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looking at politics from a different perspective

Posts Tagged ‘volunteers

A game of inches

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Political campaigns can be compared to a complex game; one with multiple levels of presentation, interaction and involvement, all with the end goal of seeing your guy elected and your opponent losing.  In simple terms, it has three basic layers, and each layer has its own strategies, approaches, ways to win and ways to lose.

The biggest and most expensive is also the most visible – the air war.  This is where the candidate is the most involved; the radio spots, the TV commercials, the interviews, the debates, the rallies and the visits to late night shows are all a part of this.  This is a game of miles and acres, seeking to blanket the electorate with the reasons to vote for your guy and vote against the other guy.   Few people are involved in this process, but they tend to be the folks closest to the inner circle and, except for the candidate, they have little, if any, direct contact with the people casting ballots.

Then there’s the ground game; the lawn signs and bumper stickers, the phone banks and neighborhood walks, the voter-ID and get-out-the-vote operations.  This is a game of feet and meters; putting a human face on the campaign, a local voice on the issues.  This consumes a lot of manpower and volunteer time, and these are the people touching other people, usually for a limited time and with limited contact.  It’s where candidates tend to forget to put time and money as it’s not as flashy or obvious, but it’s probably the most critical element to success as it brings the big effort down to the streets.

Finally, there’s the game of inches.  Many campaigns don’t even bother with it but, if the race is close, it can be the difference between a win and a loss.  It’s not involved with facts but with feelings, not with ideals or issues but with confidence and commitment.  At the same time, it’s something anyone can do and, in fact, it’s almost impossible not to do it if you’re informed and willing.

It’s simply a matter of influencing your friends and family.

This year, the Presidential race is one of the closest in recent memory – easily closer than the 2008 race and possibly closer than 2000, which came down to the difference of less than one vote in each of Florida’s precincts.  Every single vote in this election is critical – and anyone can influence one or two votes, which could make the difference between one candidate or another winning the election.

With the advent of social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, texting and the like – that ability to influence others, which used to be limited to lawn signs and bumper stickers, has taken on a whole new level.  So, the challenge is whether you are part of the game of inches or just let the opportunity –and, with it, the election – pass you by.

As the election enters into its final days, you’re probably getting political bits constantly.  To be part of the game of inches, all you have to do is pass them on.  If you get a statement by Reagan or Romney, Rush or Clint or Newt or Glenn that just says it well, whatever “it” is, re-tweet it.  If you get a photo or video that makes the point, “Share” it so your Facebook friends can see it, too.

Interestingly, this works best to undercut the opposition more than promote a candidate, so even those not all that found of Mitt can forward a chart showing Obama’s failure to grow the economy, a video demonstrating Obama’s saying the same things now that he said in 2008, or an article exposing his socialist policies or general disconnect with the American people.  You don’t have to support the Republican candidate; you can support a third-party candidate and still find value in targeting the flaws and failures of Barack Obama.

The amazing thing is anyone can do this.  If you want to add a comment, fine; it often makes the point all the sharper.  But it’s not necessary; all you really need to do is pass on something that comes across your computer screen to influence the vote of one or two other people.  The more that do it the better; the impact of getting the same information from two or three friends can change a vote or, at least, keep someone you know from voting for the wrong person.

The power is in the personal element; that friend knows you and your opinion makes more of an impact than all the fancy TV ads they’ll see during the election.  This election may come down to a game of inches, and anyone can play on that field.


Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

18 September 2012 at 11:57 am

The next election…

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Sure, it hasn’t even been a month yet since the 2010 General Election, and most people have gone back into their normal state of largely passive indifference to politics.  Some are aware and thinking about the next major battle in the Second American Revolution, scheduled for nearly two years from now but, for the most part, even they aren’t really thinking much about that yet.

Well, I hope you realize we don’t really have that long a wait before the next election.  In Oregon, and in most other states, there are elections every year.  In fact, the next election in Oregon is in May 2011 and, in many ways, it’s more important than the ones where we elect state and national representatives.  And the funny thing is they’re much easier for conservatives to win.

