Local Politics Campaigning during Covid recovery
April 2, 2021 9:22 AM   Subscribe

We're starting the process of helping our Local City Councilor strategize how to campaign in the Covid recovery world, what milestones need to reached, and what presence the candidate should have. Beyond the starting questions below, what campaigning strategies should we be looking to use in order to maintain visibility in this time of Covid and how do we handle the dangerous climate that exists in Post-Trump local politics.

Our newest City Councilor At-Large (entire city) is awesome. She's a millennial, grass roots volunteer focused, has more energy than you can imagine, and is likely burning her candles at both ends. To get the seat, she knocked on doors, rode her bike, canvased and ran a campaign that was awesome. She is destined for bigger politics in the future. As a councilor, she's been committed to social welfare, joined in BLM protests over the summer, promoted masks, volunteers with almost everything - she is the physical embodiment of social justice and my family's political views.

When we first met her, I told her that she was going about this for the right reasons and that starting now and planning out what her long term goals are is important, and when she was ready to campaign again, that my family would gladly help strategize next steps, build a progressive pipeline behind her, and continue to build a successful progressive force within my town. To be clear, while I live in a blue state, my town has *strong* GOP roots and there is a smoldering racial issue, although its generally Brazilian vs. MAGA folks. Additionally we also have a refugee presence - and that's before you add in base demographics. We are *not quite* a minority majority. Basically, this is as conservative a city as you'll find in MA with folks that only *last week* pulled down their TRUMP 2020 flags... And as the most recent flashpoint, there was anti-Semitic graffiti and violence in one of our elementary schools about two weeks ago. So yeah, I expect by the time her campaign comes around - she will be the natural target for whatever Post-Capitol-Riot-"we must punish the poor with austerity and defund the public schools since mine goes to a charter school" troll that my city will deliver...

These are the first questions that I've asked her to start considering:
1. What's the city plan / your plan for the following holidays: Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Veterans Day? 
2. Equally important now that we've crested a year with Covid, how are people who've been lost to covid  being remembered in the community? 
3. How do we time and space accomplishments and milestones to maximize her campaign effectiveness?
4. What financial thresholds do we need to build for her campaign?
posted by Nanukthedog to Law & Government (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Back when I did stuff like this, my question was always "how many more people who agree with us are there?" That is, people who have voted for similar candidates but not this one, for whatever reason. In local elections, that reason is usually "because nobody votes in local elections". That said, I think I've figured out who you're talking about, and she won more votes in 2019 than Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did in the 2020 primary combined. (I'm assuming she's a Democrat; she has Spanish and Portuguese translations of her website, which doesn't strike me as a MAGA thing to do.) She also won the most votes of any at-large council candidate in 2019, by a fairly large margin. That indicates to me that she's doing a pretty good job of turning out her base, and that her base is relatively large. She should also get a bump from being an incumbent. So in narrow terms of getting her re-elected, I don't think there's much to worry about. Obviously, there will probably be some defense to be played, but personally, my focus would be on the rest of the ticket. I would emphasize her first-term successes to portray her as a good-government GTD person, and then try to load other similar candidates onto her coattails.

It's been 20 years since I've done this, and local politics has probably gotten more polarized since then, but in my experience, even people who are hardcore MAGA at the national level are pretty friendly with people they know locally, so that's another key: Keep the campaign local, don't let it go national. Focus on what she's done for the community.

The trick in smaller communities in major media markets is targeting communications. You can't just buy a full-page ad in the paper like you would in a small town. I think Facebook Groups is becoming a good place to do local stuff, so I'd make sure she has a presence in local FB groups. This will also help keep it local.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:00 AM on April 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Research has shown that the most powerful conversations about candidates happen between friends, families and neighbors. Especially in local elections, these informal conversations are so important. How can you encourage your existing core of supporters to have these conversations with the people in their lives?

