How to Run a Political Campaign: Campaign Strategy

so you want to run for public office that's a good thing because the United States surely needs more talented and intelligent people willing to put their name on the ballot people who once elected are willing to confront the myriad of challenges we face in our country in dealing with our neighbors around the globe and deciding how we allocate resources here at home today you're going to learn some things you should know before you take that first step if you don't have a pen and paper handy I suggest you pause the DVD and get both there are some things about this game called politics that are useful to know before you spend a dime on a political consultant or launch your career in public life American politics is a game with very few rules but there are a few that have stood the test of time rule 1 it is an adversarial process rule 2 your strategy will usually be dictated to you by your opponents in your resources and rule 3 you need to be able to articulate in 30 seconds or less why you want the job you are running for and what you're going to do with the job if you get it let's go back to that first real adversarial you bet it is because when the votes are counted at the end of the day there is a winner and a loser and those who win have the power to make decisions that affect how the rest of us live and those who lose don't it's a competitive sport inherent to our culture at the end of a game if the score is tied the players don't shake hands and go home they keep playing until there is a winner and a loser at the end of a criminal trial the defendant is either guilty or innocent and if the jury's hung there is usually a new trial until guilt or innocence is established politics is what I call civilized warfare in the marketplace of ideas about how we shall live we don't use guns and grenades and cannons to settle our political disputes but we do use something that is just as lethal they are cold words and pictures and symbols it is not a game for the meek or those without steel in their spine rule 2 all campaigns need a strategy yours will be determined by your opponent and the resources you have at your disposal to communicate your message by way of example had Barack Obama faced Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney in the general election of 2008 we would have seen a very different strategy than the one he employed to defeat John McCain different tactics different attack ads mail pieces radio ads that would have had a very different flavor than the ones he used likewise Obama out raise McCain more than two to one having those resources profoundly affected his strategy if Obama had been required to run his campaign on McCain's budget it would have been a very different campaign than the one we saw a word about money in politics yes you have to have real money to run a race if you face an opponent who has a lot more to spin than you do it does not mean you should quit it does mean that you're going to have to out think outwit and out strategize your opponent it does mean that you'll need to be very prudent with your money very careful about how and on what you spend your resources the best funded candidates don't always win in fact there is a political graveyard in the United States filled with rich people who tried to buy their way into office and came up short how much money do you and have to have just enough to tell people who you are what you believe why you want the job and what makes you better than your opponent in rule 3 know why you want the job and what you will do with it if you get it and be able to state it clearly succinctly concisely voters do not like candidates who have nothing to say and they quickly spot a phony if you can't tell voters why you're running they will assume that you want the office because you need a job and a paycheck that your candidacy is all about you and has not thing to do with them and oh by the way have that script down before you do your first interview before you meet with a reporter before you hold your first volunteer meeting before you ever walk out your front door as a candidate for public office we are in a day in an age when there's no such thing as privacy for public figures when you walk out your front door you should assume that someone is taking your picture or recording what you say screw it up and you'll find yourself looking like a fool on YouTube these are a few of the rules that have stood the test of time they are not likely to change anytime soon okay so we now understand that it's an adversarial process that you need a strategy and a rationale you're ready to go right wrong there are certain things that affect your chances of winning that have nothing to do with your IQ your great ideas or the size of your bank account they are party affiliation ethnicity race religion gender in the endorsements that are likely to go to your opponent all of these have a profound effect on the behavior of the electorate and there isn't much you can do about it you are what you are let's go back to that first one your party affiliation nothing better predicts how voters will behave than their party affiliation Republicans tend to vote Republican Democrats vote for Democrats take a hard look at the party affiliation in the district or jurisdiction in which you're running you may have an IQ of a hundred and eighty-five have a wonderful platform and be the most articulate candidate since Lincoln but if you are a Republican running for Congress on the south side of Chicago the deck is stacked against you if you really want to win look for a district where you can your ethnicity you can't change your parents your name is what it is you may have heard the expression that all politics is local whoever said that was wrong all politics is tribal I grew up in a place called Blackford County Indiana there are not many people in Blackford County with Italian surnames but there are a lot of people who trace their roots to England someone with an English name like mine is going to enjoy a big advantage over someone named restiano in a place like Blackford County conversely if you're from New York and you have an Italian name you probably stand a better chance of winning than someone with a very English name like mine your race Barack Obama notwithstanding race affects voting behavior in America and it is foolish to pretend otherwise African Americans tend vote for african-americans Hispanics vote for Hispanics white voters usually vote for white candidates in time that may change but if the presidential campaign of 2008 taught us anything it will take a few