In May of the odd-numbered years, Oregon holds elections for school boards, local school committees and a number of other local non-partisan, unpaid boards and commissions.  Over the years, the Democrats have dominated these positions, and it’s one of the reasons there are so many school districts going in the wrong direction.  More to the point, these are the boards and commissions which control things like charter schools or online schools, which tend to do a better job of teaching at a lower price than regular public schools.  Conservatives are often interested in that sort of thing but, for some reason, liberals seem to want to make sure everyone gets the same education, even if it’s doing badly.

Unlike legislative races, there are seldom large amounts of money needed to conduct a campaign; you don’t usually see lawn signs or bumper stickers for school board races.  Fulfilling the duties, if you’re elected, is considerably less difficult to coordinate with a job – you’d have meetings once or twice a month and, occasionally, special projects and the like.  In other words, it’s a great way to learn how to conduct a campaign and do the job of a public servant.  That’s why it’s sometimes called the “farm team” of politics; like the minor leagues and farm teams of professional sports, it’s a way for people to get involved, get some experience and get something to put on their Voter’s Pamphlet statement when it asks for “government experience”.

So, why do I bring this up?  This is a great project for people interested in returning this country to its Constitutional basis to get the experience they need to succeed.  The Democrats have been doing it for years, and it’s one of the reasons conservatives are boxed in on all sides.  It’s also where the policies decided by the legislature and Department of Education are put into practice; wouldn’t it be better if someone really concerned about the kids were making those decisions?

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

18 November 2010 at 2:36 pm

Deeper thoughts on the election

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There’s been a bit of comment from the media and the like about how Chris Dudley didn’t do as well as expected in Washington County.  First, I disagree; it seems to me his real problem, like Kevin Mannix’s in 2002, were the 70,000 ballots held back in Multnomah County and which turned a close Election Night Republican victory into a close defeat.  But we’re never going to prove political malfeasance in the People’s Republic of Portland; as has been commented in the past, Republicans have to win by at least 3% in order to overcome the systemic fraud.

But, giving the “certified smart” crowd the credit due them, let’s look at the idea that Washington County was at the heart of Dudley’s defeat.  I can tell you, it wasn’t for lack of trying.  We had one and, eventually, two full-time offices in Washington County, pumping out voter ID and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) calls and door-to-door reminders by the thousands.  Chris Dudley and Rob Cornilles were our main men, and folks can tell you they received calls – sometimes three and four in a day – from those offices, encouraging them to get their ballot turned in.  Kevin Hoar, Andrew Ward, Polly Warren and a host of others, including this writer, spend endless hours making those things hum.  In terms of organization and effort, they cannot be faulted.  They were joined by others around the state but, when all the numbers are in, it was the two offices in Washington County that lead the pack in output.  That, clearly, wasn’t the problem.

So, if the effort isn’t the problem, what is?  I think there are three components; shifting demographics, unhelpful helpers and sunshine soldiers.  Let me explain.

Over the past couple of decades, the demographics of Washington County have changed.  Fleeing the taxes and government intrusion rampant in Multnomah County, a lot of folks filled up the urban growth boundary and the condos it caused.  Unfortunately, they brought their ideology with them, not realizing that was what caused the problems they were trying to escape.  As a result, a large chuck of the population, particularly in the denser areas as you get closer to Portland, tend to vote “No” on new taxes while electing people who propose them.  As evidence, track the voter registration shifts.

There’s nothing anyone can do about demographics; Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden have seats virtually for life (although, to give her credit, Delia Lopez made an excellent showing in the Third District) and that’s largely due to the kind of folks voting for them.  What we can affect, however, is voter turnout – how many of our known voters get their ballot in versus how many of theirs do.  While we did a good job – Republican-registered voters turned out in significantly greater percentages than did Democrats – there were holes in the process.  To understand where the “unhelpful helpers” and “sunshine soldiers” come in and how they affected things, I have to explain what we were trying to do.

