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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

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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

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First, stop digging

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We are now in the second year of one of the worst recessions in American history.  There’s been a lot of talk about what can and should be done to deal with it but, as has been noted, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and there is much that has been done already that speaks to what needs to be done in the future.  Among the most ominous aspects of this continuing downturn is that what the government’s doing is almost identical to what turned the relatively minor recession of 1929 into the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

First, let’s go back to early 2008.  Although the economy was starting to slow, what triggered the sharp decline was poor risk assessment, particularly in the housing industry.  During the Clinton Administration, laws forced lenders to make loans to people who didn’t deserve them.   After twelve years and with a weakening economy, those bad loans started cascading into failure and, as the 2001 stumbling showed, once that starts, it affects other parts of the economy as well.

It was bad enough but, because only a relatively small percentage of those with the loans were actually affect, we could have weathered it.  But then,the media deepened it by hyping it; after the surge worked, the press no longer could beat President Bush over the head with daily bad news from Iraq and had to find a new hammer. The normal ebb and flow of economic cycles augmented by the inevitable result of “liar loans” with images of foreclosed houses, made the downward turn sharper and deeper as people lost confidence.

The cure is going to take time and more than a little pain. The devolution of American liberty into nascent tyranny has happened in fits and starts, but it has taken nearly all of our history to get us where we are today. Clearly, the Keynesian policies and practices that is the typical government response do not and cannot work; it’s a wide and well-paved road that’s easier to travel but eventually leads to disaster. Eventually we, as a nation, have to be willing to give up the “gifts” and “support” given us by government – unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, tax “deductions” and “credits” as well as the more obvious “welfare” and other assistance programs – before we can truly be a free people again.

In the meantime, I’ll settle for it not getting worse; stop automatic increases and extensions, and create no new programs. Then, one by one, we can evaluate every existing program in light of Constitutional authority. To be honest, I don’t think the nation would stomach that – we’ve gotten too comfortable with our bread and circuses – but it’s where we’ll have to go to completely correct the situation.

There’s an adage that says, “When you realize you’re in a hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging.” I don’t expect to see complete economic recovery in my lifetime. But I’ll vote for anyone who’ll stop digging the hole – and vote against anyone who digs it deeper, no matter what “good” it’s supposed to do.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

11 March 2010 at 11:36 am

Posted in Basics

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This is why we lose

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I received a couple of email messages today.  Well, I actually received several, but two of them pointed out why it is Democrats seem to win so many battles while we Republicans are left in the dust trying to figure out why.

The first came in a little before noon Pacific time.  It was sent by President Barack Obama to the Organizing for America mailing list – his continuing campaign machine.  It was just the latest in a series of messages from him and others, stirring up support for the health care bill.  It was full of talk about bipartisanship; about how it would  reduce health care costs and the deficit, and how it would create jobs.  It even had a couple of emotional stories touting the benefits of socialized medicine – er, excuse me, the President’s health care package.  Pretty much standard fare, but the critical part is what he asked his people to do.  He asked them to contact their elected officials and tell them to support the plan.  “Now is the time to make a decision about the future of health care in America, ” he wrote, challenging his followers to bombard the Capital with an echoing message – and then gave them a link to a website where they could quickly and easily do exactly that.

Then, a couple of hours later, I got a note from Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Entitled “Obama Won’t Stop – Unless You MAKE Him Stop,” it recounts the problems and dangers of the bill, and expressed appreciation for the effort everyday Americans have made to get our voices heard.  But then, rather than encouraging us to make one final push, to tell our legislators in no uncertain terms to stop the bill and restart the process – this time, in the open – it asks for a donation.  No call for action, much less a means to do so; the RNC saw this as a fundraising opportunity.

Obama and his team are ready for an all-out, last-stand type of pitched battle while the RNC holds a fundraising event.  They’re on the battlefield with any weapon they can find while we’re in the meadow looking for Benjamins.  Is it any wonder we routinely lose the battle in the legislature, much less in the marketplace?

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the importance of fundraising, and have no trouble with political parties and candidates tying appeals to hot-button topics.  The OFA had a fundraising component, once you got to the website, and there have been plenty of appeals from both sides during the health care struggle.  That’s not the issue.  The problem is that, while the other team has their head in the game, our side is pretty much operating as if it were business as usual.  They need to figure out – as the other side has – that we are at the do-or-die stage of this effort and get ready for war.