more years I could not win a two way race against an african-american in bed-stuy Brooklyn which is 90% african-american your religion an atheist is at a distinct disadvantage in most parts of the United States a Muslim will have trouble winning an election in Salt Lake City I white anglo-saxon Protestant would not win a City Council race on the Upper West Side of New York City why one look at my name and voters there would immediately know that I am NOT Jewish on the other hand someone named Townsend will have an easier time winning an election in rural Missouri than someone named Rabinowitz your gender you can't do much about that in it's foolish to pretend that gender does not matter in American politics one need only recall the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to know that it does not mean that men cannot win the votes of women or that women cannot win the votes of men it does mean that regardless of your gender you will need to be sensitive to the way gender politics is played if you are a woman people will want to see proof that you're tough enough to handle the job if you are a man you'll need to prove that you are sensitive to issues the concern women the endorsements that may go to your opponent you may not be able to do much about that incumbents usually have the inside track on endorsements from special interest groups often they are relationships that have been cemented through votes in a legislative body or the allocation of the public's money even if you are better on an issue than your opponent it is often difficult to break the bond of a long term relationship between a legislator and a special interest group and if you happen to live in a place like Chicago where winners are predetermined by the organization or in districts where organized labor rules the roost or in places like Salt Lake City where the church elders often pick winners before the race has been had you may want to consider running in a place where the outcome of an election is not preordained before you run examine the things that are out of your control and make sure they do not present an impossible obstacle even if they do you might still want to run if you have something important to say that you believe people need to hear just don't expect to win on the other hand if you've taken a close look at the things beyond your control and determine that your party affiliation ethnicity race religion or gender does not automatically preclude victory then it is time to consider what your campaign message will be that is something over which you have almost total control and in a competitive district all of the things being equal it is your campaign message that will determine whether you win or lose in a campaign voters will expect you to tell them the following who are you what are your values what is your position on matters important to me what makes you better than your opponent let's go through those one by one who are you well who are you where were you raised where did you go to school are you married do you have a family what have you done in your professional life do you belong to a church have you ever volunteered your time to a charitable or a benevolent organization what have you accomplished did you build a company have you ever balanced a budget met a payroll taught in a schoolroom did you serve your country in the Armed Forces have you ever won an award or been honored by an organization what makes you qualified to run everybody has a biography and every candidate needs to tell the electorate who they are for some very good reasons number one if you don't you will leave a void and as you talk about why you want the job or what you're going to do with it voters will be left scratching their heads wondering just who you are if you don't for all the voters know you may be a convicted pedophile ground yourself first and voters will be far more receptive to other things that you have to say number two another reason to tell voters who you are if you don't your opponent well and guaranteed your opponent will not do that in a way that flatters you everybody has done or said something stupid in their life if you don't first tell voters the good side of your biography you'll find your opponent defining you to the electorate by highlighting the stupid things you may have done 3 sometimes a compelling biography is all people need to know to make a decision in an election an example suppose you have raised a family built a business from scratch created thousands of jobs volunteered your time to a charitable organization served your country and work your way through college and you face someone who has never held a real job as an arrest record lives on food stamps and got kicked out of college for cheating chances are that a simple presentation of your biography is all voters will ever need to hear in order to make a decision oh and one other thing never never ever inflate your biography don't exaggerate don't claim to have earned degrees that you didn't and don't lie make sure that the biography you present to the electorate is dead-on accurate if it's not there will be hell to pay I was once involved in a race where a candidate claimed to have earned two degrees from the u.s. Naval Academy he'd held public office for years and no one had ever questioned that claim until he ran for Congress when I called the Naval Academy to check the veracity of his bio I learned that he had never graduated and then in fact he'd left the Academy after his first semester and that master's degree in computer science he claimed to have earned the Naval Academy offers no such degree needless to say his campaign blew up and he never made it to Congress what are your values during the course of a campaign you need to let voters know something about your core convictions your principles your passions the standards by which you make decisions you can communicate your values to voters through words or symbols or pictures or what you choose to highlight in your biography for example what was Barack Obama trying to say when he wore the flag pin on his lapel when a candidate spends his Thanksgiving serving turkey in a homeless shelter he's telling voters he cares about poor people a mother who puts a picture of her husband and six kids on a campaign flyer is saying something about her values a candidate who talks about his service to church is letting the electorate know that he has religious convictions and that he's not an atheist a visit to a classroom and a photo-op reading books to kids tells voters that you care about kids and public education why do you need to communicate your values