Get out the vote efforts typically account for a swing of 4-6% in the final election outcome.  In other words, if Candidate “Red” Runner would have gotten 48% (and lost) without a GOTV effort, it could bring him 52-54% (and a win) instead.  It is, quite frankly, one of the most powerful tools in any campaign’s arsenal; things like yard signs, palm cards, parade walks and town halls typically net less than 1% each and, while TV and radio commercials count for a lot, basically what you do with those is make sure people know the candidate’s name and what they’re running for.

You need to realize GOTV is actually a two-part process; first, you have to find the folks who are going to vote for your guy and then you have to get them to vote.  If they support you but forget to cast their ballot and, in Oregon, get it in on time, it’s useless.

As there usually are, there were a lot of people who wouldn’t get with the program.  What they did helped but, because it wasn’t part of the overall plan, it didn’t help as much.  I’m aware of a number of well-intentioned people who did what worked so well when they did it in “that mayor’s race” 15 years ago, hitting hundreds of houses in an evening with campaign literature for Chris Dudley and Rob Cornilles.  And the folks who’ve never been involved in a campaign before thinking in terms of quantity rather than quality and declining to fill out the survey’s that would have told us who those dozens of potential Huffman voters were so we could remind them to get their ballot in.  The help is appreciated, but it’s not as helpful as it could have been if they’d just filled out the surveys and let us know who was voting for our guys and gals.

Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, mentions “sunshine soldiers”, those who would fight for freedom as long as it wasn’t inconvenient.   We had a lot of people, paid and unpaid, involved in the final effort, but the real need for lots of people and lots of time is during the voter ID phase.  Think about it; that’s when we winnow out the bad phone numbers, people who are voting for the other folks and, some of the time, finding the gems – folks who were going to vote for our guys.  It’s long, boring and tedious work so, not too many people showed up.  They were there when the candidates visited, during the closing days, because there was excitement and recognition, and they did play an important part – I don’t want to diminish that.  But the real son or daughter of liberty is the one who was there when there was no glory.

Would you like proof?  How about the “three and four calls a day” mentioned earlier?  Sure, there would be some households with two or three voters in it, each programmed to receive a call, but getting several of them in a day means we had a small pool to work with – smaller than needed, anyway.   And that traces back to not enough fishermen during the summer months finding those voters supporting Dudley, Cornilles and other Republican candidates.

Want more proof?  Three candidates used the Hillsboro call center to full advantage.  They based their campaigns there, paid for voter ID callers and even ran a special night once a week to focus on their districts and their races.  As a result, Senator Starr beat back the strongest opposition of his political career – one which the opinion polls indicated he should have lost – and newcomers Shawn Lindsey and Katie Eyre-Brewer won over stout competition.  All exceeded projections by 3-5%, while most other state Representative and Senate candidates in the county – including those with (largely unused) offices in the building – lost by at least a few percent.

There’s even more evidence of the trend.  Andy Duyck, of the three Republican County Commission candidates during the Primary, used the phone bank system to identify supporters and get out the vote.  He won by more than 50% in May and, as a result, didn’t need a run-off.  The other two never did use the office to it’s full potential; both came in with less than 50% in the Primary and, while one won in the General, the other didn’t.

We can’t do much about the demographics, but we – you and I – sure can do something about doing the voter ID process well.   It makes a significant difference in the outcome and, the larger the race (in terms of raw number of voters) the greater the need.  In future elections, every TEA Party and Republican Patriot should plan now to not only spend some time as a volunteer, but also be willing to listen and work with the big picture plan.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

6 November 2010 at 10:10 am

Making your message matter

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Having worked with political campaigns since I was in high school – a period of time measured in decades – I have yet to meet a candidate who didn’t think they knew what was important to the people they wanted to represent, whether they were running for School Board or US Senate.  However, when they’ve taken the time to actually ask those constituents what issues are important to them, they’re always surprised.

