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Archive for April 2010

Drilling for voters

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Part of the research process is figuring out where to focus your attention.  As much as any campaign would prefer otherwise, it’s time, money and other resources are limited.  That’s why you need to have a plan; to determine the best way to use the people and funds in the way that gets you the most return on investment.

The primary purpose of a campaign is to persuade people to vote for your candidate.  It sounds a little cold, but it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of effort trying to convince folks who will tend to vote either for or against you.  Of course, you can’t just ignore them, but it’s also a waste of resources to focus on them.   What you need to find are those folks who sometimes vote conservative and other times vote with a more liberal bent.  Because ballots are secret, you can’t find these “swing” voters (as they’re called) on an individual basis, but you can figure out where they are on a precinct by precinct basis and focus your efforts there.

The first step of this process is to figure out how many people you need to persuade.   That, of course, is how many votes you need to get to win, which is usually just over half of the votes cast but can be a plurality (more than anyone else running) in some cases.  By having researched the election rules (see my article, “The key to a successful campaign” you know what’s true in your case.  Now, you need to find out just how many people you need to reach out to and convince you’re their candidate.

In Oregon, you should visit the Elections Division on the Secretary of State’s website ( and find out the voter turnout in past elections that are similar to the one you’re facing.  The site may be different in other states but there is a central archive of election results in each state, going back several years.  A recent election can tell you approximately how many are currently registered so you can figure out how many you need to get behind you.  Since the average household has two people in it and, by persuading one you’ll usually convince both, you can generally cut the number of targeted voters in half to decide how many doors you need to knock on.  This, of course, is a much more reasonable number than trying to reach and persuade everyone in the district.

I’m going to use Oregon House District 32 as an example.  This, like many of our Legislative Districts, was gerrymandered after the 2000 census and is made up of precincts in four different counties.  This makes it harder to research when we get down to the precinct-by-precinct part of this process, so it’s probably more difficult than the average non-partisan race is going to face.  But what works for it will work on anything from a water district or city council race up to a statewide or federal contest.  First, let’s look at the overall results for the last several elections:

13920 12331 7320 1012 34,583
Meyer * Hepburn Misc
County Joe  (R ) Elaine M. (D) Turnout
Clatsop 3,567 4,778 26 8,371
Columbia 265 234 1 500
Tillamook 5,165 4,028 33 9,226
Washington 2,048 1,638 1 3,687
TOTAL 11,045 10,678 61 21,784 63.0%
15,051 13,584 8,514 1,192 38,341
Olson Snodgrass *Boone Misc.
County Douglas S. (R) Ben (C) Deborah (D) Turnout
Clatsop 4,767 336 6,505 42 11,650
Columbia 351 20 312 3 686
Tillamook 6,388 352 6,487 33 13,260
Washington 2,972 210 2,122 11 5,315
TOTAL 14,478 918 15,426 89 30,911 80.6%
13,870 12,516 7,887 1,081 35,354
**Boone Myers Misc.
County Deborah (D) Norm (R) Turnout
Clatsop 6,127 2,907 15 9,049
Columbia 287 244 5 536
Tillamook 6,456 3,902 33 10,391
Washington 2,006 2,059 8 4,073
TOTAL 14,876 9,112 61 24,049 68.0%
15,342 12,299 7,668 1,487 36,796
Bero **Boone Misc.
County Tim (R) Deborah (D) Turnout
Clatsop 3,075 7,526 40 10,641
Columbia 257 328 6 591
Tillamook 3,637 8,315 27 11,979
Washington 2,191 2,433 19 4,643
TOTAL 9,160 18,602 92 27,854 75.7%

These charts are based on what you’ll find on the Oregon Election Division website and show the total voter registration by political party (NAV means “Not Affiliated” and “Other” means the total of minor parties such as Libertarian, Constitution, Independent, Socialist and Pacific Green).  Under those registration numbers you’ll find the vote breakdown for each candidate in each of the election cycles this past decade.  It’s pretty easy to see the Democrat incumbent’s strength is in Clatsop and Tillamook counties, which would imply that’s where a Republican candidate will need to put most of their effort.

Since 2010 is a non-Presidential election year, the ones that most closely match it are the 2002 and 2006 elections, so we’d estimate the turnout for this year will be close to what was the case then.  It’s best to be conservative when estimating votes, so we’d project a 70% voter turnout in the 2010 General Election.

