John Tsarpalas: If you lost an election, you might be feeling bad, but don’t. Let’s stop to think about everything you learned and how you are going to do better next time and where this can lead. This is Commonwealthy #70, What Do You Learn When You Lose an Election.
So I am going to talk with Tina Keats in a few minutes. Before that, I wanted to talk about some of the things that you should think about coming out of the election, win or lose. You need to go back through your numbers. What precincts turned out the way you thought they would? What precincts didn’t turn out the way you thought they would?
Did you get more votes from a precinct or less? Do you think it was the independents that were against you? Or were there Democrats crossing over for you? More swing voters for you? Swing voters against you? Do you think the top of the ticket hurt you. These are all things you need to think about the next day or two after the election, and especially in the weeks following because you can actually get the data from the Board of Elections.
And you should do this. You should do this analysis and take a look at all of that. But then you should also make some notes for yourself. Sit down with a piece of paper and think about what you think went right and what you know went wrong and what can you do for next time that you don’t make the same mistakes.
How was your social media? Do you feel like you were getting enough information out there? Email, Facebook? Were you getting some people liking your Facebook page? Did you have a Facebook page? Was your website effective or did it need to be more effective? What was going on in that area?
In terms of earned media, what worked for you? What press releases did they actually publish, put something out? Or didn’t? How about your mail plan? Did you raise enough money? You probably should have had more mailings and had money for other things (automated calls, phone banks, things like that)? Did you struggle with raising money? Do you think you can take care of that yourself or do some rehearsing or practicing and even asking for money in the off season?
And if you need coaching, I am here. I can help you with that. I am good at coaching people on fundraising and I can do it long distance with you. It’s not a problem. We role play. We talk about it. And then you report in and I hold you accountable. It works very well. So if I can help you, I am firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then there are other things to think about. How did the volunteers do? Did you get enough volunteers? Where can you get more volunteers in the future? What is the secret to that? Did any organizations help you? Did you thank them? Can you get them to help you again?
Go though everything on the campaign planner that we offer for free on the resource page of Commonwealthy. When you sign up for our email, you get it for free, a free download. Every part of that campaign planner, that Excel spreadsheet, will help remind you of the different parts of the campaign. Take a look at each one and analyze each part of your campaign.
And perhaps you didn’t get to every part because you were a small campaign. You didn’t have enough money or enough help. How can you keep the volunteers you have, find more for your next run, find more money so you can hire some people perhaps to take care of some of the things you couldn’t get to, and how do you build on it? What are the most important things to take care of next time?
I am always big on more volunteers, more voter ID, and Get Out the Vote. And then of course you can continue to voter ID in the off season. You just voter ID on particular issues. Or you can say that you are running a survey or a poll on certain issues in the community because you want to know what is going on and you want to stay informed.
There are lots of techniques and things that you can be doing to grow your campaign for the future or to continue your campaign. All of that can be done simply and easily with a little thought. So sit down, take a piece of paper, make notes, and go through it one step at a time.
If you really want to do a deep analysis, go back through Commonwealthy. Go to Commonwealthy.com and look at our different podcast titles. Listen to the ones, look at the transcript if you want to read it, and figure out where your weaknesses were. Listen to the ones that you were weak on. And again, feel free to write to me at email@example.com. I am happy to help you.
I am going to jump into the discussion with Tina in a minute. We’ll have some other thoughts and ideas for you there. But remember, you’ve just come through a great experience. Your campaign (first one, second one, third one, I don’t care which one it is) has lots of lessons in it.
How can you improve? How can you grow as a candidate or a campaign manager or as an activist? And how can you be more effective next time? And how can you start earlier and use time to your advantage?
One of the things I did from campaigns was I moved over to the my local township organization and built that up so that we had infrastructure for our campaigns. I am going to talk about how to do that next time on Commonwealthy. So don’t forget to think about that thought. Is there a local group or do you might want to start your own local group (Tea Party, GOP, whatever it may be)? I don’t care what it is called. I will have thoughts on that next time.
So here is the interview with Tina. Well, the election is over and you lost. And part of me wants to say, “Congratulations” because you probably learned a lot. I know I always did from losing. Tina, did you have that same experience?
