Good Advice for the New Candidate with Kristina Keats CW 55- transcript


MAKESJohn Tsarpalas: Welcome to the first anniversary of the Commonwealthy podcast. Yes, it’s been one year. Actually today is episode 55. You’ll say, “Well, there are 52 weeks in year.” However, when we launched, that first week we launched with a couple of episodes right off the bat along with the introductory episode, which was numbered 00.

And according to podcasting marketers, this is supposed to be a good idea, although I question it at this point since I had nobody listening at that moment what the point was. But I guess if people find you and there is more content, that’s a good thing they say.

But this isn’t a podcast about podcasts. This is a podcast about how to run for local office and win with activist ideas thrown in. It’s been fun. The first year I tried to concentrate on what a candidate needs to know to put together a campaign, with a lot of emphasis on field operations, door knocking, the whole concept of IDing people through phone calls, knocking doors, and Get Out the Vote.

Why? Because it is essential that you do that if you are going to win. It’s possible to win without it, but it is not controlling your own fate. When I fully understood the whole Get Out the Vote concept is when I started winning campaigns.

However, we also touched on other things a candidate needs along the way: messaging, public speaking, how to deal with the media, etc. We’ve got fifty-four (well, we are not counting today) interesting podcasts for you to go back and look at.

And thanks! We started with no audience and we’ve really grown quickly. It’s exciting. So if you are a regular listener, thank you very much! Please tell your friends about us if you know other political activists or politically interested people. Perhaps they would like to know more about how to run for office and that’s the purpose of this. So please refer them.

We hope you’ve subscribed to the podcast through whatever system you have, whether it is Android or iTunes. We also now have our own app for the iPhone. You can find it in the iTunes stores in the App section. Just type in Commonwealthy in the search bar and it should just pop up. You can also find a link to it on our website at

We always have had transcripts of every episode. So if you prefer to read through what we’ve talked about or you want to go back to really look at a spot and understand it better, go to Every episode has a transcript as well as links to anything we talked about in the show in the show notes along with bios of people we’ve interviewed.

So today I am going to do things a little differently. First of all, I want to thank the two companies that are our sponsors. The first one is Voter Gravity. Voter Gravity is a system that I believe in. Voter Gravity to me is what a winning campaign needs for a database system.

You put in all your voter data and then you keep adding to it. As you are doing your door knocking and phone calling, you are putting that data in constantly. And it can be done by your people because it will link to their cell phones. If they are going door to door, you can have them check off right at the door.

Or it can link to their phone when it is making calls. Right there on the computer screen will be the script and the place for responses to the questions. You check those off and it all goes back into your database.

And then it allows you to sort by any type of criteria you want. You can print walk lists in street order, odd side of the street order or even, Republicans only, Democrats only, Independents only, people who voted in four of four elections, etc. Any way you want to divide up your information, Voter Gravity can do it for you.

And they’ve had a very generous offer and it continues. If you listen to Commonwealthy and you use the offer code COMMONWEALTHY when you sign up with Voter Gravity, they will waive the set up fee because for them, that’s a big cost. It takes them a while to set up your system and import all your data.

It’s a great offer. Take advantage of it. If you are going to be looking into voter data systems, be sure to look at Voter Gravity at Use that offer code COMMONWEALTHY.

Today I am going to talk about some things that I think are just so key for any new political candidate, basic concepts that they need to grasp. First off, Tina and I sat down and talked a little bit about new candidates and time.

And Kristina Keats has been with me on many of these podcasts. She’s my sort of partner. We’ve never officially been legal business partners, but we’ve worked together on so many things. She is semi-retired now. I love having her on these podcasts. I love having her point of view. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to her.

Tina’s background, Tina is a Harvard MBA, Harvard grad, who had her own business. She was very successful in it. Then she got bit by the political bug and ran for state representative in Illinois in a very Democrat area. And she lost. That was the last time she lost. After that, there was no stopping Tina.

I shouldn’t say the last time. We’ve had a few small defeats along the way. But she figured it all out. And she is brilliant. I’ve loved having her help for this past year. Thank you, Tina. Really, really you’ve made this even more fun than it already is. So thanks, Tina.