it lets voters know what makes you tick and that they can trust your judgment the presidential campaign of 1988 was won by George Bush 41 largely because the voters concluded that Mike Dukakis did not share their values as governor of Massachusetts Dukakis had vetoed a bill requiring teachers to lead students in reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag Bush adroitly used the veto to raise questions about dukakis's love of country and his patriotism painting him as aloof soft on defense and out of touch with the mainstream values of Americans that combined with the fact that Dukakis allowed a convicted rapist to leave prison on a weekend furlough a career criminal who then raped again was enough to convince voters in 40 states that Bush had better judgment than Mike Dukakis endorsements can be used to say something about your values they also validate the credibility of your rhetoric if you have them use them an endorsement from him an environmental group is proof that you care about the environment and that you really are the pro-environment candidate an endorsement from a construction Union says that you support men and women who work with their hands an endorsement from a veteran's group is proof that you care about men and women who served in the Armed Forces an endorsement from the National Taxpayers Union is proof that you are on the side of taxpayers failing to communicate your values leaves a void in the minds of voters and gives your opponent an opportunity to paint you as out of touch once that happens it's hard to get your campaign back on track what is your position on matters important to me yes issues do matter and they do decide elections and in the absence of any other compelling differences between you and your opponent voters will take into consideration your position on the issues of our time to make a decision in the voting booth this is what voters want to know are you someone who would vote the way I would would you make the same policy decisions there are a plethora of ways you can use issue positions to distinguish yourself from your opponent those that work best are those in which you and your opponent agree that you disagree on an issue in which your opponent is on the wrong side of an argument Governor Mario Cuomo lost an election in New York in 1994 in part because he opposed the death penalty his opponent supported it in a year when crime was rampant and voters strongly favored the death penalty Cuomo was on the wrong side of the issue there are three broad areas to consider as you develop your rationale issue positions and where you differ with your opponent a foreign policy this is especially important if you're running in a federal race such as Congress or the United States Senate and especially important when our country is at war what is your position on foreign aid win or win not to fight wars the role of the United Nations feeding the poor and the hungry in other countries missile defense the size of our military what we pay our soldiers and how we deal with despot countries and terrorist organizations our posture in the Middle East before you leave your house as a candidate for public office give these topics and thought and be prepared to discuss them in public if you don't know how you feel about them do your homework read the newspapers opinion column spend some time at the library or go online and do some research if you are asking a TV interview about troop deployments in Afghanistan and it's obvious to the viewers that you don't know where Afghanistan is you'll look very stupid when your opponent post the interview on YouTube economic issues where are you on tax policy do you believe in tax cuts do you favor raising taxes on millionaires if not why not where are you on corporate tax rates the capital gains tax the death tax income tax credits the alternative minimum tax incentives companies to create jobs buy new equipment or do you believe we should junk the entire tax code in tax everyone at a flat rate who do you believe should get more of the federal pie and what kinds of people should get less what is your position on free trade immigration policy putting a fence on the Mexican border amnesty for illegal aliens zoning and development rules the budget deficit these matters affect the way our economy works and you should expect to be asked about them on the campaign trail if you look or act clueless voters will assume you are social issues what is your position on abortion stem cell research gay rights civil unions charter schools tuition tax credits the No Child Left Behind Act merit pay for teachers global warming protecting the environment the death penalty nationalizing health care limiting campaign contributions the Fairness Doctrine ethics reform these are just a few of the issues you may be asked about during the course of a campaign a few suggestions do your homework and know what you're talking about most voters are not sophisticated about every issue I have just mentioned but they will expect you to be well informed and they will expect you to have some sort of opinion too if you are blindsided by a question and know nothing about the subject it is better to say that you're still studying the issue rather than blather a bunch of gibberish in front of a TV camera or pretend to a reporter that you know what you're talking about when you don't three be consistent don't tell a gay group that you favor gay marriage one day and then turn around and tell a group a Baptist the next day that you oppose it nobody trusts a politician who acts like a whore for pay attention to what your opponent says look for issues where you have obvious differences of opinion if you're on the right side of an issue and your opponent is on the wrong I consider turning your campaign into a referendum on the of issue about which you disagree a few examples in 1984 a Democrat Walter Mondale announced to a country that he was going to raise taxes Ronald Reagan promptly said he would not end of story case closed Reagan carried 49 states in 2006 in the congressional race in Southern California the Republican advocated a hard line on illegal immigration supporting building a fence along the Mexican border in deporting illegal aliens his Democratic opponent took a much softer line on immigration in supported amnesty for illegals this being a part of the country where voters oppose immigration the Republican one an easy victory in a moderate Republican district in 1994 one candidate in a seven-way primary ran is the pro-choice candidate while her six opponents ran is pro-life candidates pro-choice voters had only one place to go