Political Campaign Lessons Learned CW 45- Transcript

John Tsarpalas: Today I am going to relate things that just happened to me in the last couple of days because I think there are lessons to be learned. That’s what we are calling it today: Political Campaign Lessons Learned. This is Commonwealthy #45.

I am recording this on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, the morning after the Republican Iowa Caucuses. Actually the Democrats, too, but anyway, the Iowa Caucuses. First off, I had actually worked the Iowa Caucuses back in the nineties. It was hard, long hours. I was there for at least a week. I was a volunteer for Steve Forbes. “Read More”

We made phone calls from a phone bank in Des Moines to suburbs of Des Moines. We just dialed and dialed and talked to people. The people of Iowa were so tired of talking to people on the phone about politics because they were just being called to death.

But then that evening, I went to the caucuses. Oh, was that amazing! They literally trust each other. When they were counting the vote, I had Chicago paranoia about people cheating. Some Iowan said to me, “No, this is Iowa. We don’t cheat. We don’t do that.” That was reassuring. It reminded me that that’s what politics should be like in America.

It was such a fabulous time at that caucus because people got up and spoke. They talked to their neighbors. They literally caucused before they voted. But the morning after, I am thinking about who won, which in this case was Ted Cruz.

By the way, this podcast is not about national politics. Where I am going with this is the field operations paid off for Ted Cruz. Donald Trump was favored to win. He was way ahead in the polls, but he had no ground game. That’s something I am going to continually emphasize in this podcast.

If you are running for a small local election, it is possible to win without a ground game if nobody else has a ground game. But if you are up against somebody else who is ID-ing voters, knows who those voters, and is getting them to the polls, then they are going to be the ones that win.

Now, if it is a small race like I said, local, and people are talking to voters and putting out mail and you are getting a little bit of media and doing the local town halls, but nobody is going door-to-door or making phone calls and nobody knows who is voting for them specifically and there is now Get Out the Vote program to get those voters to the polls, then it is a toss up.

But I think the Iowa Caucuses this time out by Ted Cruz’s strong win shows what a ground game is all about. I thought Cruz would win because he had a strong ground game.

Also a little shout out to guys I’ve worked with. The first one is Bryan English, who was Ted Cruz’s Iowa director. Brian knows Iowa backwards and forwards. Boy, he knows conservatives. So I thought that Cruz would really have the edge with Bryan there on the ground. Brian delivered again. If you ever need to work Iowa, go look up Bryan English. The man knows his turf and he knows his people.

The other shout out and congratulations is to Jeff Roe, another fellow that I have worked with who is Cruz’s national campaign manager. Jeff is sharp. Jeff keeps it simple, but he is aggressive. I think that he is a brilliant campaign strategist and someone that I have learned from and enjoyed working with.

Both of them believe in voter ID and Get Out the Vote. They both believe in grassroots politics.

Something else that happened in Iowa (and I know this because I know Bryan English) is there was a whole lot of coalition building. Bryan knows the groups that are conservative leaning. He knows their leadership. He knows the leaders within the group who aren’t the official leaders. And he builds relationships and coalitions to bring them on board.

All of that stuff takes time. It takes time to build it. Now Bryan has been around in different venues in Iowa for many years. So if you’ve got to go in somewhere and there is someone out there who has been connected and knows how to find these groups, knows these groups, has done coalition work before, you might want to consider bringing them on to your campaign.

Or perhaps get them to volunteer for your campaign. These people are not always motivated out of money. I am sure Bryan got paid by the Cruz campaign because he was working hundreds of hours.

But you might think about in your area who knows what groups and coalitions they can bring. Politics to me always goes back to high school. It’s kind of like there are the cheerleaders and then there’s the athletes. And then there’s the theater kids and there’s the kids that are in the band. What kids within each one of those little cliques leads that clique? They might be the official leader. They might be the unofficial leader.

The same thing is happening in the political world. You are running for a county board. Who in your county knows people and is connected? How do you work that person to work their group for you? Elks Clubs, Moose, Grange. Do you have Rotaries? Do you have Lions? Those happen more in the bigger cities.

How do those clubs network and how can you get their support? Churches- every church is a little community. There are people within a church that can work a church for you. A lot of people are leery of working their church. It depends. It depends on how they do it. They don’t do it at church, but they make phone calls in the background.

So think about that coalition work and what groups are out there that are interested. I mean, if is about schools, can you get the PTAs and PTOs behind you? Or whatever they call it in your area. Can those groups come and help you? Can you get a whisper thing happening through the mothers of the PTA?

Boy, it happens around here. Unfortunately the liberals dominate it. That’s a whole other topic. But, it doesn’t have to be that way in your community.

And then if you are running, for instance, for a college board where you have community colleges around you (I have a friend running for a local community college board), how about student groups? Can you get those students involved? Talk to them. Get them talking to their friends, using social media and things going on with their friends.

Are they voters? If you think the group is leaning your way, make sure that there is some way you are getting people in that student group registered to vote. Maybe you get a registrar to their monthly meeting and make sure everyone in there is registered. If you think the group is supporting you, it would be worth your while to arrange something like that.