After all,  it’s our liberty at stake, and we can leave the money-gathering to when we’re not in the middle of a fight for the future of our kids and grand-kids.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

3 March 2010 at 4:14 pm

Wrapped in golden chains

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If you’re old enough, the title of this article strikes a chord wherever it is that memories of the early 1970’s still live and triggers the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival (or, as we came to know them, CCR).  In his tribute to the generation’s coming out party, Woodstock, John Fogerty ‘s Who’ll Stop the Rain included a cryptic couplet that clearly refers to government, a popular target of the day.  The complete set of lyrics goes:

Five year plans and new deals, Wrapped in golden chains.
And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain.

The references are pretty clear; “five year plans” were the hallmark of the Soviet Union under the domination of communism, and the New Deal was the chief feature of progressive US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s effort to combat the Great Depression.  But how are these tied together, much less “wrapped in golden chains”?

I don’t know whether or not Fogerty had it in mind, but there is a clear connection and significance, not only to the 1970’s but to today.

Beck in the 1920 and 1930’s, those Americans who championed the benefits of communist politics and socialist economics discovered they were a tough sell to the good citizens of the United States.  So, instead of using those terms, they hit upon the term “progressive” to describe their views; after all, in an era marked by two depressions separated by one of the greatest periods of growth in American history, who could possibly be against progress?

Later, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, that term wouldn’t have quite the positive spin it used to, so they started using the term “liberal” to describe how they wanted people to live.  Lately, that term has also started getting a bad taste to it, so they’ve gone back to “progressive”, but, no matter how it’s labeled, at its core the point of view is still socialist.

The bottom line of progressive thought is that the government – particularly with them in charge – knows what’s best for the people.  That’s the point of five-year plans; you can’t trust the people to know what’s best to produce or what crops to grow.  It needs the wisdom and oversight of the experts to make sure it gets done right.  The food shortages, long lines waiting to buy necessities and invariably poor quality machinery and other goods demonstrate just how well that worked out.

The New Deal was supposed to improve everyone’s lives, giving people jobs and hope again.   Truth be told, it did help the national infrastructure, but the Keynesian economic model it was based on assumed that work paid for by the US taxpayer was just as valuable as that provided by industry or agriculture.  As a result, men would dig holes in the morning that other men would fill in that afternoon.  Nothing was produced except a couple of paychecks, and that from the profitable efforts of other people.

The problem with government control, like five-year plans, or provision of jobs, like the New Deal, is that it comes at a cost.  Government, by its very nature, can’t produce anything.  It has to rely on its people to produce something so it can take part of it to do its job.  So, whenever it decides what its people can and can’t produce; when it spends more than it takes in; when it takes more and more in taxes, it takes liberty away from its citizens.  Sure, what they get may look good, and some people might even prefer the luxury of living in substandard conditions so they don’t have the responsibility to produce all that much, but even golden chains are still chains.

The problem is that progressive thinking has gotten into the water, so to speak, of government at all levels and with government officials of all types and political affiliation.  Any time an elected official tells you this program or that assistance for the poor, needy, hungry or whatever is a really good thing, they’re showing progressive colors.  That’s exactly the sort of often well-meaning but in the end self-serving destructive fad John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and the like recognized as tyranny.

Is it any wonder Barack Hussein Obama and his cohorts in the US House and Senate believe they need to pass a healthcare package the majority of Americans believe is wrong?  They, after all, know better than we do what we need, and no one is going to stand in their way of giving it to us.

“See how the gold glitters so nicely?  Wouldn’t you like to wear these chains?”

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

26 February 2010 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Basics

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GOP: are we aiming at the right target?

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Let me ask you a question…

If every elected office in every city, county, state and the Federal Government was filled by a Democrat but the policies were in line with the limited government described by the nation’s Founders, will we have won or lost?  Putting it another way, if every office were held by a Republican but we had a socialist economy, will we have won or lost the battle for liberty?

Some folks are going to get the point right away; if we have liberty, it doesn’t matter which political party is in power.  Likewise, if we’re under oppression or tyranny, the party label is completely irrelevant.    But others – and this includes a lot of those in Republican Party leadership – are going to find it hard to grasp this concept.  For years, the stated goal of the GOP at all levels has been to “get Republicans elected.”  This is the wrong goal; it should be to promote policies that match the fundamental ideology of the Republican Party.