Oregon had a special election in January 2010, which gives us the most recent voter registration numbers for the district.  When we have our Primary Election in May, we may want to revise the estimate but, since the population has stayed fairly stable over the past ten years, that probably won’t be necessary.  Taking the registration levels noted in January, we come up with the following:

2010 (As of 26 January) 70% 24,637
D R NAV OTHER Total 50% 12,319
14,607 11,812 7,195 1,582 35,196 plus 25% 15,399
households 7,500

With this information, we can take the 70% voter turnout expected and divide it by two (50%) to come up with the approximate number of votes needed to win.  We’ve added 25% to give us a buffer and then divided that by two (50%) to come up with the number of households.  No matter who you are, 7,500 is a lot less daunting than 35,000 plus.

So, the next thing to do is figure out where to direct our attention.  As mentioned, the Democrat incumbent has been elected largely due to the votes she’s gotten from the coast counties so that’s where we’ll probably need to direct most of our attention.  But, while we can do some general media efforts throughout the district (signs, mailers and radio, for the most part), you want to do candidate walks, coffees, meet and greets and other personal contacts in those precincts which sometimes vote Republican and other times vote Democrat.  To find them, you need to go to the county websites and find the abstracts for the precincts in your district.  You can get as detailed as you want, checking every election, including those for ballot measures and other candidates but, for our example, we’re limiting it to those for the years most like this one and the recent special election, which had to do with taxes.

Some of the precincts will tend to vote heavily Democrat:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Clatsop Precincts Meyer Hopson Calc Myers Boone Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/-
26 – HAMLET 59 92 -21.9% 29 119 -60.8% -39.0% 53 99 -30.3% 8.4% 56 93 -24.8% 3.0%
47 – WARRENTON 478 629 -13.6% 454 783 -26.6% -13.0% 506 674 -14.2% 0.6% 510 673 -13.8% 0.1%

Some of the precincts tend to go more Republican:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Tillamook Precincts Meyer Hopson Calc Myers Boone Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/-
3 BEAVER 253 194 13.2% 211 263 -11.0% -24.2% 261 186 16.8% 3.6% 260 187 16.3% 3.1%
14KILCHIS 203 133 20.8% 118 207 -27.4% -48.2% 150 163 -4.2% 25.0% 148 164 -5.1% 26.0%

While most will sometimes go one way and other times go another:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Clatsop Precincts Meyer Hopson Favorable Myers Boone Favorable +/- No Yes Favorable +/- No Yes Favorable +/-
21 – CHADWELL 159 227 -17.6% 141 293 -35.0% -17.4% 231 186 10.8% 28.4% 233 182 12.3% 29.9%
31 – LEWIS & CLARK 199 285 -17.8% 181 314 -26.9% -9.1% 254 194 13.4% 31.2% 257 191 14.7% 32.5%
36 – OLNEY 113 119 -2.6% 96 165 -26.4% -23.9% 145 110 13.7% 16.3% 152 103 19.2% 21.8%
46 – WALLUSKI 75 130 -26.8% 81 169 -35.2% -8.4% 148 123 9.2% 36.1% 152 120 11.8% 38.6%
52 – HILLCREST 88 147 -25.1% 61 202 -53.6% -28.5% 134 128 2.3% 27.4% 135 125 3.8% 29.0%
Tillamook Precincts
8 FAIRVIEW 496 287 26.7% 337 471 -16.6% -43.3% 414 387 3.4% 23.3% 418 382 4.5% 22.2%

In these examples, “Calc” is the percent difference between the Republican and Democrat positions in terms of favorable and unfavorable (a positive number is favorable) and the “+/-“ column shows that number compared to the 2002 baseline so trends are easy to spot.  Even though the Republican lost the precincts in 2006, these are considered more or less favorable because they trended that way.  As it happens, this district was pretty brutal to the Republican in 2006; he actually lost every precinct, which is rare.

As has already been mentioned, it’s in your campaign’s best interest to put your time, people and money where they’ll do the most good, and they’ll do the most good where the voters sometimes support Republicans and Republican ideas, and other times vote Democrat or for Democrat principles.  Only by doing the research can you know where to aim.

NB: Special thanks to the Lew Barnes for State Representative campaign for the precinct abstracts for House District 32.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

22 April 2010 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Insights

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Thank you, Mr. Levin!