Kristina Keats: Absolutely. One of the things I say about running campaigns is everything I know about running campaigns is because I did it wrong once.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, right, exactly.
Kristina Keats: But that is the key. Only do it wrong once and learn. Campaigning is like many things; the only way you learn is to do it. I mean, you could study swimming in a book, but until you get in water and start flapping around, you are not going to learn how to swim.
Well, running for office is the same way because we can tell you everything in the podcast about what you should do. You’ll listen to it and you’ll go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then you won’t do it because you think, “No, I don’t really have to do that.”
John Tsarpalas: Or you might not want to do it. I mean, there are a lot of things like calling for money that most people don’t want to do and things like that.
Kristina Keats: Right, most of the things that we’ve told you, you have to do or effectively if you want to win are really hard! It is hard, hard work to run for office. You have to raise money. You have talk to thousands and thousands of people. You have to keep track of everybody that you talk to and what they said and which way you think they are voting.
It requires a tremendous level of organization, drive, personality, perseverance, strategic thinking. It is harder than just about anything you have ever done. And the other things is with most things that we want to do in life… Let’s say you want to be a doctor. Well, a big percentage of people who want to become doctors can actually become doctors because it is self-selecting some what. You have to like science. You have to go to college, that sort of thing.
But when it comes to running for office, only half ever succeed in any endeavor.
John Tsarpalas: Given year.
Kristina Keats: You know, two people run, one wins, one loses. So you lost. Don’t look at it as the end. Look at it as the beginning. In my case, I ran for office and lost. I was really sad for one day. So it turned out that by running for office and losing, I became a really good campaign person, not an elected official. I mean, I knew enough about it to know what they were going to do there.
But a lot of people go into politics because they love the policy. Well, politics has like one percent policy. You can have the best policies in the world, but if you can’t get elected and you can’t deal with bureaucracy in getting it implemented, it means nothing. Sitting around the think tank and thinking up, “Well, it would be perfect if the world operated like this.” There are a lot of people who want to do that and are attracted to politics because of it. But that’s not what the job really is.
So there are so many things that you can do in politics if you lost that the running and the losing has prepared you to do. Working in campaigns effectively if you really learned from your loss is one of the things.
The other thing is you may choose to lose politics completely. But don’t feel bad about the time you spent running because you learned things. You learned a lot of things. You might not realize everything you learned until later when you are in some other job and you think back, “Well, when I was running a campaign, these issues came up.” Because everything that effects life comes up in a campaign- personality, little p politics, jealousies, cliques, rumors, life. Life comes at you just at high speeds in a political campaign.
Just as an example, there was a guy who was very successful. I think a trial lawyer or some kind of a lawyer. Really, really successful. Partner in a firm. He decided to run for school board. Literally he ended up losing, but the losing wasn’t as bad as the fact that in the process of running, his next door neighbor put up yard signs for his opponent. He was devastated. This was somebody they went out to dinner with all of the time. They thought they were good friends.
Yeah, it was really hard for him, but he learned something really valuable I think. And that is that you don’t always know who your friends are. You may think you know. But it made him kind of think about his relationships and who were his real friends and who were his not real friends.
All of this is important. Politics is very raw at teaching all of these lessons. You may think you are a great public speaker and you are going to learn you aren’t and that you have to get better.
John Tsarpalas: Or the other way around. You were a weak public speaker and now you have gotten better because you have been pushed to do it. And you’ve had to get up. I’ve seen that happen with a lot of candidates. And I coach public speaking a lot. So they become much better presenters, speakers, coming out of this.
And then people get just better people skills being a candidate. I mean, you are out shaking hands, talking to strangers, creating a conversation and a relationship. And I know people who were good at it, but after they’ve been in politics a while they are a whole lot better at it. This helps them in the business world.
Kristina Keats: Absolutely. These are skills that will help you no matter what you do. That is why you should not upset for one minute about the fact that you ran and lost. Look at the wonderful learning experience you had. And it is a unique learning experience.
