Please to be voting for me?
November 28, 2007 6:42 PM   Subscribe

How can my newbie-politician husband stage an effective campaign against more well-known candidates for State Rep in Massachusetts?

Our local State Representative, Mike Festa, left his post recently for a job higher up in the state government. My husband has decided to run in the special election for Festa's post. He's a Democrat, passionate about politics, and a complete unknown. He's got an interview set up with our local paper tomorrow night, and tonight went door-to-door to try to get signatures so he can be on the ballot. He's also ordered bumper stickers, and has a handout to give people stating his position on the various issues in Massachusetts.

He's well aware that he hasn't much of a chance of winning, and that's fine -- he's really looking to get his foot in the door, in hopes of a future in politics. Of course, if he did win, that would be excellent...

So. What can we do to attract more attention to his campaign? What creative, original things should we do? What annoying things should we not do?
posted by sarcasticah to Law & Government (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If he's a progressive he should contact Neighbor to Neighbor, a grassroots organization that has a very successful track record of running progressive candidates in Massachusetts. He should also start looking for endorsements from organizations like Mass NOW.

Mass NOW is having their annual convention this Saturday, and Neighbor to Neighbor is having a big fundraising shmooze event on Thursday December 6th. So if he gets on it, he could connect with people there.

He should also hire a campaign manager. I have someone I could refer him to. Contact me via e-mail in my profile or via metamail if you'd like this person's e-mail address, or more info about the connections mentioned above.

Of course, if he's not a progressive Democrat, none of this applies.
posted by alms at 6:52 PM on November 28, 2007

I've worked on several local campaigns in Louisiana and Texas. Here's what works: going out and meeting people. Everywhere. Restaurants (tip well and shake hands). Churches. (Go as the guest of a member or speak to the pastor beforehand). Be cheerful and genuine. Listen. Take notes. Follow up. Remember people. Go to funerals of well-known people (or at least wakes). Have someone you trust co-ordinate your campaign for you. Do NOT try to do it all yourself.

Don't call people. It angers people. It's hard to measure success.

Get to know the other candidates personally. You may need their support in a run-off.

Write letters to the editor, but stay positive. Don't be a crank.
posted by ColdChef at 6:56 PM on November 28, 2007

ColdChef has it.

Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING beats actual door to door campaigning.
posted by konolia at 6:58 PM on November 28, 2007

Also: when printing signs...avoid red, white, and blue. Pick a color scheme that's unique (brown and blue, blue and green, green and yellow) and be consistent with it. Buy him a tie in those colors (really...this works. if you find a tie in his color scheme, buy dozens of them and have it be his "thing").
posted by ColdChef at 7:00 PM on November 28, 2007

nthing door to door. Right or wrong, people will vote for the the person on the ballot they feel like they have a personal connection with.

It might be too late to expect much help from the local Dems as they may have selected their own candidate already. But reach out to them anyway. They are always looking for good candidates and they may be able to offer you more help next cycle if you're husband is still interested.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:20 PM on November 28, 2007

Door to door is good. Have one of those cards you can hang on the doorknob (like those 'Do Not Disturb' cards you have in hotels) with your husband's name, face, phone number and on the other side things he stands for, ready to hang on the doorknobs of peoples homes who aren't home.

If your campaign finances allow for it, have a DVD ready to give people who do answer the door. Picture it; after you talk to someone who gives you a middling to positive response, you hand them a free DVD to watch which has your husband talking directly to them, in the comfort of their own homes, selling his message. The DVD is something that other volunteers in your campaign could hand out when door knocking for you.

Countact your city council and see if they have demographic stats for your area based on wealth, age, ethnicity etc. Target those areas with messages applicable to those demographics.
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:26 PM on November 28, 2007

Hey! You're in my district! I didn't know Mike Festa moved on. I always liked his public access tomato growing show. One thing I always wish candidates had is a website that outlines their positions clearly. Make sure he's easily google-able.
posted by fermezporte at 7:28 PM on November 28, 2007

He should go to a Camp Wellstone. Right away. It looks like there's one the weekend after next in California - if you can afford it*, he should go. I have worked with them a lot in the past and they are, hands down, the best at training people to run for office. It's a weekend-long training, where they go over all the basics: fundraising, field, speaking, message development, etc.

He can also get in touch with Progressive Majority which helps train and develop candidates, but I would really very strongly recommend Camp Wellstone. They've helped people win office from school board on up to Congress.

But yes, he is starting out the right way - door to door. He will want to find a few people who are willing and able to build a strong volunteer organization - people who are willing to help fundraise, design materials, go door-to-door for you, etc. He will also want to start talking to every single political/community leader her can.

* The tuition is only $100, but of course he'd have to pay for airfare, hotel, etc. Of course, no part of running for office is cheap!
posted by lunasol at 7:53 PM on November 28, 2007

Can't tell from your post, so I am assuming your husband already has a website?

Because if not, you'll want to get started on that immediately.

From my casual research, it looks like there are already a couple of Dem "establishment" candidates vying for the Festa seat. They are going to be considered front runners by the local party structure, as stupidsexyFlanders pointed out... so don't try to be Just Like Them (and don't look for support from the Dems unless your husband wins the February primary). Instead, see what those candidates' angles are, and attempt to differentiate.

As you've sensibly assumed, the odds are that your best takeaway from this experience will be introducing your husband to the local political and voting community -- his debut, so to speak. So keep an eye on that future, and think of this as an end to those means; he can "win" even if he doesn't actually win. Work toward making this the most successful debut possible, by building a sustainable campaign persona that he can use in the future.