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Jason Levin

Jason Levin, the middle school teacher from my home town of Beaverton, Oregon who tried to coordinate an effort to “crash the party”, managed to do what none of the alternative media, millions of everyday people and the scattered volunteer leaders of the Tea Party movement weren’t – get us positive coverage in the main stream media.  His fifteen minutes of fame lasted the better part of three days and, in the end, showed America the Tea Party isn’t some bunch of mouth-breathing rubes but their friends and neighbors with serious concerns about the direction of the country.

For those who’d not encountered the news reports starting the Monday before the 15 April 2010 income tax deadline, let me bring you up to speed.  On the first anniversary of the coming out of the conservative Tea Party movement, news stations around the country started reporting about Mr. Levin and his “Crash The Party” website.   Exercising his free speech rights, he advocated people crash the Tea Parties planned in their local area with racist, violent or homophobic signs, dressed like refugees from Hee Haw. In a post that was eventually  removed from the website, he even suggested using bogus “petitions” to gather personal information about Tea Partiers – including their Social Security number – with the intent of creating, as he put it, “mayhem” for them later.

As media attention grew, the school at first defended his actions, legitimately, as free speech, but then reports started surfacing that some of his activity took place during school time, which is against policy.  Mainstream news reports still haven’t mentioned the suggestions of harassment and identity theft advocated on the website but, at this point, Mr. Levin is on paid administrative leave and under investigation by the school district and the state.

And what about the “false flag” frauds he encouraged to infiltrate the Tea Party and exaggerate their least attractive features.  Well, as Michelle Malkin records in her blog, (, they were immediately spotted and exposed as fakes by the Tea Partiers they assumed too stupid to notice they were completely outside the norm.  You see, rather than the rednecks they think we are, we are normal, middle class folks, typically dressed in casual or business casual style rather than the overalls they expected.  Our signs ae usually creative, clever, pithy and properly spelled, not suggesting violence or revealing bigotry as they thought.  If they’d attended a Tea Party before they suggested crashing them they might have done better, but then they’d be indistinguishable from the real thing, which really wouldn’t serve their purpose.

And how did the media cover the Tea Parties?  Well, starting with the coverage of the Tea Party Express III as it made its way from Senate President Harry Reid’s home town of Searchlight, NV through turncoat Representative Bart Stupak’s district in MI (the day he announced he wasn’t seeking re-election) to Boston Common and finally Washington, DC, the coverage was almost uniformly neutral to positive.  A good example is the coverage we received in Mr. Levin’s home town, as reported on one of the local news stations,

In all, Mr. Levin’s efforts didn’t quite go as planned.  The Tea Party movement is aware of and ready for crashers at future events.  The mainstream media, after ignoring the movement for more than a year, have now moved it off the editing room floor and on the TV screens of most American cities.  People have discovered that, instead of racist bumpkins, the Tea Party folks are their friends and neighbors with legitimate concerns.

And Mr. Levin – well, he finds himself at the wrong end of what eventually happens in this country when you’re mean-spirited and bigoted.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

17 April 2010 at 6:10 am

Posted in Events

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The key to a successful campaign

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Obviously, developing and executing a plan is the real key to a successful campaign, but there are many elements to it.  We’ll look at  those in this and future articles, hopefully in a way that makes sense to the reader.  Going in what, to me anyway, seems like a logical order, let’s look at what you need to do to develop a plan – research.

Most politicians and even most candidates will tell you they already know what they need to do to win.  However, with some 40 years of campaign experience, I can tell you that most don’t and, unless they’ve done the research, they’re not among the few who do.  What they actually know is the input they get from the people they’ve encountered and, while those folks are helpful, they cannot and will not give the candidate or campaign for the full picture.  Truth be told, no one can really get every nuance and detail, and it’s a waste of time to try, every campaign needs to get more information before developing a plan.

The first thing to research are the election rules – that is. the specific elements in play in this election.  This probably seems obvious but, every year, dozens of campaigns get sidelined because of a missed deadline  or a form wasn’t completed.  When is the election day?  Is a person elected by simple majority or a plurality?  It is a partisan or non-partisan race?  Is a run-off involved?  When are the deadlines and requirements for filing, for a PAC, for a voter’s pamphlet statement, etc?  Don’t guess and never assume you know – check, confirm and have someone else verify.

Then there’s the district – what’s the geography?  The population mix and density?   What are the industries and transportation?  Where do people live and work?  With smaller district, such as for school board or city council, detail is more important than it is for statewide or US Congress races, but there is a lot a campaign can learn about the people from the specifics of the district.