Some ideas:
-- Perhaps it's a simple as asking them to have those conversations?
-- Maybe you produce specific materials that your core can use to talk to people in their lives? (Postcards with a section for people to add a note?)
-- When you do lit drops/mailings, can they include a perforated section that people can tear off and give to people they know?
-- Maybe your buttons, tshirts and lawn signs say "Ask me why I support !" to encourage conversations?
posted by mcduff at 11:22 AM on April 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Looking a little more deeply, I'm interested in this candidate's GOTV strategy in 2019, because it seems to be effective. She got the most votes of any at-large candidate in 11 of the 14 precincts and finished second in the other three (and one of those she lost, it was by 3 votes). In three precincts, she actually got more votes as an at-large candidate than the winning candidate for that ward did. She beat the leading vote-getter in the 2017 election by 40%!

My concern, when I see turnout that high over baseline, is how she pulled it off. My concern is that she did a lot of face-to-face campaigning that won't be replicated during COVID times. That said, your town went 2-1 for Biden over Trump, so she'll almost certainly be re-elected, and I think the MAGA concern is more about campaign trail inconvenience than the actual ballot box.

As I said, I think Facebook Groups are probably your best bet for GOTV publicity. She should be a member and post frequently about what she's doing. One of the aldermen in my town does so, and these posts drive engagement. You're probably worried about Trumpy responses, but honestly, that might fall under "any publicity is good publicity". If she posts something reasonable and someone comments "ZOMG SOCIALISM" in response, the whole "enemy of my enemy is my friend" principle might apply, and she might pick up some center-left supporters who are turned off by MAGA hyperbole. Same for Nextdoor, although the cost-benefit ratio there probably isn't as good. I also think you, your family, and some other supporters should become active in these groups to defend her and post additional stuff on her behalf.

I do think old school media coverage would help. Paid ads are probably a waste of money, but actual news coverage is free - does the Globe have a metro section? What I'm basically saying is that she just found herself a new head of PR, and it's you.

I agree with the other poster that personal connections are important, and based on the 2019 GOTV numbers, it seems your candidate does too. That's harder to do now, though, but still worth a shot. You remember those other supporters I mentioned when talking about FB groups? Yeah, round them again, and have them each talk to three people about your candidate. And importantly - measure response! Don't just have the conversation; just like a job interview, follow up after. If you talk to someone and they express interest, they become another member of your street team. Ask them to then talk to three others. And if they don't express interest, if your conversation didn't change their mind, follow up a few days later to see if they've had time to think about it.

What are the councillors from wards 2 and 5 like? Looking at the presidential primary data, I would think those two would be her ideological base, but she got fewer votes in two of those four precincts than the winning ward-specific candidates did. Why are so many people there voting for Bernie Sanders but not her? Those seem like places you should target your efforts. Depending on whether or not those councillors are sympathetic, you might also try to think about recruiting candidates there as part of a ticket. The 5th ward candidate ran unopposed.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:11 PM on April 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you. You've got my mind tuned the right way. We're not the only ones supporting her, but I'm seeing where specifically my family can jump in. Ward 2 is near and dear - he's not far left, but he's a Green New Deal liberal (specifically, he's a former environmental engineer turned sci-fi author), but like her, we're expecting a fight for his seat. The last time he went up he had a die hard competitor and they earned 40% of the vote with a heavy dose of street support at the poling site, prior time had been 25% - meaning that there was a true surge of GOP voters. Covid politics, 2020 and Blue lives matter are now a major presence in Ward 2. We are right at the edge of the ward, so we are a street sign boundary.

So yes, down-ballot work is happening. I see your point in preparation on that front and getting alignment between candidates. I'll have to research Ward 5 - that's one I don't know a lot about. That area has a fair amount of rental properties and is split brazilian / hispanic on the southern (urban) end and much more suburb and affluent as you pass the hospital...there's a lot of new construction in that ward. That lends itself to a solid question of why they moved to Marlborough and whether / how the candidate is ready to work for them. I'm getting this... now the challenge will be how to have that conversation in post-Covid campaigning...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:43 PM on April 2, 2021

Best answer: Textbanking seems to have replaced doorknocking in the pandemic. I can recommend the Hustle and Peerly platforms from experience.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:47 PM on April 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

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