These are kind of my ramblings of the day after the Iowa Caucuses. It is just down to good old fashion politics, people talking to people. People asking for the vote, asking for support of their candidate, and then making sure people show up in this case to the caucuses or to the polls. But making sure people show up.

I think it is has been an interesting evening. I hope you can interpret some of what I have just talked about into your own campaign.

Now for a slightly different topic. I had a lot of fun this weekend. Why? Because I was out with a candidate on a campaign trail. I went to a couple of local endorsement sessions, talking to voters- Republicans in this case. These were Republican endorsement sessions on a township level in the Chicago suburbs.

I kind of forget at times just how fun it is to be with people in politics. I mean, that is what got with me hooked in the first place: being with friends. Back in ’96 (I was just talking about going to the Iowa Caucuses), I went with my friend Bob Castello. I met Paul Miller there. There was a whole group of us that came from the Chicago area to go out to Iowa to go help work for Forbes.

I got to be buddy with those people. I still see those people. I am still friends with those people. That’s where I met them. It was a good time. Yes, we worked making phone calls. Yes, we went to caucuses and worked them. But we also bonded at meals and just talked politics, life, our families, our kids, Little League, or whatever.

But we had something in common, and that was a belief in limited government. And it was really fun and really comfortable. I got reminded of that this weekend because I hadn’t been out in the field. I do most of my consulting here on the phone or over Skype or something. I don’t get out there as much with the people.

So when you are setting up your campaign and you are recruiting people, keep it fun. Remember this is social. I remember my wife saying years ago when I was going up to local Republican headquarters all the time, “Oh, going up to the clubhouse again?” That’s really what it was; it was a clubhouse.

It was fun. It was my local club. I had my buddies up there, female or male. We’d talk a little politics. We’d dig in, in the evening from like seven to nine. Actually, we’d quit at 8:45 on the phones. And then we’d spend a half hour just talking. “Well, who did you talk to? What’s going on? How are you? How’s your family? What’s going on with your kids? Boy, did you see what is happening in the polls for this guy? Did you see what is happening over there?”

And then we’d make sure the refrigerator was stocked. There was always chips and drinks. And then some nights we’d throw pizza in. On Saturday mornings, there was always donuts and coffee. We’d make sure someone brought that stuff in.

But it was about the camaraderie that brought me back. It was the camaraderie this weekend that I so enjoyed. And the political discussions and talk. But then people were going out to work. It’s really key that you build that espirit de corps.

So when you are talking about putting together volunteers, make it in small chunks and make it sound fun. “Ten of us are getting together on Monday nights. We are making phone calls. We usually have a pizza there about 6:30 if you want to come right from work. We make a few calls and then we talk. Oh, and don’t be scared; we show you how to do this. We train you. We have scripts. It’s easy. It’s not hard.”

People have a fear factor. They don’t want to fail. I get that. So you’ve got to make it easy on them. But once you up and running, you can get somebody else to kind of take over and let them run that phone bank. They can be manager of that phone bank every week.

You come by if you are the candidate for a little bit of time, but the rest of time you are on the phone too or you are out knocking doors during that time. Or if you are going out on a Saturday morning with volunteers, you are out knocking doors with them.

Go back to the podcast on door-to-door because it tells you how to work with a little group and how to work with a car. That was podcast #10 way back then. I talked about how to go door to door. I pretty much cover everything there.

Keep it fun. Remember it is about people. Remember that you are creating a community, a group. You are doing that in your social media, too. But you are also doing it with real people. They need somewhere to be. They need a group. They need focus. It’s just so important that you are supplying it.

One of the first things I saw this morning on my iPhone were some complaints to me. I thought, ‘You know, there is a good lesson here I need to explain to people who are in campaigns about how to deal with complaints.” You are always going to have complainers and complaints.

The ones that bother me the most are the ones that are coming from my own people, my own party. However, that is just how it is. There are just people who love to complain. Usually they are people who don’t seem to get anywhere in life. All they are doing is complaining.

One type of complainer is one who will come and tell you how you should be doing something. “You should be doing more of this. You should be doing more of that.” One example I remember is a woman that used to complain we didn’t have enough yard signs up for this campaign. We didn’t have enough signage out.

Well, a simple solution for people like that is to go, “You know, I think you are right. I really could use your help. I would love to take over the whole sign thing and make sure we get enough signs out.” Of course, I never heard from that person again for the rest of that campaign.

Now, two things could have happened. She could have stepped up and she could have gotten more signs out. That would have been fine. Of course she would have complained we didn’t enough money for signs and we needed to buy more signs. I don’t know. I don’t know where that goes.

The other thing is usually when you turn back around and ask them to do it, they will disappear or say no or whatever. I think the way you need to say this is, “You know, I’ve got so much going on in my campaign. I have my job. I still have my family. And I have the campaign, too. I really out there trying to meet voters and raise money. Those are my two big focuses. Some of these other things I just can’t get to. It would be great if you could step up and take over this issue for me.” Take over signs or whatever it is they happen to be complaining about.

