also part of the corridor/focus, also experienced low turnout (97%) and slight under performance (1%). If you are going to make one region your focus, you need to significantly over perform in both percentage and turnout, Sink/Smith went under both ways in these two key counties. Knowing there is a significant GLBT community in this region, one must wonder how different these results would be had Alex Sink been less reluctant to talk about GLBT issues and been more supportive of GLBT rights. The same can be said for Miami-Dade and a number of the counties in the next (lower) segment of turnout performance.
At the top of this chart, it is notable that five of the top six counties, while mild over performers in turnout, were significant under performances for Sink/Smith. Flagler county went for Obama in 2008 (as did Volusia and Monroe) and produced just 43% for Sink while experiencing 103.7% turnout. This is one of the counties hardest hit in the nation by foreclosures and should have been an opportunity to over perform for Democrats. The lack of support for (and recruitment of) the “under card”, challengers for open and Republican seats is certainly a factor in Flagler and most of north and eastern Florida. This is one aspect severely neglected by the FDP and a significant departure from the 50-State Strategy employed under the growth years of Howard Dean’s DNC. All 50 States, all 67 counties, we need to put up strong challengers to every seats, we need primaries and coordinated messaging — that is how you win.
Both Osceola and Leon are striking bright spots for Sink/Smith, slight over performances in turnout with significant over performance to the goal (5 and 8.7% respectively). Dixie was an oddity, as pointed out by the St. Pete Times crew in this geographic Sink v Scott breakdown, produced 7.1% of the vote for independent candidates, more than double their statewide performance, while turnout remained just a smidgen under projection (99.13%).
Gulf county was a significant under performance, 7.6% below goal, 35.3%, with slightly low turnout (97.9%). Gilchrist clocked in 4.7% under goal (33.2%) with 96.5% turnout and Brevard and Putnam were also 3.7 and 4.9% under goals as well, both just outside the boundaries of the “I-4 Corridor”.
Alachua experienced both low turnout at 95.1% and under performed for Sink, 1.7% shy of the goal at 59.2%. This is a strong progressive county that a few months back elected an openly gay mayor, Craig Lowe, and is the home of Sink’s running mate, Rod Smith. This is another instance of where Sink’s positions and reticence on gay rights may have hurt her campaign.
Finally, we have the poorest performing counties with regard to turnout (chart on right). Massive under performance in Palm Beach is a huge obstacle for a Democratic candidate running statewide in Florida, this is one of our strongest base counties and a source of large numbers of high energy volunteers and activists. Not to mention donors. Turnout flopped at 93.8% and Sink/Smith fell 5.1% short of the performance goal at 58.1%. Broward, another crucial Democratic Base county showed close to goal performance at .2% under, but was nearly 10% under turnout projections. Joining the south east Florida turnout collapse are St Lucie (90.4%) and Martin (above chart left, 97%), St Lucie was a 2.3% under performer (50.9%), while Martin, a Republican base county, went slightly better for Sink/Smith at 1.5% over goal (40.5%). Glades, Okeechobee and Highlands are adjacent to those four counties in south central Florida, all Republican base counties, and all well under turnout expectations in the low 90′s. Sink/Smith under performed in south central as well, down more than 7% in both Glades and Okeechobee and a slightly more respectable 1.4% below goal in Highlands.
We also see the statewide totals on this chart, white text on blue background, turnout was right at the projection (off 0.26%), but Sink’s performance was 5.6% below the goals, and just short of victory.
This campaign was a massive undertaking planned well in advance and executed pretty much on the tracks laid years in advance. The FDP made a concerted effort to project Alex Sink as the party nominee well in advance of the primary, often regurgitating the same tired un-wisdom about the primary date being too late for a Democrat to win after a primary. News flash, many states have later primary dates and both parties are able to have primaries and win competitive elections. Rick Scott and Bill McCollum…brutal primary, that must have made Scott a sure loser in the general…Governor-elect Rick Scott…wha? Three Republicans engaged in a fairly fierce primary for the Attorney General nomination, surely that made it impossible for one of them to defeat Dan Gelber who only had to defeat one primary opponent to get the nomination…oh, oops again. How about that US Senate race where Charlie Crist got challenged for the Republican nomination…surely Marco Rubio had no chance….oh…damn. The gaggle of Republicans who fought to run against Alan Grayson…surely that ensured a second term for one of my favorite Congressmen… dammit. This logic sucks.