the pro-life candidates split the pro-life vote the pro-choice candidate won the primary for what makes you better than your opponent or stated differently what can you tell me about your opponent that will make this decision easy for me there is a saying in politics campaigns are often won or lost in the library what that means is do your homework on your opponent know everything your opponent has said done positions they have taken on issues where they have lived and by all means double-check your opponents biography to make sure it is accurate if you catch your opponent line taking to different positions on issues inflating their resume taking money from the wrong people or on the wrong side of an important issue by all means use it as long as your attack is fair documented and legitimate you will make it easier for voters to decide the election in your favor some precautions before you attack be fair never go after your opponent spouse or children and be very cautious if your attacks centers on someone's church affiliation voters don't like that and they consider it out-of-bounds document your attack if you're going to assert that your opponent was once indicted for income tax evasion you had better be right and you had better be prepared to prove it because if you're wrong it is your campaign that will come to an inglorious end be legitimate voters won't care if your opponent drank too much at a college party 20 years ago and walked around with a lampshade on his head and making that an issue will make you look silly er than your opponent even if you do have pictures to prove he wore a lampshade I hope you have enjoyed this crash course on what is entailed in becoming a candidate for public office now that you've seen it you're one step ahead of someone who's not watched it if you are serious about running I encourage you to watch my entire set of DVDs in the DVD on the rudiments and fundamentals of raising money I'll give you a tutorial on the basics tell you who to ask first and how to do it for now please know this before you raise your first dime take the time to learn the rules if you don't know the rules find someone who does the rules are different in every jurisdiction and what may be legal in a race for the state legislature it may be illegal as hell in a federal race voters will not excuse you for breaking the rules because they rightly believe that would-be lawmakers should not be lawbreakers and know this it will be easier to raise money from your family members than just about anyone else your parents siblings aunts uncles cousins their spouses and children if members of your family are not interested in giving to your cause you'd best rethink what you're doing in the DVD on polling I'll tell you the right and the wrong way to use them and how to make sure they are done correctly so that you get accurate numbers when you do a poll for now know this I've had meetings with candidates in which I've asked them what they think about issues of our time only to have them tell me that they don't know because they have not taken a poll that's the wrong answer and when I hear that I can't wait to get out of the room poll should never be used to determine what you think or believe if that's why you're doing one save your money the purpose of a poll is to test the salience of your own ideas and how they fare in the political marketplace give you insight on how to introduce yourself to the electorate what values to highlight on your advertising issue positions to emphasize how to disseminate your message in box your opponent dunk correctly they will give you a political roadmap between where you are the day they are taken to where you want to be on Election Day another of the DVDs deals with the do's and don'ts of constructing a campaign budget a little hint if you don't have a budget you don't have a campaign strategy if it's not on paper it doesn't exist there is a right and a wrong way to construct a budget I'll tell you the right way how to research your communication cost keep your consultants from spinning you blind and how to monitor your cash flow so that you don't end up short on cash during the last two weeks of your campaign I also offer a tutorial on executing your message there are a host of options available to you some make more sense than others and what makes sense for you will depend on your budget where you live the media markets in your state or jurisdiction and where people get their political information I'll also explain the best ways to use television radio mail telephones the Internet in the insta communication tools now at your disposal in the internet age how to develop a volunteer organization that can make the difference how to use volunteers keep them happy healthy and willing to return for another day's work for now know this if you do nothing else have a website and if you don't have enough money to use every medium of communication pick one or two that work best for you and be at peace with the decision in other words if you have tin cups on the table and thirty coins don't put three coins in each cup fill two cups full and forget about the rest there is a DVD devoted solely to dealing with the press you learn how to be proactive in your relationship with reporters how to spend an interview and avoid the mistakes that even seasoned politicians make not all reporters are going to like you nor will they necessarily agree with your agenda how do you deal with those that don't I'll tell you that in more including key things to remember before you agree to a television radio newspaper or Internet interview oh and one other thing don't ignore the bloggers they can destroy you I'll tell you how to use your own blog to affect what the mainstream writers say about your campaign and the final thought nobody is perfect and that includes you if there's something in your background that does not look good or something that is hard to explain or unflattering to you don't wait on the press to find it put it out on your terms before your opponent does finally I offer a special DVD on monitoring the pressure points in your campaign to keep it on track you get pressure from four corners during a campaign the press interest groups your contributors the voters please never forget that in a competitive race it is the voters who decide elections I'll give you some thoughts on how you deal with the bad days and you will have some how to keep your campaign on course how to anticipate the things that may throw you off and most important how to get back on track when events have conspired to throw you off message I'm Jay Townsend thanks for listening