“You aren’t getting out enough? Okay, I have arranged some things for you to go to.” Make them do all the grunt work. Because you don’t have time for the grunt work. And quite frankly, they don’t want to do anything anyway. They just like to complain.

I also a complaint today from a guy who is in a Republican primary. One of the things I do most campaign seasons is in primaries in Illinois (it doesn’t happen in all states), you have to get signatures on a petition to get on the ballot. You have to have a certain amount of valid signatures.

Quite often it is obvious that an opponent of a candidate of mine or someone I like or someone I am supporting or someone I am advising doesn’t have enough valid signatures. The minimum might be five hundred and they will come in with six hundred or seven hundred. Then if you look at it, you know there are problems with them.

I am not accusing anybody of anything, but I have seen situations where they printed a whole bunch of the signatures. Well, it says signatures. Printing is fine if that is how the voter signed their registration to vote, with a printed signature. But printing doesn’t mean a signature.

And many times it looks somebody faked them. A lot of the handwriting looks the same. There is this concept of round tabling where you take a petition and you have four or five people at a table. You just keep rotating the petition around the table so the next signature is different and the next signature is different. And then it gets back to the first signer again and they sign some others. That can happen.

Often what happens (and this happens a lot in Illinois) is we have gerrymandered districts. So it is very easy for a voter to think they are in a district and they are not. They are in the next district over because two blocks of some weird little shape takes them in somewhere else. They don’t know who is really representing them.

So it is quite common to find twenty or thirty percent of the voters who signed a petition aren’t registered to vote at all or aren’t registered to vote in that particular district. You’ve got to get almost double the signatures. Now often there are maximums and you don’t want to go over the maximum because that would disallow you.

But you want to get the minimum times two. Therefore if they go through and throw things out, you are still on the ballot. Most of these candidates are naïve. I am not going to say lazy; they just don’t have enough help. They need to work it.

They need to make sure that they’ve got twice as many signatures as they need so if someone like me wants to come along and I see there is twice as many. Usually I’ll take petitions and I will pull them, look them over, run through and spot check a few pages against a voter registration file.

I can find if they are good or bad or what percentage are running bad. Maybe there is ten percent on a page. I will do the math and see if ten percent is going to be enough to knock them off. If it is not, then I walk away.

But if they’ve only gotten six hundred and they needed five hundred, a hundred is not a big margin for safety. If I go through and I see they are running twenty or twenty-five percent not in district, I know I’ve got an easy shot here. So then I will go to an election law attorney and have them file the paper work.

They go through the process. It is a fair process. The board of elections goes through every signature that is being protested that I’ve filed a complaint on.

Usually I don’t do this myself. I usually get volunteers or someone from the campaign. They sit down and they go through these. They make up little notes about each one: “Can’t find this address. Can’t find anyone registered at this address. Signature is not legible.” They make a list of reasons why this doesn’t fly.

And then we take that to the board of elections. You sit down with someone from the board of elections and they pull up every file, every name, every one that is being protested.

The person is there to defend themselves or has a representative defend them. We are allowed to have someone there to do the protest to go through. Usually we do that with volunteers so we tie up attorney, candidate, and campaign time.

And they go through it. In the end, if they cannot find enough ballot signatures, there is also a period where they can run around and get affidavits signed by the voter who signed the petition saying, “That is me. I did sign it. I am registered to vote.” They can come back a week later with those. If they can beat it, they can defend their petitions, then everything is fine.

As I said, I have been pretty successful at knocking people off the ballot. What does that do? Well, it saves having a primary challenge in some cases. In some places and cases, I do like having a primary challenge. I’ve said that in other podcasts. Primaries are good because it gives you a reason to get your people moving, build a machine, gives you a deadline, and makes you push.

But some candidates just shouldn’t be on the ballot. It’s part of the game. It’s fair game. And, yeah, you got knocked off. Okay, what did you learn? Next time go get more signatures. Next time make sure you’ve got twice as many or three times as many.

Work harder. Do a better job. Make sure people are in district. One way to know the voter is in district is if you go door to door. That can be slow. But going door to door, you know they are in the district because you’ve got a map of the district in your hand. Before you print that walk list, you print it on voters who are registered in that district. Therefore you know those are good, valid signatures.

So there’s lots of ways to protect yourself as a candidate from getting attacked. You won’t get attacked in this way if you’ve come in and taken care of those things of having extra signatures and making sure the signatures are from in district.

I hope you’ll remember to always try and keep politics fun. Sometimes we forget. I know I did until this weekend and I was reminded about just the joy I have being with different people and being out there in what is going on.

Yeah, I am always driven about making it a better world. But there is also that whole fun side, that social side. Don’t forget that. That’s really important in building an effective campaign.


I’d love some feedback. If you have questions or things you didn’t understand or comments or you literally need coaching help, I am here. I offer a free half hour of coaching. You can find me at john@commonwealthy.com.

Or go take a look at the website. If you look on the right side, there is a place you can leave a voicemail message for me. Or if you want to make a comment and you want it played, click on the right hand side. It is a system called SpeakPipe. You can record a message to me.

I always look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for listening!

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