We need to adhere to our own rules and processes at the very minimum, the Democratic nominating process needs to be…well…DEMOCRATIC. I am a supporter of moving the nominating contest earlier, even if it means bearing the cost at the party level, a number of other states are able to do that and utilize the process as an excellent party building and candidate quality improvement opportunity. I would support using a caucus over a primary in that situation to reduce cost and increase the quality of participation, though one must acknowledge that it would potentially reduce the quantity of participation.
Had Alex Sink had a strong primary challenge, her campaign would have had greater urgency earlier, they would have been tested and improved, had she emerged victorious, it would have given her additional momentum forward in to the General election. What we can’t have is crappy primary challenges. We can’t have candidates that argue over petty things instead of the real substance, I like both Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg but watching them in the primary was more akin to a contest for Junior High Class President than Attorney General. Arguments over who is more or less supportive of this and more or less qualified because of that. Less about me vs him and more about what you will do if you get the job to solve x,y,z problems and make life better for the people. More narrative, more message. No ageism, racism, sexism or arrogance/patronizing towards your primary opponents. Bring it real and elevate the level of debate of Democratic issues for a change.
One of the other commonly noted flaws of the Sink for Governor campaign was her presentation and engagement at events and the lack of emotional attachment/passion in her speaking. I don’t know if they hired any consultants or advisors for this aspect of the campaign**, I don’t know if Alex Sink herself thinks she’s great at this, but it was a huge flaw and a big reason she failed to motivate volunteers and activists throughout the campaign. Many times people have said Sink does not like “working rooms”, I have observed her at many events bounce between the 10-15 people she has preexisting relationships with in rooms of 200-500 people. That does not get the job done, you need to shake every hand and speak to every person who took the time to come out and hear you speak. A number of young women commented to me at one major event how she was a hero to them and she didn’t even acknowledge their presence as she walked by them. That cost Sink a few hundred volunteer hours, at least, and she had another hour or so at the event to make up for it, but it was never a consideration.
Alex Sink was often over dressed, creating an unneeded barrier for attachment to many attendees. Nearly every time, or both times, I saw her dressed casually, her speech was also more lively and passionate and audience reaction was much stronger. This is a frequently delivered un-wisdom, we need to put an end to it.
The level of competence displayed by your staff will be heavily reflected in the level of volunteering, contributions and actual votes you receive. They should be properly considered before hiring and paid well for their work, which is a brutal commitment to dedicate their lives to your candidacy 24/7 for as long as you have until election day. They should be paid until two weeks following the election, win or lose. The last thing you need on a tight race is staffers looking for work during crunch time. The pay offered by campaigns in Florida Democrats is generally bordering on embarrassing, with highly qualified people taking lower level jobs in other states for higher pay (and benefits!). Of course, given the level of performance demonstrated, maybe paying crappy wages is justified…or is it the cause? The FDP should provide training to candidates and staff early and throughout the campaign season, they should provide assistance with hiring, providing the resources and knowledge needed to avoid candidates who dump a bundle of money on a consultant, staff, etc that produces no/little benefit. They should provide these resources to any candidate who qualifies as a candidate and is a member of the party in good standing for no fewer than two years. It is not the FDP’s job to decide who is and who is not a viable candidate, it is not the FDP’s job to decide who the best candidate is. It is the FDP’s job to make every Democratic campaign better and deliver Democratic victories in the general election.
The amazing but sad truth to Alex Sink’s campaign is that she ran exactly the campaign she said she was going 18 months out, and the results are almost identical to her husband’s campaign, which she discussed in the early part of this campaign…was lost by failing to turn out liberals in south Florida. Just as you can’t play half the game and expect to win, you can’t play half the state and expect to win. Trying to be more moderate to appeal to independents and Republicans doesn’t work either.
Join the conversation about how to improve the Florida Democratic Party with Twitter hashtag #FDPideas – we don’t know if anyone will listen, but it needs to be said. Take a bigger step and come out to RootsCampFL.
Conventional Un-Wisdom: To win this district, you need yard signs.
You want to make me cry on election night? Let me find out that a good candidate lost by a slim margin, but had a ton of yard signs. The answer is always no. NO YARD SIGNS. They don’t vote, they never will. Had the time and money been spent on virtually anything else, the candidate would likely have won by a slim margin instead of losing by a slim margin.
Each yard sign the campaign purchases, at costs ranging from seventy cents to upwards of four dollars a each, has a larger, hidden cost. For each yard sign you campaign purchases, it will drain an average of three hours from the campaign. Time organizing the signs in the office, managing inventory, arranging for pick ups, deliveries, and the worst part – handling the inevitable issues of lost/stolen/destroyed yard signs. So yard signs manage to drain from all three of the most precious resources on a campaign, time, treasure and talent, while producing zero votes.