So why don’t we cut to that little discussion Tina and I had about time and campaigns and a couple other tidbits. And then I will come back with some more pointers in a few minutes.

Alright, starting early. I was at CPAC last week and I met a couple of different people running for Congress. Everybody wants to run for Congress it seems like, which is the first thing that I think is a mistake for them. I think they should aim their sights at something doable first time out. Build a smaller political operation and then grow it. We can circle back to that.

But the other thing is starting early. I mean, they are looking at running for Congress and they’ve just started! You know, time!

Kristina Keats: And it’s March!

John Tsarpalas: It’s March!

Kristina Keats: It’s March.

John Tsarpalas: It’s March.

Kristina Keats: And the general election is-

John Tsarpalas: November.

Kristina Keats: – seven months away.

John Tsarpalas: Yes. And you are building a business that is, if you put it in dollars and cents, a half million dollars to three or four million dollars a Congressional race. So you are building a million dollar business in seven months or nine months. It takes time to build a business. I don’t care what it is!

Kristina Keats: Right. Right, an operation. You’ve got a three million dollar operation. You are going to do it in seven months starting from nothing? Because usually you are starting from nothing. The biggest mistake that first time candidates make is that they underestimate how much needs to be done before they are going to be victorious.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely.

Kristina Keats: And my personal view, and I don’t care if you are running for village board or park district, if you want to improve your chances of being successful to the ninety percent range instead of the twenty percent range, start two years before election day. And you may say, ‘That’s nuts!’

Well, let me explain why. Let’s use the village board example because that’s the one that probably seems the most nuts that you would start two years before. You are running for village board. You need to know when you are running what the issues of your village are. And all of the issues, not just the one that might have motivated you. You might have been motivated because you want the road repaired in the main road in town or you think the traffic lights don’t work properly.

Whatever it was that motivated you to become a volunteer politician or legislature, you need that. That’s fine. It’s great that you have a motivation. Hopefully it is an issue that motivates other people so that they’ll vote for you

But if you want to look like an intelligent, informed, responsible person who can plan ahead, you need to know all of the issues. You need to know what your sewer costs are and your garbage pick up and your light costs. What about relationships with the police force and the fire force? Is it a volunteer fire department? What about your street cleaners? What about the people who make the roads?

How are you going to know everything that you should reasonably know before you could be a good village board member if you start three months before the election? Three months before the election you should be spending all of your time on getting elected, not trying to figure out what’s going on in your town.

So just take that to the next level. If you are running for state something, you need to know what’s going on in your state in all kinds of departments, not just the one you might have an expertise in. You might be a healthcare specialist, but you need to know again about the roads, taxes, pension plans, etc.

So that’s part of why you need to start early, so that you’ve got the time to learn what you need to know about the office you are going to hold.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay, that’s the first thing. The second thing is I don’t care where it is, whether you are running for dog catcher in a teeny tiny village or state senate or Congress, there are people who are politically active and are the ones who have been making the decisions about who becomes our “fill in the blank”- dog catcher, village board member, etc.

In non-partisan races, they still exist. There are people in your town who have been active politically because they care about this; it’s a hobby or an interest or whatever. And they’ve been caring about it for twenty years or ten years or five years.

Bottom line is there are a lot of people who are already involved and you need to know who they are. Well, how are you going to meet those people if you wait until the three months before the election? You need to figure out who they are and go about meeting them.

In partisan races, you’ve got your local parties. You’ve got the Republican Party and the Democrat Party. If you want to be their candidate, then you better go to meetings before you decided to be the candidate and start being involved. Help other people and help the organization. Because if you don’t, there is a possibility that you’ll run unopposed, but probably not in a primary. There are other people who also have an interest who’ve been working for a long time.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I mean, you are going to meet people there and you are going to find out who are volunteers, who are good workers-

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: – who can do what. I mean, you’ll find the data person. Somebody can be the treasurer. Someone else doesn’t mind making phone calls and will help you with your phone bank.

