Winning the Political Game: What it Takes to Win

Being successful in politics takes a lot of talent and smarts. But that’s not enough. 

Success also takes a great deal of hard work and tenacity. Hard work and long hours make up for a lot of other deficiencies. Personally, whatever I have accomplished in life has come only because I’ve worked ridiculously hard. I lack a lot of talent and smarts, but I do work hard.

I suppose my theme in life comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

The heights by great men reached and kept

Were not attained by sudden flight.

But they, while their companions slept,

Were toiling upward in the night.

I think of that little poem when I’m working into the wee hours of the night.

When I was in high school in the ‘60s, I saw an auto racing movie starring Paul Newman or Steve McQueen (can’t remember which). The star was a winning race car driver and was asked by a reporter what he thought when he saw a fiery crash on the racetrack ahead of him. I have remembered his answer to this day: “I think that everyone else will be slowing down. So I speed up.”

So when I’m tired, or it’s late, or it’s the weekend, or there’s a good game on TV, here’s what I think: “Everyone else is relaxing, so I’m going to speed up.”

I admit to being a little nutty, but here’s the point: Applied to political campaigns, being an intense workaholic is not an option, it’s a requirement. Given two reasonably good, qualified candidates, the one who works the hardest will win. Campaigns require long hours and incredibly hard work. There is never enough time, never enough help, never enough money. There are calls to make, money to raise, neighborhoods to walk, issues to master, coalitions to build, persuasive materials to write and publish, and on and on. Nothing but hard work will get all of those things done.

A campaign is doing a million little things that individually don’t seem to mean much, but all together add up to a win.

When I managed my first campaign way back in 1992, we could call our opponents’ campaign headquarters at 8 or 9 p.m. to see if they were still working. They never were. And when we went home at midnight or 1 a.m., we had a pretty good feeling that we were storming ahead. 

What time of night does your campaign shut down?