Every cycle, at least one, if not several campaigns (regardless of party affiliation) get wrapped up in spats over allegations of stolen, destroyed or vandalized campaign signs. Don’t ever do it. Don’t put out a press release or an email alleging the opponent stole your signs, altered them, used them for a bonfire…doing so will NEVER help your campaign. You will look like a whiner and really, you are. Yard signs don’t vote. Yard signs don’t matter. Focus on what matters. Stick to your message and disseminating your narrative. The objective is to be seen as a strong leader, not the kid who got picked last for kickball.
But this district is special, in this one yard signs really work! No, they don’t. There is no special magic in one district versus another that adds effective message delivery, narrative, emotion, or other persuasive capacity to yard signs. If you can find a way to teach yard signs to vote, you will be very wealthy, until then, focus on things that actually do impact elections – canvassing, phone calling, fund raising, and other forms of good old fashioned organizing.
While there is some “feel good value” attributable to yard signs, the costs far outweigh the benefits and similar feel good value can be achieved through much more efficient means. Start with treating your volunteers, supporters, donors and the rest of your constituents with respect and utilize positive reinforcement. Give them alternate feelings of “ownership” of the campaign by giving them specific goals for winning their own neighborhood. Show them the real data, how many votes you need to win from their street. Teach them to organize, to bring their friends and neighbors together to meet the candidate, surrogates or campaign staffers, show them they can make a big difference.
There is a benefit to some (non-yard) signs, four foot by eight foot signs and banners can be useful for major traffic flow sites and use in parades and events. I recommend campaigns purchase roughly two 4×8 signs/banners per 25k potential voters. Buy them all at once to reduce per unit costs, and make them consistent to the campaign″s branding. Mix corrugated plastic signs with durable banners, get them all two sided, and make sure they are union printed with bugs and proper legal disclaimer per the laws of your election. For those doing the math, that means if you are running for Council in a district of 20k voters, two 4×8″s max. If you are running for mayor in a city of 150k voters, 12 4×8″s, for Congress in a district of 500k voters, 40 4×8″s maximum. Mixing that with 25 signs and 15 banners to get your forty should suit you well through a typical Congressional campaign.
Yard signs don’t vote. They become a part of the landscape after a relatively short period of time, and typically have a very limited viewership anyway. It is always amusing to hear an irate supporter complaining about their missing yard sign on the end of a cul-de-sac where the candidate has locked up all of their neighbors as well. Or their complaint is that their neighbors on both sides have the opponents signs up…it isn’t impacting the outcome of the election, focus your energy on getting out your votes and winning persuadable voters with effective organizing techniques.
There is data, produced by reputable Political Scientists, that shows that yard signs can increase “name recognition” – which some argue is a needed first step to introducing a candidate to the public. The flaw in this logic is that it is an empty introduction. You have provided me a name, but no narrative, no message, no emotional feelings (unless the sign is amazingly ugly or beautiful to the viewer). What have you gained? You haven’t influenced a persons propensity to vote, or altered who they may vote for should they vote. The data is clear on that as well. Spend the money on organizing and persuading voters to show up AND vote for your candidate. Introduce the candidate to the public with effective introductory ads on tv, radio and by utilizing earned media, in the earliest stages, rely on good organizers and appearances at events to present your candidate to their potential supporters. Yard signs don’t vote.
Even worse, most yard signs are purchased and/or distributed over the final weeks of the campaign, after the point which a candidate should have attained sufficient name recognition. Right now, in late October, just 13 days from the general election, at least three (top tier) candidates have emails in my inbox promoting yard signs. There is no math that has a candidate with low/no name identification overcoming that deficit via yard signs. Yard signs don’t vote.
At the highest level of campaigning, there are vendors that will provide your supporters with the opportunity to buy yard signs direct, meaning the campaign never has to touch them, and all questions regarding the signs can be referred to the vendor. The Obama for America campaign in 2008 did this effectively, allowing supporters to purchase yard signs, t-shirts, canvass bags, mugs, car magnets, bumper stickers and even baby clothing with the campaign logo on it through their website, with the items shipped directly to the supporter’s home.
There is one other function of yard signs, really the primary function and most significant positive capacity they have, candidate ego. In a Congressional Special election there was a huge list of candidates with a number of multi-millionaires. All of these self-funders bought thousands upon thousands of yard signs and had paid “volunteers” distribute them to every median, sidewalk, right-of-way, abandoned lot, shopping center, fence, lamp post, street sign and even a homeless people who weren’t moving fast enough. The candidate who won had less than 400 signs, all of them from previous campaigns, modified with spray paint as needed. They were distributed daily along the route the candidate would travel, giving him the impression that everywhere he went, he was loved. No reason for him to know the signs he saw on the north side of the district yesterday are the same signs he’s looking at on the south side of the district today…he felt great and it invigorated him going in to every event. On the other hand, you can accomplish this by having a candidate people actually do love… Far less costly and you eliminate the 4 man hours per day relocating the signs. Yard signs don’t vote.