There are just so many things that you can do if you want to pursue politics without actually being a candidate anymore. I found my niche in running campaigns and helping other people. I was much, much better at that because I was really good at evaluating who would be a good candidate.
And then I was really good at doing all of the backroom stuff because that was getting something done, which fit more to my personality. Writing scripts, making phone calls, finding out which ones worked, changing them, improving, improving, constantly improving. And I didn’t have to deal with the bureaucracy to do it. I would just say, “You know what? That didn’t work. Let’s try something else. Oh, this one worked.” It was much more fun and satisfying for me.
So there’s lots of places to go. John went off and worked in the party and then worked for a think tank. So there were things that came out of it, even though you didn’t run for office, but you got involved in other things that you found interesting.
John Tsarpalas: Right, I mean, it opened up the public speaking world to me. I didn’t think about it before politics. And then we started coaching candidates, what, back in ’98-’99. You started with your house of pain. So that is when I first started thinking about public speaking and messaging. And then I started having to speak because I wanted to motivate volunteers to get people to show up to do phone banks and have phone calls.
And then asking for money, that’s something I learned from politics about fundraising and going out and talking to people and asking for a check and getting over that fear. Again that was politics that forced that out of me or into me, one way or another.
Then in talking to people. Whenever I go to somewhere there is a gathering of people, I work the room like I am a politician, but I just do now. And I didn’t used to think like that. But I like it because I meet people. You never know who you are going to meet for a friend or for business relationships. All of that were skills that I learned from campaigning
Kristina Keats: Right. And I got different skills because I don’t like to work the room.
John Tsarpalas: Yes, but I do.
Kristina Keats: I did it when I was a candidate. I know how to do it.
John Tsarpalas: Well, you are good at it. I’ve seen you in action.
Kristina Keats: Right, I am good at it. There are other things that I like to do. So I do those things or did them professionally for a while. I never intended to. I volunteered up until I got hired by a congressman. That was my first official paying job. I kind of went from there. The other thing, and I hate to say it, but there are an awful lot of people who go into politics who don’t want to work very hard. I don’t know why they think it is easy.
John Tsarpalas: Well, they think the party is going to carry them. This is a huge myth out there that “Oh, there is this party infrastructure. And all of this money and manpower is going to come your way.” And there is none, especially at the lower offices!
Kristina Keats: Well, I would go further and I would say depending on what kind of person you are, the party is not your friend.
John Tsarpalas: Right, that’s true too.
Kristina Keats: They are going to come in and they are going to tell you, “This is who you are going to be.”
John Tsarpalas: Right. If they are giving you something, there’s a lot of strings attached.
Kristina Keats: Oh, yeah. And then they expect you to vote the way they want you to vote. It may not be what your principles are. By the time I was running my second campaign I think (reluctantly- I never really wanted to. But they begged me), my first thing was, “Here’s the deal. If I am your campaign manager, you are not going to work with the party because I don’t work with the party. They don’t do things.” They didn’t do it smart. They are getting smarter.
John Tsarpalas: Well, it depends on where you are and who is in charge and what ego and blah blah blah. It is a mess.
Kristina Keats: And you may be lucky and you live in an area where the party is really dynamic and exciting. But for the most part, the party has been around for a hundred and fifty years. They are like a big old bureaucracy like any old corporation. Like where we live now, the state party has a rule that local organizations can’t endorse in primaries.
John Tsarpalas: Wow.
Kristina Keats: And I am thinking, “What is the point then?” What is the point in being involved if you can’t influence who are candidate is going to be?
John Tsarpalas: Wow.
Kristina Keats: Because that is just what happens to be what gets me excited about being involved in politics. If I work hard and I am on the inside, I can influence who becomes our fill in the blank (congressional candidate, Senate candidate, whatever.) If your party apparatus says, “We don’t endorse in primaries,” then it takes away any influence that a local group could have. When we were living in Illinois, our local group had huge influence-
John Tsarpalas: We did.
Kristina Keats: – over a lot of candidates because we had the respect of the rank and file voters. They knew that we did our homework, that we would vet people, that we would talk to them and interview them and get to know them before we endorsed.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Our endorsement meant something.
