Campaign Guru: The Basic Elements of a Political Campaign

by LaVarr Webb

The 2011 municipal election year is upon us, and many people are deciding whether to run for a municipal office. Others have decided to take the plunge and are already starting to develop a campaign plan. The municipal election, in terms of numbers of candidates, is actually larger than a general election.

So it’s time to again publish our handy list of campaign functions. Reading through the list can help prospective candidates decide if they really want to seek office and have to deal with all these aspects of a political campaign.

Those writing a campaign plan can use the list to make sure their plan covers every element that needs to be addressed.

So here is a simple checklist (in no particular order) to make certain you’re aware of each campaign function:

  • Issues research/positions, white papers. What do you stand for? What are the issues of most concern to you? How will you solve the problems your jurisdiction faces? You need to develop your positions and be able to talk about them and debate articulately. You will need to produce white papers, press releases and talking points about the issues and your philosophy of government. This includes opposition research. Issues really matter in campaigns, and you want your campaign to be substantive.
  • Survey research. Use qualitative and quantitative research to determine your strengths and weaknesses with voters, including geographically and among demographic groups, how you stand vis-a-vis opponents, how voters feel about the key issues. Use research also to test messages and positions. Never run an advertisement without testing it first with focus groups.
  • Fundraising. Figure out a campaign budget and put together a plan to raise sufficient funds. Be aware of and carefully campaign finance laws. Have a good accounting system. Develop a list of potential donors and go after them. The candidate is always the best fundraiser.
  • Targeting. Figure out who the real voters are, who is likely to vote for you, and who can be persuaded. Spend all of your resources and efforts focused on them, not with people who never vote. Determine your 50% plus 1 number so you know how many votes you need to win and where you will get those votes.
  • Scheduling/Events. Schedule all campaign activities, including walking neighborhoods, speeches, appearances, etc. Schedule as much as you can for the entire campaign so you can see the campaign unfold in a timeline. Work back from major events/milestones like the primary and general election, to schedule all your activities and emphasize the big things that must be done.
  • Grassroots organizing. You should recruit a campaign captain in every voting district in your election district. That captain will run a mini-campaign in that voting district for you, distributing literature, making phone calls, defending you against criticism, encouraging neighbors and friends to support you, etc. Where do you get these people? Develop a system to communicate with and receive feedback from these voting district captains. Keep track of all contacts made, including those by district captains and other surrogates.
  • Endorsements/coalition building. To give your campaign credibility, develop a list of prominent people who endorse you; encourage organizations with members or employees to support you and work for your election effort. Ask them to run a mini-campaign on your behalf within their organizations or associations. They have their own communications channels. Keep track of all supporters identified through grassroots organization and coalition building.
  • Communications. This is a big one. Develop a communications plan for earned media, paid media, and direct-to-voter contact with a campaign Web site, social media, brochures, press kit, press releases, e-mail newsletter, white papers, etc. Gather as many e-mail addresses of voters in your district as you possibly can, and communicate frequently with them. Plan paid advertising (newspaper, TV, radio) carefully, staying within your budget. Target carefully with direct mail. Look for opportunities to place stories and positive mentions in the news media. Pay attention to your on-line profile and aggressively use tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Get out the vote. Develop a plan to get your supporters out to vote on election day. In close races, this can make the difference between winning or losing.