Posts tagged Surrogates
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.
My adventure to the Nation’s Capitol, with a fantastic 1-day conference hosted by Campaign for America’s Future, “Summit on Jobs and America’s Future” and a Democratic Municipal Officials conference where I will be leading a training session on speaking as a surrogate. You can find a pdf of my training materials for the DMO session here. Much of the following was written at a fantastic new DC coffee shop, Pound Coffee, which is very close to the Eastern Market metro stop. Did I mention the owner is a fantastic Young Democrat? (Karl, my drinks are free now right?)
The Summit on Jobs was a fantastic presentation of a great variety of brilliant presenters, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Van Jones, Represenative Keith Ellison (MN), Representative George Miller (CA), Mayor Antonio Villaragosa (Los Angeles), and both an economist and a pollster that I liked, Robert Pollin (Umass-Amherst) and Celinda Lake (Lake Research Partners). There were a number of other great presenters as well, it was informative, entertaining and well executed, a great job by the folks at Campaign for America’s Future.
I didn’t take notes at the Summit, I did live tweet throughout, so now you will get the results of that, with additional commentary.
The first bundle of tweets above, the top tweet, which occurred chronologically last in the sequence, is mis-attributed to Campaign for America’s Future’s Co-Director Robert Borosage, it was actually a statement by Umass Amherst Economist Robert Pollin. The four tweets in the next block below are all from Robert Pollin’s presentation, mis-attributed to Borosage. My apologies to both gentlemen.
In the set below, there is a tweet with the attribution correction, the 3rd tweet down is also from Pollin, not Borosage. The first tweet relates to Pollin’s discussion of the unemployment situtation in 1981-82 and the failures of Reagan’s economic policies. I’ll take this opportunity to put my favorite Reagan quote on labor:
“They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost. They remind us that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. You and I must protect and preserve freedom here or it will not be passed on to our children and it would disappear everywhere in the world. “ – Ronald Reagan, former President of the Screen Actors Guild, Labor Day, 1980
It seems clear that President Reagan would see Governors Walker, Kasich and Scott (WI, OH and FL respectively) as well as the GOP’s national leaders to be enemies of Freedom. I disagree with President Reagan on nearly everything else, on this point though, he was correct.
The next block is from the presentation by Celinda Lake, the polling numbers she cited and the ideas she presented were both the support for progressive candidates and the foundations of strategies that can lead progressive candidate to victory. The last (top) tweet is the one that really puts everything in perspective, by 2 to 1, American’s believe the next generation will be worse off than they are. That is both a sad state of affairs for our nation and a positive reflection on the awareness of voters. They are starting to see a bit further down the road and understand that long term outcomes are not all that rosy. Celinda Lake dropped in a nice aside suggesting Robert Pollin run for the US Senate seat in Massachussets currently held by Republican Scott Brown. I’d support that notion, an intelligent progressive economist would have a profound impact on the Senate.
The Keynote speaker of the Summit was Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, and he did not disappoint. He spoke about the politics of fear, the corruption of officials catering to the greedy demands of their super-wealthy donors, and the positive values of the American Labor Movement. He closed by squelching a Fox News Reporter’s attempt to distract from the evil behavior of Governor Walker and the GOP with finger pointing at President Obama. President Obama didn’t bolt the windows shut to keep protesters from getting food/water. President Obama didn’t lock the doors keeping not only protesters, but elected legislators out of the Wisconsin Capitol. President Obama didn’t subvert democracy to pass a legislative agenda of greed and corruption. I’d like President Obama to do more, but not more of the intolerant, greedy and just plain evil propaganda that Fox News pushes. He can start with media reform, there’s nothing “news” about the Murdoch and Ailes Propagana Network.
On the next panel Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect made some great points about the current state of public opinion with regard to labor and the disfunction within the Democratic Caucus of our Federal Legislature. He called Third Way out for what it is, a mechanism for selling out Democratic Values for the benefit of Corporate America’s wealthiest. In his words, “the spiritual successor to the DLC.”
Kate Gordon, VP for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress, made a great presentation about the economic opportunites in moving to a greener America, the benefits to workers and investors. She called for the elimination of all subsidies for Oil and Coal industries, redirecting all of those funds to clean energy research and development.
Representative George Miller of California’s 7th Congressional District delivered what Representative Keith Ellison later referred to as a “stemwinder.” Miller spoke of the systematic approach Republicans are taking to stripping communities of resources from the top down, putting the governing a the local level, such as by Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, in to a constant situation of impossible decisions. He talked of how the GOP is intent on blaming hard working Americans for the crimes of big banks and the super-greedy, at the behest of their donors. He spoke of the tragedy of the entension of the Bush Budget Busters and how the wealthiest corporate tycoons are trying to impose a new “China price” on American Labor, driving wages down to unlivable levels in the interest of excessive profiteering.
Represenative Ellison opened with a reminder of his home state hero, Hubert H. Humphery’s governing philosophy, as summed up by the following quote:
“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
Ellison went on to note that if the GOP was interested in creating jobs, they would have submitted at least one jobs bill by now, rather than wasting so much time on ceremonial displays and ideological vendettas.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa started by telling us he was going to abandon his speech and tell a different story. The story was one he has told many times before, about his grandfather coming to America 100 years ago with the shirt on his back and little else. Through hard work and relentless dedication, his grandfather provided for his family, later his father did the same, allowing Antonio the opportunity to succed and become the Mayor of the great city he was raised in. He also spoke about the brutal decisions he has had to make, cutting 4,000 of 14,000 civilian employees as the funding mechanisms for his city have been choked off by the state and Federal government, as Representative Miller had described earlier.
Villaraigosa spoke of how as a child, he was a latch-key kid, that the local library was their day care center. He went there every day after school and waited for his mother to pick him up when she got off work. Mayor Villaraigosa has a plan, America Fast Forward, which you can read more about here.
Van Jones closed out the show with his tremendous oratory capacity spinning a fantastic narrative of the origins of “Hope” (2003), the first steps to developing a progressive infrastructure as they unfolded in 2005/2006 and where we need to go from here. His new American Dream is a vision of the better nation we want for the generations that come after us. He emphasized that the phrase “homeless veteran” needs to be gone from our vocabulary, we need to do everything possible to make sure every veteran returning from war (as well as all of our young people) can find a job in the private sector, or if needed, create public sector jobs for them, similar to the notion of a 21st Century WPA mentioned throughout the day.
These two statements from Van Jones are emblematic of his leadership, empathy and strength wrapped in a graceful eloquence:
The Summit was fantastic and similar events should be held around the country. Campaign for America’s Future did a tremendous job organizing and executing this event. If you aren’t following their actions, you should subscribe to their email list now and start visiting their website regularly.
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.
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.
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.