OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: White House Project Training Session – Your Campaign Blueprint

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Welcome to the liveblog of the White House Project panel: White House Project Training Session – Your Campaign Blueprint. Kathryn started her presentation asking who has run, wants to run, etc. to get a sense of the audience. She asked us to consider putting laptops down. (I think maybe three people did.)

Ready to run? Think about your reasons why, your experience and qualifications, what preparations you have started to put in place. "I guarantee you there is a position out there that is perfect for you." Do some self-analysis. Look at your strengths, accomplishments, likes. (Kathryn has no interest in running because she has no interest in the actual job of being an elected official, but she likes fundraising.) Think about your weaknesses. Are you really good at talking to people, but less sure of yourself in policy details? Are you a good writer, but not a great speaker?

Think about who your connections are. You need to be able to bring together a diverse coalition of people to elect you. If you're running for a tiny city council seat, a diverse coalition will look different from running statewide. If you're mostly hanging out with the PTA, you might want to think about the homeowners association. Diversify your connections. Evaluate your finances. Are you comfortable having public records being open? Is your employment situation such that you can add in the scheduling needs of a campaign?

Political analysis: think about your district. Know what's out there as options. Think about what's happened in past elections. Are voters used to seeing people like you on the ballot? What's the party registration like? How often do people cross party lines to vote? What's the usual turnout? Who else will be on the ballot? And think about the local laws that regulate running for office. Also note that political consultants could be "full of shit." They may not always have correct data. Make sure to dig.

We had a slight interlude with a discussion about building a plan - whether it's a two-year plan to run or a 10-year plan to run, make a plan with a trajectory. That's what the men who are serious do. Although the flip side of that - be ready to take an opportunity if it comes up.

Next, build a strong foundation. Know your community. Connect, connect, connect, and then follow up with people. It's just like marketing 101. These are people you'll ask for money, ask to volunteer, etc.. Engage civically. Vote. In all elections. And show up at meetings, raise your hands and ask the city council members questions. Know the insiders. You don't need to be at all of the meetings, but these people need to know you're someone special. Also, help others. People in office remember who raised money and volunteered for them. Think about your network and pay attention.

Watch your public persona. Be aware of what it is. Don't try to change it - just be aware of what it is. Know what others think of you in that way and be able to deal with it.

Questions you may be asking: who will run my campaign, can I work with the other people in office where I would be, how will I get the money? Questions you really need to ask: who do I need to vote for me? And how do I get their votes? What methods do I need to use to contact people? Every decision you make in your campaign can come back to these two questions.

Goals -> Strategy -> Tactics

People often get bogged-down in tactics. Things you do to win elections. The candidate says: "Oh my god, my opponent has 4,000 yard signs and if I don't get 5,000, I'm going to lose!" But where are you really going? Think of your goal first (I want to get to the grand canyon), determine an appropriate strategy (I need to map the way), then look at the tactics (I have to drive, so I'll get a car and put gas in it.)

There are a lot more reasons to run a campaign than to win. First, to get issues out there. Second, to increase your name recognition. Third, to build up for a stronger campaign next time. If one candidate is a huge environmental activist, she can raise the discourse on certain issues.

Strategic example: Contact Republican women with a message about your opponent's record on education. Tactics include knocking on doors, sending out mailers, etc.

Targeting voters, there are people who never vote, sometimes and always vote, then there are people with you, against you, and undecided. Picture a grid of these people. There are 9 of them. (Like a tic-tac-toe board.) You will jetison those who are against you and who never vote. Let go of them. (With the exception of a demographic group that may have never voted but that might vote just for YOU.) Also you should get rid of the people who are undecided and sometimes vote, because you have to influence two behaviors here. You need to focus on: a) those who are with you and sometimes vote - that's the GOTV effort, b) those who are undecided and always vote - they need persuading, and finally c) those who are with you and always vote - your base.

Then you must figure out how many votes you need. Simple answer: projected # of voters divided by two plus one. In other words, one more than your opponent. People who sometimes vote would be those who voted in 1/3 of the last elections. Those who you need to persuade could likely be women in the incumbent's party, those unaffiliated to parties, and people in your party who may not be with you. The single best predictor of voter behavior is party ID. In areas where the candidates are all officially unaffiliated or non-partisan, you still have local factions and leaders who know where the demographics lie - which areas are more Republican, etc.. You have a better sense of your community than others. Don't dig too deep into the data.

