Project Wonderful

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: 7 Conversations for a New Campaign Manager

Hi Nancy! I'm about to start a city commission race, and I'm the campaign manager for a friend of mine. I've done some political work, but mostly non-partisan elections and ballot initiatives. What are some of the first steps we should be taking as a team? I've figured out our win number, and we're starting to come up with a list of local folks that we need on our side. Where should we be starting here?
Congratulations, my darlings! So many of you have been writing in to let me know that they've gotten the new jobs that they so richly deserve! (If this doesn't describe you, take heart, we are in the same boat. Is there anything more annoying than writing cover letters?) I've also gotten a number of emails like the one above wondering where to start. Obviously the answer varies widely depending on the scope, the job and the candidate. However, you can't go wrong by asking yourself and your candidate the following questions...

1)Why are you running? This may sound like a no-brainer or worse yet a poorly regurgitated West Wing episode, but it's important. Ask your candidate. Write it down. It will help you shape the message of your campaign but just as importantly it's there for you to come back to when one or both of you start losing focus.

2)Are you willing to do the work? Again, a no-brainer. Your candidate will of course answer "yes" to this question (and if not you should hightail it on the first turnip truck outta there) but that's not really the point. Before taking on any campaign you need to make sure your candidate understands what will be expected from her: the fundraising, the door-knocking, the lack of sleep, the invasion of know, everything you're going to have to go through right along with her. You all know I'm not a big fan of jumping ship on a candidate, but the one time I really feel it's warranted is when that candidate is not living up to her commitment. You give up your life to work for her on the understanding that she's doing the same. It's very important to have a conversation where you both agree on some ground rules so that you can refer back to that agreement later on. She will undoubtedly break this agreement at some point but all the better reason to have it in place. Make sure your candidate agrees to consistent and quality calltime, to backing up your decisions with her family and kitchen cabinet, to eat and sleep enough to keep herself healthy and to consult with you on all budgeting decisions.

3) Whom do I need to talk to? Talk to you candidate and find out whose ring you (and she) need to kiss in the community. Who will be offended if you don't consult with them? Who will be a talker and who can you count on to actually get things done? Establish a kitchen a cabinet of activists, friends and advisers who will be on your side and keep you tuned-in to local issues and (lower case p) politics. If possible, set up a weekly conference call with your kitchen cabinet and consultants to keep everyone feeling valued and on the same page.

4) What do I need to know about? When starting a new campaign you need to sit down with your candidate and ask the uncomfortable questions. Every late tax filing, every affair, every unpaid parking ticket in your candidate's family history is bound to come out. In most cases the answers won't be deal breakers, but you need to what to be ready for. You need to be able to trust you candidate and she you, so that you can run an effective campaign and know exactly what you're dealing with, Jerry McGuire style.

5) Tell me everyone you've ever met. Seriously. First day, sit down and get your candidate's life story. Not just for the reason above, but for everyone's favorite purpose...fundraising! Make a list of everyone she's ever dated, her Christmas card list, the sisterhood at her synagogue, her high school graduating class, her nursery school class, her professional organizations, her sorority, her extended family, her husband's extended family, then throw them on a call sheet with appropriate ask amounts ASAP!

6) What's my win number? This involves some research on your own as well as consulting your candidate and kitchen cabinet. Get as much information as you can from catalist, the VAN, the state party and board of elections. How many people voted in this race in the past? With which former candidates do you have the most in common? How is this year similar to/different from past years? Who is your natural base and who will be in your persuasion universe. Once you come up with a number you can figure out how much voter contact your candidates and volunteers will need to do in order to make that happen.

7)What's my budget? How much has your candidate raised? What has she committed to before you signed on? Do you receive matching funds and do you have a spending limit? While you never stop raising money, it's important to have a goal. In fact, you should create two budgets: a Cadillac plan that includes everything you feel you need to confidently take the race and a bare-bones budget which includes just what you need to keep the ship afloat (office, salaries, etc). Ideally you'll be closer to the former than the latter, but you'll wind up somewhere between the two.

Good Luck! Keep us updated!

Campaign Love and Mine,

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