Common signs of losing campaigns

One of the more unpleasant aspects of our business is watching helplessly every election as hard-working candidates lose narrowly because of common organizational flaws that were clearly apparent (to us at least) yet easy to fix.

The pain of losing a close election can rise to an emotional par with a divorce or death in the family. We offer the following in the hope that someone out there will read this, see themselves, and make the changes necessary to win. Sorry if this appears insulting to some but since we're not on your payroll we don't need to candy-coat the truth.

(Hopefully our advice is at least as good as the advice you're buying.)

Candidates who shouldn't be

Mitch McConnell's 2022 comment about candidate quality was spot-on. An unimpressive candidate,  makes doubly hard to raise money and attract others to the effort.  Which makes candidate recruitment so crucial. 

No Plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

If you don't have a week-by-week series of goals, i.e. deadlines, to meet, then you're running without a plan and the weeks will float by with little accomplished. (Basic Truth #9: No Plan = No Win.)

No Phone Number

It sounds simple: If someone wants to help you, he or she should be able find your website, look up your phone number and .... we're amazed by the number of campaign websites without a phone number. (In fact about a third of them, according to our recent survey.) To us it signals an organization clueless to the notion that recruitment is its lifeblood. You're a candidate for office seeking help, so you need to remove the barriers to people getting in touch with you. You need to be hyper-accessible. People don't want to fill out a web-contact form, not knowing if their information will be made public and not knowing when they'll hear back. By posting only a web contact form, you might as well just say "Don't call us. We'll call you." That's not a way to build support.

A Fascination with Social Media

Call us old school but we've been around long enough to recognize that if something is free and fun, it's probably ineffective. You've undoubtedly heard from at least one digitial guru describing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as magic boxes of electoral pixie dust. Or that the voter file can be linked to Facebook profiles. (C'mon now. How long would Facebook last if people knew they could be personally identified?) True, an effective social-media campaign generates help, dollars and votes that might otherwise have been missed. But there are lots of reasons why all of these digital shortcuts (and we'll throw in online advertising and robocalls)do little to change the game, given the magnitude of the task at hand.

Expensive consultants

Don't misunderstand: some of these professionals do great work but not unless you raise the money to take advantage of their creativity via paid media. Until then, concentrate on the tactics that are known to work. Most consultants won't help you recruit or raise money; they'll be useless until you do.

Weakness where you should be strong

Over the years we've noticed this to be a common thread. Losing a close election is painful, and it's usually because the candidate fell short in the very districts where he or she should have cleaned house: the base Republican precincts, where the candidate's totals trailed the top of the ticket by five points or more. If you're not well-organized in the top 20 percent of Republican precincts, you're certain to be disappointed on election night. (Basic Truth #2: You win by maximizing the R vote, and not by minimizing the D vote.)

No Precinct Targeting

Without it, you have know way of knowing if you're communicating with the right voters. You have no way of trimming your mailings to meet budget realities. You have no idea about the best precincts to send those offering to canvass door-to-door. You need to lose the idea that you're running district-wide or in several counties. You need to break the effort down into precincts. The Filpac system enables you to rank your precincts, and to place them into five categories:

Base Republican
Ticket Splitters
Aspiring Republican
Base Democrat
Solid Democrat

If you don't have a system that at least ranks your Republican precincts from top to bottom, you're inviting tragedy. (Basic Truth #6: Success results from the smart application of limited resources.)

No Database

Without one you cannot replicate the personal contact so crucial to victory in a close race. You can't do it all with Excel. Nor can you do it solely with the Data Center.

Missing the early-vote boat

If yours is one of the growing list of states with no-fault absentee or early voting, you should consult Basic Truth #10: By election morning, half will already have voted. The Democrats are heavily prepared but Republicans generally don't seem like they've quite caught up.

False Assumptions

Sometimes they lose because of misplaced confidence that someone else, presumably a caucus committee, will come to the rescue. (Basic Truth #7: Help is NOT on the way.) Or that a rising Republican tide would lift their boat as well.

(The following reflect Basic Truth #5: Campaigning is Recruiting.)

A squad instead of a battalion

If you're consistently relying on the same half-dozen people, it means there's something about the campaign that makes recruiting difficult. Campaigning is a people business. Challengers who win tough races almost always do it with the help of a growing legion of excited volunteers, fund-raisers and and donors.

No Parking

Locations where it's difficult to park during the day are usually dangerous to visit at night. Not exactly the best way to invite people to come in and help.

No Dogs

Think we're kidding? Read this.

Class A Office Space

The most visible sign of an organization that thinks it has money to burn.

Pickin' and Clickin' instead of Smilin' and Dialin'

When we walk into a campaign headquarters and find everyone's eyes affixed on their smartphones, it makes us wonder if they truly think there's only two degrees of separation between their few dozen Twitter followers and every voter in the district. Hint: web strategies and social media are easy. Getting on the phone and asking people for help and money is hard. Campaigning is hard work because the time is short and the numbers are daunting (Basic Truth #1: The winner is the one who gets the most votes.)