From 2006: The 10 Campaign Commandments

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Original editor’s note: The following is from a podcast I did in October 2005. Since the podcast was delivered from an outline, you will have to forgive the occasional lapse in proper grammar.

It’s amazing to me, no matter where you go in this country, no matter what side of the aisle people are on, campaign people face many of the same battles. It is a unique fraternity of individuals of various backgrounds who fight a lot of the same battles in dealing with candidates, and candidates’ spouses, and staff, and things of that nature.

Many of you reading this have been involved in campaigns longer than I’ve been alive. I started getting involved in October 1994 — I met a man named Jim Davis, from Hazelwood, who took me under his wing and introduced me to a number of people, and for that I am eternally grateful. In those 12 years, I’ve seen a lot of things that I like. I’ve seen a lot of things that I don’t like.

I’ve put together a list. Some people would call them suggestions, some people would call them rules. I call them commandments because I think they are timeless and they should be written in stone.

So with no further ado, I present the Ten Combest Campaign Commandments:

I. First-time candidates: You may have a top-notch fundraising consultant lined up. That consultant may promise to raise you a ton of money (minus their hefty commission.) And you may have a brilliant idea for a bombastic, over-the-top fundraising letter that you know is going to rake in the cash. But at some point you have to actually begin to pick up the phone and ask people for money. They say that money is the mother’s milk of politics, so consider the phone to be the teats and start milking.

II. Candidates: When I ask you, “How much money have you raised?” do not tell me, “We’re going to run a grassroots campaign.” When you answer my question that way, not only are you disrespecting me by not giving me a straight answer, but you’re also telling me that you have not raised any money, you are not putting any effort into raising money, and that you have no real plan to raise money. In other words, you have accepted the fact that you are going to lose and now you’re wasting everyone’s time. Instead of coming up with excuses of why your fundraising numbers are so bad, get on the phone and raise some money.

III. Candidates: If you are in a primary election and the party is not giving you an endorsement, or money, or access to donors, or data, or lending you their staff, then the party is NOT supporting you. So stop telling people they are. The party structure throughout this country is composed of people who make a career out of walking around with a goofy smile on their face and patting people on the back. So when one of those guys comes up to you and pats you on the back and tells you, “Good luck!”, that is not an endorsement, and when you claim that it is, you destroy all credibility.

IV. Candidates’ spouses: Among Missouri Republicans — unless your last name is “Talent” or “Steelman” or “Loudon” or “Gibbons”, chances are very good that you don’t have the first flippin’ clue how to run a campaign. So to quote a popular sports entertainer: Know your role and shut your mouth. Before anyone thinks that I’m picking on wives here, or that I’m being sexist when I say this, please know that the most egregious examples I’ve seen come from candidates’ husbands. There is nothing more pathetic than a middle-aged man who cannot take advice from a younger man or woman. I have to add a disclaimer here: I have never been married, and I have no plans to run for public office — these commandments guarantee that. But if I were to be married, and if I were to run for public office, I would want my wife — instead of micromanaging the campaign and telling professionals how to do their job — to channel that energy into something much more productive and much more worthwhile, like keeping a smile on my face.

V. Campaign staff: You will never win a fight with the candidate’s spouse. You know the phrase, “Win the battle, lose the war”? Whoever coined that phrase had just gotten through fighting with the candidate’s spouse. Statistically speaking, it is impossible for you to kill every bad idea that comes from the candidate’s spouse. So your goal, then, should be to kill the absolute stupidest and most ridiculous ideas that come from the candidate’s spouse. This is best done by being passive-aggressive. So when the candidate’s spouse suggest that your big fundraiser be “Beanie Baby Bingo!”, agree with them that it is a fantastic idea, but unfortunately, every banquet hall and meeting facility in the county is booked from now through the election. Until you are the one who falls asleep next to the candidate — God forbid — you will never get the last word. Trust me. Don’t question it, just accept it. And find a way to work around it.

VI. Campaign staff: Volunteers are gold; treat them as such. True story: I get a call in 2004 from a statewide campaign. They have people coming through the local headquarters — these people were from Washington — and they wanted the campaign headquarters to be filled with people making phone calls. There would be television cameras there, and media coverage, and what not. So I went out there. I had about 2 hours between my full-time job and my part-time job, so I had about 45 minutes to make phone calls. I went through the call sheets, got some yard sign locations, got people to come to campaign headquarters and volunteer. I’m leaving — I’m already running late — and I see someone walking down the hallway. A member of paid campaign staff. I get their attention, and before I can hand them my call sheets, they respond by rolling their eyes and sighing. And I mean a deep, heavy sigh. Now, I know the people running the campaign — they’re friends of mine — so I took the entire incident in context and wasn’t about to let it ruin my evening. But what if I didn’t know the people that ran the campaign? What if this was my first time volunteering at a political event ever? I’ll tell you that I probably would not have come back to that campaign — and I might not have even voted for that candidate. If you are on paid campaign staff — particularly if you are young — drop the ego, drop the attitude, and be thankful that you’re getting a paycheck to do something you enjoy.

VII. Campaign staff: Don’t ever criticize the candidate in front of volunteers. This should be self-explanatory, but apparently it’s not, because it happens way more than it should. If you have a complaint about the candidate, and you are afraid to take it to them, you should bring it behind closed doors to senior staff. Criticism of the candidate should never be uttered in front of volunteers — it’s unprofessional, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the candidate or in you.

VIII. Young political operatives: No matter where you are in this country, you are not working for Richard Nixon, and you are not G. Gordon Liddy. If any kind of opposition research or COINTELPRO is taking place in your campaign, it is on a much higher level. And by the way, anyone in your campaign who is over 18 years of age and thinks that stealing campaign yard signs is cool is a tool and not exactly the kind of person you should be looking up to.

IX. Candidates: Despite what you may think, you opponent does not have a grand, diabolical conspiracy to steal your yard signs. You know the cliche of the guy who has a bad day at the office, so he comes home and kicks his dog and yells at his wife? When someone feels like they’re losing control of the big things in life, they start to obsess about the minor details and minor annoyances. There is no conspiracy to steal your yard signs. So quit whining like a little baby, get on the phone, and raise some money.

X. Candidates: Take the time to get to know the people that work for you. If you’re a statewide candidate, it may be impossible for you to know the life stories of everyone that works for you — you may not want to know the life stories of the people that work for you — but you should at least know their names. It is a very small, human gesture that they will appreciate and remember.

I didn’t invent every one of these concepts, so I’m not sure if I can take all the credit, but I’m quite certain that I will be accepting all the blame.