“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good persons to do nothing”
My intent of this small effort is to provide a primer for those who are interested in managing a political campaign, being a candidate for political office or just learning the basics of how political campaigns are developed and executed. While I have experience in working on national presidential campaigns, statewide campaigns (United States Senate, governorships, and other statewide offices) and congressional district campaigns, most of my experience has been in local, county and legislative district races. These campaigns were and are still my preference for several reasons. First, I long ago tired of bouncing around the country from airport to airport, sleeping in Holiday Inns and eating out of vending machines. Secondly, I found these campaigns to be more personal, more collaborative and more successful. Finally, I have always believed that these campaigns are extremely important to the future of the Democrat Party. They are important because they provide the first opportunity for someone to become involved in public service and for many to become the next generation of leadership for their locality, state, and even the nation. I am convinced that most of the problems of the Democrat Party today is the failure to focus on and support in some measure these kinds of campaigns.
The approach I have used successfully in political campaigns is commonly referred to as a “grass-roots” campaign. This approach in many ways was developed by the George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972. I knew George McGovern when I was the Vice Chair of the South Dakota Democrat Party and have always admired his wisdom and compassion for the people he represented. A grass-roots political strategy is as valid today as it was for McGovern winning the presidential nomination. That being stated, I must say that what is in this book is not the be all end all in how to run a political campaign. The development and execution of political campaigns is an ever-evolving practice. Technology continues to impact our efforts, but the basic premises of a grass-roots campaign has not changed. While I promised to have this book available in November, my life had a few curve balls thrown at it which has caused me not to be able to meet certain deadlines. Nonetheless, I wanted to at least get started and share some initial thoughts with you about your campaign. Additional installments will be added as I get them written.
“All politics is local”
Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House of Representatives
Here are my 10 suggestions to keep in mind initially when considering running for elected office as a Democrat. Some of this may seem pretty elementary and not new information to you. But I will guarantee, you will find several things you haven’t thought of, if this is your first run for elected office.
- First things first. Go to your county auditor or whoever is responsible for supervising elections in your county or legislative district. Ask for a nominating petition or petitions you will need to have signed by registered voters. Learn how many bona fide signatures you will need to have your name put on the ballot and what the deadline date is for filing your petitions. Also ask to have an “instructions for candidates” handout (or something of that sort), which will tell you what you can and cannot do as a candidate.
- Always begin your campaign by knowing why you are running for the office. I am sure you have some great reasons for running. However, what is more important at this point in your campaign (the very beginning) is what your voters think. So, how do you get know what your potential voters are interested in, for what are they passionate, or just damned mad about? You may have some of the answers. If you have decided to run for office, you may even have most of the answers. But at the beginning of your campaign you need to know as much about your constituents as you can. Time spend learning about them is real grass-roots work. Here are some ways to gather that information.
- Since all politics is local, spend the first two weeks of campaign listening to voters. Go door-to-door in a middle-class neighborhoods. Knock on doors between 6pm-8pm during the week and afternoons on the weekends. Introduce yourself to an adult living in the house, tell them you are running for office and you would appreciate their input. Ask them what are three things they are concerned about or would like to see changed. Keep it germane to the office you are seeking i.e. county commissioner, school board, state representative etc. When you have completed 50 successful “door knocks” you will have a list of these voter’s interests, their names, and addresses, and later you will know their political party affiliation. Always carry a notebook and make notes to record what each voter has said. It will help you remember what people’s concerns are and will impress the voter that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say, which you should be, otherwise what’s the point. Do not get discouraged as you walk the door knock effort. This is just part of the grunt work of a grass-roots campaign. You can take a friend, a relative, neighbor, anyone who would walk with you for moral support if you wish.
- At this point you have a baseline idea of what voters are concerned about in your race. But you aren’t done with voter research just yet. Take some time to interview some small business owners in your town, county, or district depending on what you are going to be running for. Many of them will probably be Republicans. That doesn’t matter. You need to know their concerns as well. Chances are they will remember you at least were interested enough in learning about their interests. So, when you tell them you are a Democrat running for such and such, don’t get into a defense of Democrat values and agendas. Simply say something to the effect of “I am interested in all the people I might be representing if I am successful” and smile. You don’t need to spend time getting into a debate.
- Don’t forget the Millennials. They are now the largest voting block in America. These are persons born between 1980-2000 almost all of whom will be eligible to vote in 2018. To get an insight into what Millennials care about the following study by the Harvard Public Opinion Project poll of was conducted with 2037 undergraduate students at Harvard between the ages of 18 and 29. Keep in mind the findings of this poll are relevant only to Harvard’s undergraduate students. Harvard may not be the best representation of America’s college students, but the poll will give you an introductory idea of what concerns Millennials. You can see the poll’s results below. There are millions of Millennials enrolled in not so famous four-year colleges across the nation. Beyond them there other millions enrolled in community colleges and technical institutes as well. Finally, there are still more millions who aren’t in colleges at all, particularly among African-American and Latino Millennials. Also, there are still millions of older Millennials who are already in the workforce. The question is how do you communicate with all of these Millennial segments. That is what number 6 is all about.
- Regardless of where you live, the 2018 elections at the very least will feature a federal race for the House of Representatives. In contested races there will be a concerted effort to get the Millennials out to vote, which will help your campaign. Beyond that there is one sure fire way you can communicate with Millennials. It is social media and social media means Facebook for Millennials. You need to develop and social media strategy for a number of voter segments. You may be tech savvy and understand how to develop a Facebook presence. But you are the candidate and you can’t do everything. I emphasis this because it is a common mistake many candidates make. So, find a volunteer who will help your campaign by developing your presence on Facebook. You don’t have to buy this help. Find the volunteer, create the position of Social Media Coordinator, and you are on your way. More on this in my next installment.
- You are going to need voter lists. You can usually get these lists from the county auditor or your state Democratic office. These should be available on a cd disc for a nominal fee or not fee at all. Here is where you are going to need another major campaign volunteer. It needs to be someone who is skilled in working with spreadsheets like Excel. You can call this position Voter File Coordinator. This person will be responsible for creating targeted direct mail lists,
door-to-door canvassing of potential voters lists, most likely voter lists, “deadbeat Democrats”(Democrats who don’t normally vote in non presidential elections) and several more lists. We will discuss this in more in-depth in the next installment.
- You are also going to need a Campaign Visibility Coordinator. This a great position for a college political science student or a person who is socially involved in your community. This position is responsible for your campaign announcement, media interviews, forum and debate prep, public appearances, coffee parties etc.
- Knowing what your potential opponent’s voting record is if they are an incumbent can be crucial. Knowing what your opponent’s agenda is as crucial if they are not an incumbent. Therefore, you are going to need a Campaign Research Coordinator, whose responsibility is to research you opponent’s record or agenda. Also, to help you develop your positions on relevant issues to your campaign. This again should be a volunteer position.
- Finally, for this installment I don’t want you to think that all these coordinators is a bit overdone. They aren’t. There is method in my madness. The coordinators (we will add two more in the next installment, essentially become your kitchen cabinet. People who you trust to advise you and assist you in executing your campaign. Again, you can’t do everything by yourself. Secondly, you don’t need a bunch of old political hacks telling you how to run your campaign. This is your campaign. You have the final say on everything. Win or lose you will make the decisions that decide the outcome of your election!
To the extent possible, I will try to answer any questions you may have on your campaign. There is no charge lol….what a deal right? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Good luck!