Kristina Keats: Our endorsement meant something. So then I came here and got involved here. Then I found out they had this rule of no endorsements. I said then I will go back to baking cookies or whatever.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah. But also behind our endorsement meaning something with the voters, we delivered in terms of Get Out the Vote.
Kristina Keats: Absolutely.
John Tsarpalas: The organization worked. A candidate wanted us because they knew we would get the vote out for them in our area if we endorsed them. In so many areas, it is meaningless because the organization doesn’t do much or nothing at all. So that was huge.
Kristina Keats: That is where if you lost you might look at your local organization and see if it is one that needs a new shot of blood to get it going. So many of the party organizations, honestly I don’t know why people are involved in them because they don’t do anything. Why are you a precinct captain? You don’t do anything. Because to me, that would be the point. You become a precinct captain so you can get things done.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: Work for the candidates that you like in the primary. So your local organization might be the ripe for the picking to go in and start building an organization and get people enthusiastic and excited. That will help you get good candidates to run.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: My experience is it takes someone with really high energy who really wants to work at it and make it happen. We did school board elections where we wanted to make change. But you need one person who can kind of organize it, motivate people, keep it going, and direct it.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: And that could be you. You could be the person. You have the experience. You have the drive and motivation. There are lots of places to go.
John Tsarpalas: We missed the big one. The big one is you need to run again. Lincoln ran, what, three times before he won office?
Kristina Keats: He won as Congress and then he lost Senate.
John Tsarpalas: Then he lost Senate and then he ran for President, okay.
Kristina Keats: Then he ran for President. But he was very involved locally for a long time. One of the things he did in the state of Illinois was he was a traveling judge. So he got to get around and know a lot of people. I had forgotten until just recently the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about the Senate race, not the presidential race.
John Tsarpalas: Right, it was the Senate race.
Kristina Keats: That is when he became famous throughout the country, for debating for a U.S. Senate position from the state of Illinois, which he lost.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: And yet he lost the race but won the argument, one could say?
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: Because he was the abolitionist candidate and Douglas was the pro-slavery candidate. Or he was the anti-slavery. They weren’t abolitionist at that point I don’t think.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: But it just shows if you really care about the direction of your country, and I hope you do (that is why you are running for office), don’t give up. There are lots of places to go, but again John is absolutely right. Run again because you will be even better the second time and you will have a base to start from. You’ve got supporters. Choose your race carefully because you don’t want to run ten times.
John Tsarpalas: Well, we both know someone that ran for Congress and lost. He ran for state rep and lost. And then he waited a few years and he moved to a better demographic area (a more Republican area) and ran for Congress and won. But by then he understood campaigning. He also understood where some donors were, that he built a donor base. And he picked the right race to run in because it was a better area where he actually had a chance.
Kristina Keats: Right. So all of that was based on his losing every time.
John Tsarpalas: Correct.
Kristina Keats: And absolutely because it was an open Republican seat in what was appearing to look like a good Republican year. And there were like eight people running in the primary against him. A lot of them looked on paper to be better candidates, but he was the one who had the experience. So that’s right. That’s good to remind people. You are gaining experience whether you think you are or not. You know things that the first time candidates coming in don’t know.
John Tsarpalas: Right. I actually saw him this weekend. We were both at American Majority training up in Wisconsin this weekend. It was good to see him. It was just interesting. And it made me remember.
Kristina Keats: Now he is a radio talk show host.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, right. He is doing very well, so it is good.
Kristina Keats: Yeah, he has had a good career. So there are lots of places to go. That is why you shouldn’t feel bad for losing. Be happy you ran. Only people with guts can run for office, so that says something about you that you actually ran. You are willing to put yourself out there. That is a unique person. Most people don’t have that kind of ability.
John Tsarpalas: Well, and let’s also say that’s a huge race. If we are talking about running for a local race… Oh and by the way, I got today an email that petitions and your packets to run for this local town board and mayor’s position are now available. This is for a race next April of 2017. So they are actually putting information out right now, if you are listening to this podcast here in the fall of 2016, for 2017. It is coming through the town board. They are the ones that actually administer the race for the town hall.