You also want to know the voters, both who they are and how many need to vote for you.  The question of “how many” is simplest to figure our, but it’s the one many campaigns don’t take the time to figure out and, as a result, waste time and resources.  A candidate doesn’t need every vote in the district; he or she just needs enough to win.  In most cases, this is about half of the voters in the given election.  So, you need to find out from researching previous similar elections.  More people tend to vote in a Presidential election or when there’s a controversial issue on the ballot than when things are less heated, and the number of votes you need to win will depend on the expected voter turnout.  Then, because the average number of people in a household and households tend to vote alike, you can figure out the total number of households your candidate needs to persuade.  Be careful, though, and don’t assume there are two people per household – places such as apartment buildings or retirement centers can affect that.

The “who they are” part of what you need to know about your voters is what issues are important to them and where do they get their information.  A professional polling organization is often the quickest way to get that information, but it’s often beyond the budget of most non-partisan races.  However, you may be able to coordinate with other campaigns to share the expense and/or the results, or you can use volunteers to do surveys by phone or door to door to identify both what’s important and potential supporters.   You see, most people don’t pay much attention to issues until just before the campaign and, in order to win, you need to know what’s important to them before it becomes a campaign issue.   This is where most candidates make their biggest mistake of their campaign – they assume they know what issues are important to their constituency only to discover they were wrong.   Knowing what’s important to your voters rather than telling them what you think is important is how to connect with them and, ultimately, win their votes.

Finally, research your viable opponents and yourself.  You’re not looking for skeletons in the closet but to figure out where and with whom you connect and where and with whom your opponent connects.   You’re doing a blunt and honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and of your opposition.  Check out voting records, public statements, visibility on the internet (Facebook can bury you), connections in the community and the like.  You can’t afford for anything your opponent does or says to surprise you and you should know everything the voters, your opposition and the media will find out about you.

It’s easy to dismiss or minimize research, but it’s the foundation for everything else in a campaign plan.  You can’t know what you don’t know and, if you don’t go looking for it, there’s no way to find it until it shows up.  Unfortunately, when it does show up – and rest assured it will – it can capsize even the best campaign.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

10 April 2010 at 11:53 am

Posted in Basics, Insights

Tagged with , , ,

If you fail to plan…

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After the Democrats in the US House decided to ignore the will of the American people and pass what is already being revealed as a poorly conceived and expensive health control package, it was difficult to find anything to write about.  And then, just a day or two ago, I realized I’d never really started doing what I’d originally intended to do with this blog; give interested readers some general advice on how to conduct a winning campaign.  Like many during the health control debate, I got sucked in to the rallies and the discussions.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s time to buckle down and talk tactics.

Aside from taking bad or outdated counsel from the “certified smart” folks of the political realm, the greatest single mistake most candidates make is to fail to plan.  Oh, sure – they know they need to knock on doors and attend functions, but only a few – and those are almost always those for the “major” statewide and national offices – sit down and plan out their campaign every step of the way.  Most, particularly those for the non-partisan type of races such as county commissioner or school board, don’t know how many votes they’ll need to win, much less how to get them or where to find them.  Several of these folks don’t have a campaign staff, figuring it’s not really needed.  Lightning can strike and these folks can be elected but, in all honesty, that’s usually an accident.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Unless you know where you’re going, you can’t ever know if you’re on the right path or if you’re making progress.  A large enough mob can beat an organized army but, as angry protesters and rebels have discovered time after time, the battle is more likely to go to the one who’s prepared.

The first step of the planning process is to do a bit of research.  Research the rules of the election; I can’t tell you how many campaigns got off track because a deadline was missed.  Research the district – what cities or precincts are you going to have to carry in order to win?  How many votes will you need and how many households will you have to persuade to get them?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your candidate, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of your opposition?   What groups are likely to support you and what issues are important to them – and where does your opponent get their support?  If you don’t know the answers to these an a number of other questions, you’re trying to win a race with your hands tied behind your back.  You can run, but you’re hampered and can’t run at your best.

I’ll bet in to how to use this information in other articles, but take this away for now; if you haven’t done the research, you can’t make a realistic plan.  And if you don’t have a realistic plan, you are making it all the more difficult for you to win.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

7 April 2010 at 8:47 am

Posted in Basics, Insights

Tagged with ,

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