I should provide additional information, it is not legal to place yard signs anywhere but private property where permitted by the owner of said property. Businesses who lease property typically have clauses in their lease about signs, requiring the owners permission for any additions or changes. State, County and local ordinances may apply, but all of them are subject to Constitutional review as violations of free speech, choose those battles wisely, they aren’t likely to net you many votes. All of the signs you see in public spaces, such as medians and along the sidewalk/curb are illegal in most of America. They are subject to being picked up by the county/city/state/etc and in some communities fines for littering or similar ordinance may apply. Yet another reason not to bother with yard signs. Yard Signs don’t vote.
ps. If you ignore everything else above, don’t ignore this…DON’T PUT YOUR FACE ON YOUR DAMN SIGNS.
Conventional Un-Wisdom: As a candidate, you need to meet as many people as possible, you should have as many events scheduled each day as is possible.
This one is found on campaigns of all budgets, from the most experienced to the greenest candidates. For some candidates, this is a matter of style/choice or as a counter to a perceived or actual weakness. For whatever reason, schedulers tend to squeeze as many events/meetings on the calendar as possible, putting the candidate in intended or accidental tardiness perpetually.
The contrast of two extremes can be seen looking at the Republican Presidential nominating contest in Iowa 2007/8, particularly between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Romney’s campaign resembled the average Iowa effort for a wealthy/well funded candidate, spending upwards of $40 Million in Iowa. His family had an RV, they had buses, they used planes, they crammed in five to nine events/meetings crisscrossing the state every day. Huckabee’s campaign more resembled the thrifty couch to couch model set forth by Jimmy Carter. Spending less than five million in Iowa, Huckabee typically had only two to four events in a day, staying at each until he had shaken every hand and spoken to every Iowan who showed up. This proved to be effective for Huckabee, with him winning Iowa netting 34% of the vote, besting Romney by ten thousand caucus goers, or roughly 9% more of the record turnout 120,000.
Huckabee is an incredibly gifted campaigner, with exceptional memory and recall of the people he meets along the trail. He is known to recall and ask people about the things they had mentioned to him at the previous month’s (or longer past) event in their town, demonstrating exceptional empathy in the process. No one expects this level of performance from candidates, but it is a phenomenally effective club to have in your bag.
Why do schedulers and campaigns in general function in a consistent fifteen minutes “behind schedule” state? Typically, people don’t get to an event and settled in until at or shortly after the scheduled time. This can lead to candidates showing up to partially (or completely) empty rooms, which makes for embarrassing pictures and bruised egos. Now, if you have talented, well trained organizers, they can plan and execute the events without anyone noticing or caring that the candidate wasn’t there at the scheduled start time. You want your candidate to walk in to a full room, you want him to spend a few moments in private with the host/hosts of the event, and you want him to be introduced to the room (both formally and during mingling) by a local endorser (possibly the host). All of these things can be accomplished without leaving the attendees feeling like the campaign is behind schedule.
As for scheduling, one of the first challenges is making commitments weeks or months in advance of events and then having additional events crop up at the same time, possible great distances apart. I will seldom support a candidate breaking a commitment to attend some other groups event. One way to alleviate this problem is to develop a strong network of surrogates, unpaid supporters of the campaign that can speak passionately in support of the campaign and have sufficient local, regional or national recognition and credibility to benefit the campaign. This could range from one the candidate’s school teachers who has also taught a significant portion of the community in which they are speaking to another elected official (Member of Congress, Mayor, Governor, Sheriff, etc) to a true celebrity. Michael J. Fox speaking out in support of Claire McCaskill on the issue of Stem Cell Research was a major component of McCaskill’s victory of the 2006 Missouri Senate Race.
If you have a network of surrogates developed, preferably with them sorted by capacity/issue specialties, you can then distribute them to events as needed, allowing the candidate to be more selectively utilized without alienating key allied organizations. As the campaign season nears the end, more events will crop up in conflict with one another, by this time, the campaign must have a variety of experienced spokesmen to represent the campaign at events. Whether it is the candidate, surrogate or staffer speaking, you should always record what is said on behalf of the campaign. Review of the recordings may allow you to correct a small issue before it becomes a big story or to effectively refute a bogus claim made by the opposition.