Kristina Keats: Right. It depends on where you live.
John Tsarpalas: Right. But I just wanted to put a warning out to people. Hey, if you are thinking about 2017, it is right now. You need to be stepping up right now.
Kristina Keats: Right. A lot of places you just sign up. You don’t have to do petitions. But those are places that are more open politically than Illinois. Illinois’s whole system is to keep people from running, not to get them to run.
John Tsarpalas: Right. But anyway, this town is one where I have done work with their candidates there.
Kristina Keats: But it is time to get going.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah.
Kristina Keats: But anyway, run again, especially if you got close. I mean, if you were within I’d even say ten points. A fifty-five/forty-five race for a first time candidate is a good performance. Think about doing it again.
John Tsarpalas: And not only think about it, just commit to keeping going. You can still be in the press as the counterpoint to the person that won because they are always going to be looking for somebody to give another opinion. So reach out to the media and let them know that you are still out there and interested talking about it. You don’t have to declare that you are running again.
But then I would also continue to try to get some volunteers together and continue phone banking on issues. Not on you, but on issues, so that you are building your database. And you are just continuing to kind of build that campaign quietly for a year or two or however long it is to the next cycle for that office.
Kristina Keats: Meet more people. Have a blog. There are all kinds of things you can do to keep yourself out there. But the bottom line is you have had a unique experience. You have learned a lot whether you feel like it today or not. You really know a lot of things that you didn’t know a year ago. And all of them are valuable and will help you no matter where you go.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: So don’t be sad or depressed. You are in good company, Abraham Lincoln and friends.
John Tsarpalas: Right. It is a matter of building. It is just like building a business. Okay, so the business didn’t sell a million dollars the first year and maybe it won’t in the next two year or so. So it is the same thing. Voters will remember your name. You are building voter ID, so you are building your name. So just keep building and keep going. I think that it is a building process no matter where you are at.
Kristina Keats: For sure.
John Tsarpalas: So please if you are just coming out of a campaign, take my advice that I brought up right at the beginning of the podcast. Sit down with paper and write down your thoughts on what you did right and what you did wrong. And think about your opponent, what he or she did right or wrong, the other campaign. What did they do? How did they operate? You probably bumped into them out there. You know what was going on.
Think about all of this and use it. Use to improve your campaign skills. Figure out what you need to know, what you need to learn more about, and what you need to strategize more about.
And don’t forget: stay on your board of elections and find out when the data is available on what happened and get it. And analyze it. Pick it a part. Kick it around. Get a friend who has got a good engineering mind or analytical mind to look at it. Put it in a spreadsheet and play with it. Figure out what precincts were good and what were bad.
Go through it all as if you were planning to get ready for the next campaign, but compare it to the last one. Figure out what you did right and what you did wrong. You will learn so much from doing that. And you will do much better next time out.
There is also a bigger question that Tina and I touched on. A friend of ours did this. Is this an area that you can ever win in? There are areas that are just so one sided and lopsided that you probably can’t win. You can be a spokesperson and get ideas out and keep talking up ideas that are important to you. But if you actually want to win, perhaps you need to move.
We do that here in Illinois. If you get outside of Cook County as a Republican, you actually have a chance. But if you are in that county, you don’t have much chance. So that is part of what happens around here, although I have won elections with Republicans in Cook County. In fact that is kind of how I built my reputation. Tina, too. Know that it is doable. But if the map is so weighted against you, it just is very, very difficult. Nothing is impossible.
If I can be of any help to you, feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always available for questions. I really actually look forward to them. They are always interesting. I learn something from you.
If there is some topic you’d like to hear more about… You are going to be running for office in spring and you want to know more about something in particular, let me know. I am always looking for ideas for a podcast and looking for people to interview on a podcast that might have things of interest to you. I have lots of friends out there in different areas that I haven’t talked to yet. If I hear somebody’s interested, I can go find the right expert and get them on.
We have to win elections. We cannot change things just by talking. We can change minds. We can change voter’s minds, and that is important. But nothing get implemented until you win an election. Talk is cheap. Let’s win some elections.