Maurice Vega

31 Responses

  1. Hi Jay. I want to run for US president. Would you take the leap of faith to be my advisor and campaign manager?
    Slogan: Rejuvenate America
    Who am I fighting for: for my friends, my family, the American working class, and myself
    My qualification: an Average working class American computer scientist who has worked for Google, Apple, LLNS, Boeing, Lockheed, US Air Force, etc.. possessed top secret clearance.
    Nationality: American
    Name: Lincoln McCain Lee

    I can tell you more when we hold a conversation.

  2. I like this gentleman, who calls it, as is. Politics shake with your right hand and hold a rock with your left hand.

  3. Thanks. I have been doing alot of thinking over the last 10 years. Im 48. Im thinking of running on the Democrate party for the senate when Patty Murry retires. I voted for her. Love her. My platform is gun control, raise the taxes on people making over 100 thousand a year, cut the taxes for the working class, Total seperation of church and state, more security and oversite on banks and big money, Pro union Pro worker. Housing and UNIVERSALE medical for everyone!

  4. Dear Jay I really appreciated your presentation and it is very helpful for me. I will run a municipal election compaign for the elections of October 2017 in my country, so please is there any special advices for municipal campaign?

  5. thanks for enlightening me with your presentation . in fact I wish to contest for Parliament seat from my native place. that is in India. the elections would be in 2019. I wish to acquire some qualities and would see more and more your presentations on you tube. thanks
    [email protected]

  6. You talked about how a candidate's positions on the issues can influence the election, but what do you do if your beliefs are the unpopular opinion? Do you compromise your ideals to gain support? Do you try to switch the focus to other issues where your stance is the popular one?

  7. That is good politcal strategies "You are what you are " That means, Building the ground it must be periority first! Thank you for your giving us your time Mr. Jay Townsend

  8. This was very well done. A concise and well prepared presentation that truly inspired me to move forward with my dreams of running for public office, big or small!

  9. This was absolutely brilliant introduction to the world of campaigning and politics in general, even though there are many many aspects to the word "politics" which I don't mean to use so broadly here. I was interested in Campaign management (still am in some respect) before deciding to do a Masters program in political science with concentration in international relations. Still, great knowledge Mr Townsend, sir. Will definitely look forward to watching other videos by you related to this topic. Cheers!

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