Advice from Jill Miller Zimon: build a platform based on subtle messaging about your values and priorities or key issues vs. against the other candidate(s).

Campaigns typically need to take place in three phases (after filing):

Phase 1: Llaunch through August 31st:

  • Fundraising
  • Building staff and volunteer base
  • Introduce yourself
  • Listen to the community
  • Score endorsements

Phase 2: Labor day through October 31st (rough estimate):

  • Contact voters and persuade them
  • Start to talk about how they'll vote

Phase 3: Whenever voting starts (which could be late October due to mail-in votes):


Recognize the role that tools play in elections. Yard signs are not voters. Tools are not your win. Other tools: in-person conversations, phone calls, outreach events, literature, media doverage, new media, paid ads, auto calls and other visibility.

For most local level elections, the majority of voters are older and social media is not going to play a large role in your campaign. It must be evaluated objectively. And you must realize your time is limited. You will likely have no paid staff at first, so you will need to be running lean and mean and get someone else running some of your social media for you so you don't respond in an emotional manner and so you can manage your time as best as possible. A lot of candidates come to me asking how to raise money online, thinking that's all it's for. "It's not an ATM, dude!" Kathryn's reply. It's the same people online as offline - just a different way of reaching them. (Reminder from Shireen Mitchell.)

On campaign messaging, it's important to be honest, simple, and to provide a narrative for peoples' understanding. As the president said, voters can make a decision on their own based on the candidate's experience. It's really hard to teach people to be confident, but it's easy to teach them to be authentic. If you can just speak about yourself authentically, that carries more weight than anything you'll ever hear in a focus group. (Of course, as bloggers, we know this, but it translates directly to running for office.) Narrative - stories told in your voice based on your experience - will be more easy for people to remember than listing off your resume.

Another thing that people running for office need to avoid in terms of message is policy wonking. Don't go into too much minutia. Voters want to have confidence you will make the right decision. They don't want to know all of the details of your policy plans. Think of children's books. Campaign messaging should be just that simple.

Useful tools when running against others: make a box with 4 squares, on the vertical: about you & about them. On the horizontal, what you say and what they say. This is how you work out your specific messaging. One way to structure messaging: problem, solution, and call to action. (It's the same with issue campaigns.)

Now, on negative campaigning. We're all tired of it, but there are legitimate reasons it should sometimes be used to point out reasons some people should not be elected and it's important for voters to know them. It works, and sometimes it needs to be done.

In terms of fundraising, it's not as scary as it seems. There's all kinds of information out there on how to do it, but really, you just need to ask. The question more importantly should be: who, and how much?

You have to think in terms of circles of influence: those invested in you - family and friends. Next circle is acquaintances and other contacts. This is where new campaigns and smaller campaigns tend to stop. Bigger campaigns go to groups that are interested - constituencies and interest groups. (Get a list of pro-choice people from a constituency group.) You can also reach out to people in the wider community - party members, neighbors, etc.. It's OK to do this if needed. But you must start with those you know best first. Early money is incredibly important.

Make your campagin fundraising plan based on what you need, not what you think you can raise. 20x$1000=$20,000. 400x$100=$40,000. 1,000x$50=$50,000. Thank them. Then ask again (although not too soon). You need a record of who they are and when they donated and how much, both legally and practically. You also must internalize that this is not for you. It's easier to ask for money to save the whales. It feels harder in your gut to ask for money for you, but it's not really for you. It's not for your vacation. You're working hard. It's to make a vision of the world happen. "You're the biggest investor and you're asking people to get on board."

Also, ask first. If you don't, someone else may ask first and get money from those you had planned to ask. And when you do your thankyous, make sure it's within the week. And a point from Marie Wilson: there are so many people who would rather give you money than time. They don't have as much availability to attend a fundraiser, but they'll just give a little cash. Or a lot.

One more note: people don't tend to give unless you ask, so you have to ask. Sometimes they really want you to ask them because they want to find a way to contribute.

A related note - consider the Internet as just one more tool. Some people are more likely to give via PayPal than with a check. Some people prefer phone calls. Some people like events. Know your list. People give because they're compelled, not because it's easy. However, easy helps!

There are millions of average men who run for office every day and win. You don't have to be perfect. To win, you just need to be good enough. Please run.


Next up - Exercising Influence at Every Level, a panel including a former member of Congress.

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