Kristina Keats: Right, and your campaign manager.

John Tsarpalas: And your campaign manager. They come out of these organizations. This is where they hang around. That’s their clubhouse. You’ve got to get in there and get to know them. And it takes time.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: You come along last minute and you are trying to find all these people. Parties don’t just suddenly step up and are ready to embrace you and wrap you in an organization. It just doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to kind of know who to reach out to and pull of them out of that organization into yours.

Kristina Keats: Right. There is an old saying that the original Mayor Daly said something like “I don’t want nobody that nobody knows.” Typical, good grammar.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, well, he was king of that.

Kristina Keats: Right. And the point was he didn’t want people in the organization that were not vetted.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And it wasn’t because they were going to commit voter fraud, which they did in certain cases, but it was just because they wanted their organization to be filled with people who were dedicated to their view of the world.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And you can’t get there without starting early. So that’s the reason. Plus, just get yourself organized. All of the organizational things that need to occur. You are going to have to raise money. You are going to have build your organization. You are going to have to find volunteers. You are going to have to find a space. You are going to have to rent phones and find the computer programs that you want to use and find the people who can advise you.

All of that takes a lot of time. And you can’t be spending your time doing that when you are four months before the election when you should be spending-

John Tsarpalas: Right, and finding donors and developing relationships, which take time. You can’t go in and ask for a big check immediately usually. I mean, there are times you try.

Kristina Keats: Right. And you can do that. And we talked about how to go about doing that in the fundraising podcast. You need to get yourself organized.

John Tsarpalas: If you are listening to this podcast, you should be listening to all of it and especially the parts about Get Out the Vote and field operations. For instance, we just ran into somebody working for a certain candidate. I won’t name names, but their field director doesn’t know field operations. He came from a field operation, but all he really knows is to put up yard signs. And we are not even really sure about that.

So I would talk to people about their philosophy of what does grassroots look like. What is your Get Out the Vote image? How does that work? What is your idea for the mail? Talk to them about specific thoughts about how they are going to do things in your campaign.

And make sure they understand that you not going to win without a grassroots plan. And the grassroots plan means making phone calls and knocking doors, doing that hard work boring stuff, which gets us into a whole other topic that we’ll go into in a minute.

Kristina Keats: And tracking the data.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: The biggest problem that I see in first time campaigns is they to tend to focus on the advertising, the emails, the robo-calls, and all of the stuff that have seen as voters in the past. If you think about a political campaign as very similar to a military campaign, all of that (the mail, the advertising, the robo-calls, the TV, the radio, and anything that is out there) is like an air campaign in the military.

John Tsarpalas: That’s the Air Force.

Kristina Keats: It’s the Air Force. And when the Air Force is flying over, everybody can see it, which means your opponent can see it, too. And it is easier to counter an air campaign than it is what the door to door and the phone campaign is because that is hand to hand combat.

John Tsarpalas: So I mentioned a couple moments back that there are things people don’t like to do in a campaign. One of them is door knocking and phone calling. But the other one that I find candidates really try to avoid, or many candidates do and successful ones don’t, is fundraising.

You are going to have to ask people to donate. If you can’t do that, you need to hire me as a coach and/or hire a therapist and get over it. Or you are just going to have to try and push yourself to do it.

And as someone who coaches candidates on fundraising all the time and holds them accountable (I think that’s why I am successful at it; I make them report in usually every other week on how many calls they made, how many people they’ve talked to, and how much money they’ve raised), they set goals and they do it, even if it is not fun.

You know, work is work. And there are parts of a campaign that aren’t fun. There is a whole lot of parts that are fun: talking to people, being with people, giving speeches, going to events, being in parades. All of that is fun. Doing things like debates and editorial boards are exciting. I think they are fun. I think they are a great adventure.

But the actual sometimes talking to people and trying to raise money can be fun. You need to look at it that way. I don’t mean to turn it into a drudgery. I mean, you are sitting down talking to somebody. Explain why it is important that they should support you. And ask them to write a check.