Example: It's pointless for your husband to paint himself as "The Candidate Who's Younger Than Bob and More Family-Friendly Than Kathy", when Bob and Kathy won't be in the picture in 2010.

But the Responsible Environmental Lawyer Guy or the Poor Local Kid Turned Rhodes Scholar or The Anti-Corruption Straight-Talker are all ideas that will stick with people. "Oh, I remember [Mr. Sarcasticah] -- he's that Responsible Environmental Lawyer Guy that ran for Festa's seat in 2008."

I think the most important question a campaign of any size has to establish in the early days is, "What's our story?" It's a really basic marketing premise for businesses, but people never realize that it's applicable -- nay, critical -- to the marketing of people too. So, what's your husband's story? Decide that, and then make every single thing he does between now and February (hopefully, March) come back to that story. Find different ways to tell it, so it doesn't get too old and lose its value... different conversations and outreach and events and slogans that communicate it... but pick a story and tell it consistently.
posted by pineapple at 8:19 PM on November 28, 2007

nthin meeting people, also join or stop by meetings for small business owners in your area, for small races it's the guy whose name you remember that gets the vote.
posted by kanemano at 8:53 PM on November 28, 2007

If he's a fiscally responsible, socially progressive Democrat, get in touch with Democracy for America. and the local affiliate in your area (DfA will know who to contact if you don't locally)

DfA has a candidate training program that works wonders. They may not have one scheduled soon (not sure?) but will have tons of training materials. See also 21st Century Democrats.

That said, they key is five fold:

(1) Get to know the district. Go to all the local Democratic and community clubs and introduce yourself. Knock on every door in the district, twice. Other ways of communication include "layering" (different people call this different things). Essentially, this means staying in the voters minds. Follow up one communication with another. Additionally, you want to get party support if you can get it. Talk to the county chairs, the precinct chairs, the state chair, the state Democratic executive Committee, members of the DNC from the state, other politicians, and explain why you are running for office. Talk to sympathetic organizations. Look at previous successful statewide candidates and see what local groups endorsed them. Get in touch with those groups.

(2) Find your ten biggest supporters. These should be friends. Ask them for $500 bucks. Seriously. 500. Then, ask them for 5-10 people who you can call or talk to and say "Hi. John Doe suggested I get in touch with you. I'm Newbie Politician, and here's what we have in common. Here's why I'm running for office. Can I have some money? I plan to spend it in the next few weeks to get the campaign up and running. I need to hire a campaign manager and create an initial mailing to Democratic voters to introduce myself and tell the community why I'm running for this position."

Yes: Thank you so much for your support. Do you know of anyone else I can ask? I hate asking for money, but it's unfortunate that I need it to etc.
No: Thank you so much for your support. Do you know anyone else I can ask? etc.

Unfortunately, you need to spend a significant portion of your day raising money. Set aside time every day to do this. People like to get a call that says "Hi. I personally am running for office, and I think you are important enough to me to call you personally."

(3) Information gathering and strategic planning. You can set up a voter database in filemaker or Microsoft Access. Get a list of all registered voters from the counties the district is in. Get a list of when they voted, in what elections. Crunch the numbers. A campaign manager can help you use this database, along with previous experience, to help you write your Campaign Plan. Your campaign plan will say how much money you need to raise, what you need to spend it on, how many votes you need, what precincts you're going to get them from, how you're going to get out the vote on election day, why you're running, how you're going to communicate, whay your strengths and weaknesses are, and many other details. If your campaign manager can't do this, you need to get a professional to help you with this part. Spending this money up front to get a good plan is critical.

(4) There's nothing like grassroots activism. You need volunteers, and you need things for the volunteers to do. This means knocking on doors, calling to gauge interest, stuffing mailings, doing database maintenance, helping with fundraisers, and many other things. The key thing is that you need to ALWAYS have things for volunteers to do, to get locals engaged in your campaign. This builds intensity of support. It helps to have a volunteer coordinator manage this process. However, if you DO get a VC, you need to make sure that YOU know the volunteers, YOU ask them how their weekend was, YOU thank them for their time and tell them you couldn't do it without them, and YOU spend some time doing the same things they are doing, at least some of the time. A great source for volunteers is the local Democratic clubs and unions.

(5) Get on the internet. Get in touch with the local bloggers. Even start your own blog (you can use this to communicate events, at minimum). Talk to the editors of the local papers. Write a 500 word letter to the editor explaining why you are running for office.

That's pretty high level. But when all is said and done, you have to really, really want this. It will drain you. It will put a strain on your relationships. You have to commit to this. If you're not dedicated to the process, and willing to do whatever it takes, you're wasting everyone's time.
posted by Pants! at 9:25 PM on November 28, 2007

Sorry, I didn't mean to end that on a negative note. By doing this, you are also the doing a very noble and worthy thing. People running for office that actually care about others and not just about themselves is essential for our democracy. Thanks to you both for even considering this.
posted by Pants! at 10:02 PM on November 28, 2007

Contact the mayors and school committee chairs of the towns in your district. The worst thing to happen is if someone asks them about you that they don't even know you.
posted by Gungho at 8:09 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: He does indeed have a website -- it's And these are all excellent suggestions, thank you so much!

(fermezporte, yay neighbor!)
posted by sarcasticah at 10:01 AM on November 29, 2007

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