Project Wonderful

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ask An Election Nerd: Lazy Incumbents

Hi Nancy,

First off, I have to say I am in love with your Tumblr. I die laughing at how applicable the things you post are to my own situations.

I just wanted to see if you had any advice for a first time campaign manager pretty much doing everything on their own? To give you some background, I am working for a long time incumbent. He is a beloved member of our statehouse and has years of experience. But he won't do anything! He tells me he goes out on walks, but from our database I can tell it's not true. And no one will volunteer because he's a "sure thing." HA! The problem is we only won 52% in the Primary, voter turn out was appalling, and we are in a killer swing district. But I am the only one doing work for our campaign; calls, doorbelling, signs, "recruitment." It's brutal. I am a highly driven and motivated person, but this has left me "campaignsick," and I'm not sure I'd ever do this work again even though it's all the things I love (interacting with people, politics, being organized, leading).

I'm sure he will win, but our party is always pressuring us for better numbers, more calls, more doors. Am I just failing or is this a common problem? I'm not sure I can make it until November... 36 days 6 hours 36 minutes 43 seconds...

Thanks again for all you do, and any advice you have to make it through!


Before I answer I want to point out, this is how you ask a question. I hate when people send me anonymous messages like, "any advice if I don't get along with my campaign manager?" I want to help, but how am I supposed to answer that? So kudos to you sir, for providing context and for writing in complete sentences.

On to your query! Look, you can only control what you can control. Beyond the occasional pep talk that every candidate needs, if your candidate is not motivated by external factors like building the party, being good at his job and keeping his seat, there's nothing you're going to be able to do as the campaign manager to light that fire. It sounds like you were hired by either the party or the candidate to look like they were doing something, without actually having to do something themselves.

Your candidate should not be lying to you; that's just disrespectful. If I were you, I would confront him about the discrepancies in your numbers and say something like "if you don't want to do the work, it's your candidacy, but I can't do my job at all if you're not truthful with me." Then I would come up with a new plan for exactly what he expects from you and you from him for the next 27 days (sorry it took me a while to get to this question.) When you have this discussion you need to accept that maybe he's just not going to knock or do other things you'd want him to in a Cadillac (or even like Corolla) campaign plan. In order for you to know what you're working with, you need your candidate to feel like he can be honest with you about what he's actually willing to do or you're back at square one. Then, you plan the best damn GOTV you can from there. Does he have even 5 friends and family members who can commit to helping out between now and the election? It's shitty and he's being shitty but you can only do the best with what you've got. For what it's worth, I think you'd be within your rights to quit, but that doesn't sound like something you want to do at this point, which is equally understandable.

Please don't let this turn you off from campaign work! It sounds like you have good instincts and the temperament to do this job. Every campaign is a disaster in it's own way. Learning how to deal with the particular foibles of each situation is part of what helps you learn and makes it interesting, but what you are describing is in no way par for the course. Now you know what to watch out for in a job so that you can have a more productive experience next time.

Thanks for writing! I hope I helped!

Campaign Love and Mine,


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