If you stop and think about it, that makes sense.  The average person spends almost no time thinking about politics unless and until an election is forced on them.  Meanwhile, the candidate has been immersed in the issues or is inspired to run because of a personal experience or having been directly involved with an issue or, maybe, two.  The natural tendency is for people to think everyone knows what they know and, more or less, thinks like they think.  Anyone who’s had a political discussion with a spouse, child, parent or neighbor knows that simply isn’t true.  So there’s often a disconnect between what a candidate thinks are important issues and what’s really on the top of the voters’ minds.

Combine this with the research you need to do to find those precincts you need to make sure are in your column on Election Day (see my post, “Drilling for voters”), and you’re at the beginning of the process of crafting an effective message.  You need to know what’s important to the voters in those key precincts and how to persuade them you have the right answer.   Now, you must be honest with them and with yourself – people don’t respond well to candidates who change their position based on who they’re talking to – but you do want to focus on where your perspectives match up with theirs.

The easiest way to find out what’s important in those swing precincts is to ask them.  You can hire a professional pollster and work with them to find out the key issues in those targeted precincts, but that’s often expensive and, if you’re running for a local non-partisan office, probably beyond your budget.  You can also get the information by going door to door or calling into the precincts, but that takes time and people.  The good news is that, during the time between the Primary and General Elections, there’s usually several months when nothing much else is going on politically.  That gives you time to check things out, even if it’s just you, your family and your dog walking or calling.

When you’re done doing this research, you should have what you need to craft your message.  We’ll focus more on that process in a later post but, for now, there’s still one more piece of information you need to know; where do these folks get their information?  Is there a popular local radio and, in particular, talk show that covers some or all of your district?  Is the local newspaper respected, reviled or just ignored?  Is this a computer-friendly area where everyone’s on Facebook and Twitter or would they’d need  their grandkid come in to program the clock on the DVR?  So, when you do your survey, it should include questions that will help you figure that out.   And you’ll want to get a phone number if you don’t have it, either by using online resources or by simply asking them, as that’s critical information for inexpensively getting your message to them later as well as for get out the vote efforts.

The key to making your message resonate with the people you’re trying to persuade is to know what’s important to them and how to get that message to them.  That takes more than a little time and effort but will pay off on Election Day.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

8 May 2010 at 11:25 am

Posted in Insights

Tagged with , , ,

Reflections on a setback

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It’s difficult to describe my emotions this morning.  Sure, I’m disappointed the people of Oregon decided to accept the job-killing taxes so many of us worked for the last six months to get on the ballot and let the Legislature know it was a bad idea in a recession.  When we did this sort of thing  five years ago, the result was so overwhelming the politicians didn’t attempt another new tax again until this session, and we naturally figured the hard work was over when we got the referendum petitions in and approved.  We assumed, with good reason, the people of Oregon wouldn’t pass a tax increase during record unemployment and a down economy.

But we didn’t count on the lessons the left had learned in the meantime.

We should have realized they were planning shenanigans when they tried to confuse voters by changing the vote on referendum, making a :”yes” vote mean “no, we don’t want the new tax” and vice versa.  We considered it a minor victory when that died due to the public outrage, but should have been on notice this was going to be a different sort of battle.

Then there was the stall tactic by the Governor who, although he knew we wanted to refer these taxes to the ballot, sat on them for weeks, deliberately reducing the time we had to gather the necessary signatures.  That didn’t work out so well; he eventually caved to the public pressure and we delivered 2-and-a-half times the required number of signatures, even with the shrunken window of opportunity.

The most outrageous con came next, when we found out the Legislature had changed the rules on how the ballot title was written.  Instead of a panel of those for and against working together to put out a reasonably neutral statement, they instead arranged for a Legislative committee, lopsided to favor the taxes, to write them.  As you might expect, instead of a balanced presentation the citizens got a bit of propaganda slanted to encourage a vote to accept the taxes.

The campaign was, for the most part, pretty typical.  We focused on the logical impact of raising taxes on small businesses and corporations.  They have a limited number of options when that happens; raise prices, reduce costs (usually by laying off workers), shutting down or moving out of state.  None of these are a great idea in a recession, and we said so.