Many campaigns function on 3, 5, or 7 day scheduling – I prefer a minimum of ten day scheduling. If a candidate doesn’t have a “dinner time” commitment on the schedule 10 days out, I have them eat dinner with a random supporter in a targeted precinct. The supporter can invite neighbors, co-workers, whatever is their preference, but with little stress, keeping the expectations and logistics minimal. The candidate can then sit, be themselves, and build relationships with voters they may have never otherwise reached. With a near zero cost to the campaign, these types of informal events can be very effective, particularly in the early stages of the campaign. Rather than trying to hit every media market and region of your district each day, aim to hit each once per week, spending quality time in each region, hitting multiple earned media opportunities in each.
Events more than ten days in advance should be well researched, both the event in question and any other potential items on the calendar in that time frame. Be sure to get multiple opinions and data points on potential external events, often the hosts will oversell their event to get a commitment. If the event drew 75 people last cycle, 75 the cycle before that, and 75 six years ago, its probably going to draw about 75 this time too. Who are those 75 people? People you have had extensive contact with and no results? People who are unlikely to support your campaign? Rabid supporters who don’t expect you to attend the event because it won’t help you win? Activists who expect you to be there to show your support for the organization that is supporting you? Get as specific as possible, from ticket sales to attendee lists to table arrangements. Will there be a podium? PA System? Is the program an hour? Four hours? Know before you commit your campaigns time. Briefing memos should be prepared for every event on the campaign schedule – time, date, location, who will be in attendance, specific focus points, important facts, type of remarks, notes from past events in the same community, etc.
All surrogates should be prepared before speaking on behalf of the campaign, regardless of how elite or qualified they may be, they are not experienced with this particular campaign and they have significant potential to cause damage to the campaign very quickly. Most surrogates will appreciate and respect such preparation if it is done correctly. Even family members and the candidate’s oldest friends should be properly prepared before being sanctioned to speak on the campaign’s behalf. I rarely support fully scripting a surrogate’s speech, but the campaign should talk with them about why they support the candidate and what points to emphasize versus what things not to bring up or to down play. Just like the campaign’s media operations, surrogates need to be on message to be effective. It is amazing how many campaigns fail to prepare particularly high level surrogates, leaving a Congressman or Senator to flounder in front of a crowd, unsure of what to say beyond “Vote for this guy, he doesn’t suck!”
A recent campaign in a US Senate primary was among the worst examples of what I refer to as “Speed Date Campaigning.” Rather than building quality relationships and providing the motivation of personal contact with the candidate, the campaign crammed as many events in to each day, utilized a private plane to span a large state every day in an effort to hit every media market every other day. While dramatically outspending his opponent, and having at one point polled significantly ahead, on election day it ended up a double digit loss. When you take the time to build relationships and favor quality meetings/events over quantity of meetings, you build a stronger base that is much more resistant to character attacks and mudslinging. You develop a more motivated and energetic volunteer corps, voters more likely to actually cast a ballot and take the next step of encouraging friends/family to do the same.
This is particularly important in primaries, one of the things Democrats do generally worse than Republicans. Often our Democratic candidates take a “screw ‘em if their not with me” attitude in the primary, particularly when it comes to party ‘elders’ and top tier activists. I encourage candidates in contested primaries to reach out to those ‘high level’ supporters of their primary opponent in a non-confrontational manner, sit down with them and say, “I’m here because I believe I’m the right person for this job, I hope if I win this primary you will support me, and I respect your decision to support the other guy…” It’s amazing how dramatically this can impact the post-primary period of the campaign, taking just a small percentage of time pre-primary to net huge gains to start the general election.
I’ve heard of campaigns trying to schedule separate meetings with 5-7 activists/donors in a single hour, every time I’ve seen it attempted, it has backfired on the campaign, with activists/donors unimpressed or insulted. If the people are worth meeting with, they are worth treating with respect and giving them enough time to accomplish something meaningful. Campaigning is a process with outcomes delivered over time, rarely instantly. Relationship building needs to begin as far in advance of the election as possible, with the results trickling in over time and culminating with a victory on Election Day. The quality of the relationships you build will have a significant effect on how well your campaign resists character attacks.
Whether you are running for school board or U.S. Senate, take the time to show the people who come out to meet you that you appreciate them, value their vote and will listen to their concerns. On the other hand, your staff needs to keep you from wasting time on people you will never convince to support you as well as on people who have already reached their maximum support potential. Properly trained staff should help the candidate navigate the room, ideally having been in the room and met the attendees prior to the candidate’s arrival. See the prior Conventional Un-Wisdom on attire to ensure successful interaction with the attendees.