Sure, one of the best ways to get Republican ideals into political reality is to elect Republicans, but the difference involves what sort of Republican.  If we don’t ask our candidates the question, “how will you move the agenda forward?” we’re likely to continue to get what we’ve gotten – elected officials who follow the progressive path of Teddy Roosevelt and other Republicans, growing government at the expense of individual liberty.  Okay, so they don’t grow government at the same breakneck speed as, say, Barack Hussein Obama and the crowd currently in control, but both Presidents Bush did grow the government, and so have most elected Republicans since the early Twentieth Century.

Now, I’m a social and fiscal conservative; I believe government has a moral responsibility to protect its most vulnerable citizens and that certain lifestyles demean both the people who practice them and the society which allows it.  But, at this point in our nation’s history, I’m willing to ally with the growing libertarian populist movement because, until we get government under control, my social issues can never be corrected.   Our common cause must be liberty so we can discuss and deal with the results of “license” at a later date.

So, I support most Republicans but, more to the point, I work hard in the Primary season to make sure the Republican who is most likely to promote the cause of liberty gets the nomination.  As a party, we need to weed out those candidates who will talk the talk but don’t walk the walk; who support government spending on this program or that.  The country has been on a junk food diet and it will be hard to wean us off but, if we’re going to conserve what remains of our liberty,  most of us are going to have to stand up and say “enough is enough.”

And we’re going to have to vote for those who will move forward the cause of liberty, regardless of political party.  If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

25 February 2010 at 12:23 pm

We must all hang together

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The famous quote by Ben Franklin, half of which forms the title for this blog, “We must all hang together or we will surely all hang separately,” was uttered during the meetings in 1776 that resulted in the Declaration of Independence.  Warning that anything but a unified front would result in disaster, Franklin’s words mean something now, as we stretch toward the Second American Revolution.  While we don’t face being hanged to death for treason if we lose, we do run the risk of being beaten if we don’t hang together.

There’s a rumbling among the Tea Party Patriots that, like was done in New York’s 23rd District US Congressional race, that a “progressive” (or what we used to call “country club”)  Republican candidate should be challenged by a true conservative.  Allow me to point out that, while it made a statement about the power of the Tea Party movement, the end result was that a socialist got elected.  My mom used to call that “cutting off your nose to spite your face” and really isn’t a good idea.  You still lose.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the folks in New York made a serious mistake when they ran a “progressive” or “moderate” candidate in this political climate.  Going “Democrat Light”, even in a fairly left of center district is just poor judgment in a political sense, and the sort of narrow focus those of us inside the GOP have been fighting for years.   We need to promote and defend our principles regardless of where we’re running; if we win elections but don’t move our agenda forward, we lose.  But that’s a blog for another day.

The point of this is that unity behind the best Constitutionalist contender, regardless of party, is the only way to stop the socialist juggernaut.  We can’t expect and won’t get uniformity; no human being is perfect, so there will never be a perfect candidate.    But we can unify behind the best candidate under the circumstances, and not get sidelined by a stand or three that doesn’t agree 100% with your point of view.

I know some people are going to rankle at this; there are those third parties whose principles largely match the GOP who are predicting the downfall of the Republican Party, but that’s not likely the case in the 2010 election cycle.   Third parties, at this moment, lack the infrastructure, the experience and the funding to mount a successful three-way race in nearly every case; the most likely outcome of such ideological hair-splitting and ego-stroking is the incumbent gets re-elected.  This was true in New York 23, and it was when Ross Perot tossed his 10-gallon hat into the Presidential ring.

I know the GOP has its problems – I’ve written about them in this blog.  But, to give the devil his due, there is an effort to bring in Tea Party folks to revitalize it, and the Primary battles in most states are looking to go to the more conservative or libertarian than to the “progressive” or “moderate”.  At this moment, the Republican Party isn’t following the example of the Whig Party, but is rediscovering its roots and real strengths.  Sure, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and a lot of the leadership is paying lip service to the Tea Party ideals, but bear in mind that there are elections slated for them in the next twelve months as well.   As the Tea Party invades the Republican Party, you’re going to see some real changes in how we approach politics.

Can you imagine the drive and passion of the Tea Party married to the political expertise and infrastructure of the GOP?  If we keep in mind the final goal of liberty and unify rather than divide the power of the people, the next political party to fade into the footnotes of American history may just be the Democrat.  Now, wouldn’t that be neat?

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

22 February 2010 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Basics

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