Outspending us three to one, the public employee unions and their allies focused on two elements so the citizens were led to believe the new taxes wouldn’t touch them.  If all you talk about is the direct impact, that’s largely true, but it ignores the indirect consequences of losing jobs and businesses and, for that matter, the taxes they pay.

There was, of course, also the threat of having schools and safety services hit hard if the taxes didn’t go through.  That was largely a sham, as there was nothing in the Measures that required them to be reduced; that’s the Legislature’s job.  As it is, there’s a surplus in the state’s bank account more than four times the size of what these taxes raise and nothing to keep them from tapping into it.  In fact, I’d be willing to predict that, when the revenues drop because businesses fail and leave town (as our only Fortune 500 company, Nike, has said it will, along with its 7,000 jobs) over the next year or so they’ll have to use some of it to make up the difference.

The bottom line; I’m disappointed, but pleased and proud of the work we did.  We were outspent and outmaneuvered, but we also learned from this.   One of the conversations last night hit upon an idea that will turn the socialists’ claims and dire predictions against them, and there’s a new unity among groups that have, in the past, tended to look at each other a little suspiciously.

The Second American Revolution was dealt a blow yesterday, but no war has ever had a victory with every battle.  We’re down but not out, and we’re determined to win next time.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

27 January 2010 at 9:35 am

Posted in Events

Tagged with , , , ,

Show me the money!

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The first thing most aspiring candidates discover when they approach the Republican Party for support is we don’t have any.  Well, that’s not really true, but more on that in a moment; we don’t have the kind of support they think we should have.  Despite its supposed ties to big business and rich folks, most state and county organizations run on a shoestring.  Few have money available for statewide or legislative races and, due to Federal Campaign Finance Laws, none at all for federal candidates.

I’m sure a lot of people reading this can’t believe what I just wrote.  After all, you get the same phone calls I do, asking for money for Republican causes, but I’m here to let you in on a secret.  There are a bunch of different groups, and they don’t share with each other.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) raises its own funds, as do the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Republican Governor’s Committee (RGC) and, of course, the  Republican National Committee (RNC).  To that add state and county party organizations and, in many cases, state senate and house caucuses, all of whom are going for the same dollars from the same donor base.  Next time you get that call, pay attention to which group is making it.  Odds are the one you get after that is a different group.

Besides, when they call for donations, most people do exactly what you do – tell them “no”.  Some don’t say it as politely as I know you do, but those telephone solicitations  hear a lot more “no” than they do “yes” and tend to bring in just a few percent more than they cost.  The simple fact is  most people donate directly to a candidate or a cause much more quickly than they do a party organization.  After all, isn’t that what you do?

So, that explains why most state and local Republican Party organizations don’t really have enough to give to a candidate; they raise money primarily from their own members and use it to fund their own operations.  Since candidates believe the most important thing for winning a race is money, they often are annoyed when the party says they don’t have it.

Candidates make a serious mistake if they disregard the Party at that point.  There’s more to elections than TV commercials and printed material, and that’s where the Party can shine.  The forgotten key to a successful campaign is people.

With the advent of radio and, to a greater degree, TV, campaigns changed.  Money had to be raised to ever-increasing levels to get a candidate’s message to the people.  Sometime around 1985 or 1990 we reached the point of diminishing returns but, in most cases, Republican candidates and their counselors didn’t change tactics.  Since the Democrats changed theirs to fit the new paradigm, we’ve tended to lose more elections than we’ve won.

However, some GOP members and leaders learned a lesson in the 2000 election and, for the most part, have been growing and refining it ever since.  I have to admit not every state is as good at it as others and there’s resistance to the idea of building a grassroots network as the primary campaign strategy, but my home state of Oregon, particularly in the suburbs of the major cities, is well on the way to having it down to a science.

The point of all this is that there is a less-expensive, more efficient way to win elections.  All it takes is focusing on people rather than relying on purchased media.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

1 January 2010 at 12:52 pm

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