But many people don’t have the assertiveness, the moxie to ask. And that’s one of the big ones that people avoid. And if you are thinking about running, you’ve got to figure out how you are going to get over that hurdle and get there. A good way is to call me and I will help you.

The other thing that happens to many, many candidates is there are too many voices. Everybody thinks they know how to run a campaign. You know, I opened a restaurant many years ago. I thought I knew how to run a restaurant because I had eaten in a lot of restaurants. And, yeah, that is partially true, but the ins and outs aren’t the same. And that’s true with a campaign.

People look at the things going on on TV and radio. They see the ads. They think they know what is happening. They think they understand the campaign process. Well, actually way back when in my first campaign in 1996, we thought it was about the ads and TV and interviews and newspaper articles, etc. We lost badly.

Field- the door to door knocking, talking to people, finding out who is supporting you, convincing people to support you, and then getting them to the polls- is what beat us in 1996. And then after that, actually in 1998 (it took me until 1998 to figure it out), I realized what needed to happen. I hope you realize that right now so that you don’t make the same mistake I did.

Back to too many voices. Everybody is going to tell you you need to talk about this issue or that issue and you need to say it this or that way. And you are going to get all kinds of people who want to be your advisor. Will they do any of the hard work? Often they don’t. And that ticks me off, but that’s a reality.

You’ll get people who will tell you, “You should do this. You should do that.” Well, what are they going to do? So when they tell you, “You should do this. You should do that,” please turn it back on them and say, “That’s great. I am really pressed for time. Would you mind writing this up for me? Would you mind doing whatever you are suggesting for me? Taking that on? I’ll help find some volunteers to help you.” That kind of thing.

But put it back on them because people are going to do this constantly, and you do not have enough time for that. And then when it comes to issues, issues are important. A message is important. Figure it out. Hash it out and get it settled and move on.

I think one of the best ways to figure out the message is go door to door and talk to people and start hearing what they are saying. Then think about it. Rehearse it with others. Get yourself a little panel. Run it by them. Keep it positive.

But then move on. You don’t need to have that go on and on and on because people will forever bend your ear. “You should say this. You should do that.” It is just a big waste of time. Once you’ve got your message, move on unless something is obviously glaring and not working.

I said I wanted to thank our two sponsors. Our second sponsor is a friend of mine, a company I have been doing business with from way back when. I was kind of there when he birthed the whole company back in 2004 in campaign for state representative. And we’ve been friends ever since. And I’ve used his products ever since.

Why? Because he’s the best. He invented personalized automated calls for politics. That’s James O’Hara and Extended Data Solutions. They are offering Commonwealthy listeners fifteen percent off their first order if they use the offer code Commonwealthy.

Check out Extended Data Solutions and try their personalized solutions for phone calls as well as video and mail. They’ve got some really great products that really, really deliver voters to you. So thanks to Extended Data for supporting us here at Commonwealthy.

So what’s in store for Commonwealthy this next year? Well, first of all we are going to change our format from once a week to every other week. Why? Because it is political election year and it is my busy season. I am having trouble keeping up. And that’s a good thing.

I don’t have any trouble with you reaching out to me with an email or getting a hold of me if you have questions. If you’d like to have a free half hour consultation with me, I am happy to that. Often it runs more than a half hour. There is no charge for the first session. I can tell you, I am sure, some good thoughts and some ideas to get you started on your campaign. Then if you want to work together, I’ll tell you what I can do for you and we can go from there.

But it is an election year and I am busy. So Commonwealthy is going to happen on Tuesday mornings every other week. We’ll be back every other week with great guests and great interviews.

I want to say that we are going to focus a little more on people I would call vendors, people that supply things to campaigns- signs, designers, people with lists. Different organizations, companies, individuals out there that supply products to our industry that will be helpful and are a part of your campaign plan.

There is going to be more emphasis at looking at vendors. We will get back to campaigning, too, in between. We can only do so much. We hope to just keep offering you thoughts and ideas. You can always write to me at I am looking forward to your feedback, hearing your questions, and knowing how we can help.

As always, thanks for listening. And thanks for a great first year!

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