Truly organic campaigns are few and far between. “Astroturf” and “grasstops” have become buzzwords in recent years because conventional wisdom says that winning solely on the grassroots has gone the way of the whistle stop tour. In 2008, the Obama campaign (which was essentially a very professional organization masquerading as an organic movement) brought back the whistle stop, and I believe that 2010 will see a resurgence in the effectiveness of true grassroots operations.
The Tea Party movement has shown us that the populist sentiment will get a place in the debate and the increasing number of draft efforts will lead to organic candidates taking office. We will start to see organizations and citizens groups choose their candidate instead of hopeful candidates reaching out to them. There are potential pitfalls in the new dynamic, however.
Candidates, in a general psychological sense, must be leaders–but what does that mean exactly? Someone who is an acknowledged expert in physics or educational design may be brilliant but lack the people skills needed to bind coalitions. Sports and Hollywood idols may be seen as somebody special when, in fact, they are simply ordinary people with a very extraordinary—and specific—talent. If they are the chosen ones, they may lack the broader intellectual curiosity that it takes to be a successful candidate.
There is also the small matter of role reversal. Candidates are accustomed to setting the tone in a race but, in the new order, the grassroots determine what is important to them and the candidate responds. Where the original movement may have been fans of Dr. Smith because he is an expert in healthcare delivery systems, he may determine that Medicare reform is central to changing the nation and may lose his followers in the process of centering his message there. Does the candidate control the campaign… or do the grassroots?
Candidates must be leaders. They cannot let an organic effort overwhelm them. The next vanguard will be akin to cat herding and, if a citizen is willing to answer the call, they must expect to lead. Good decisions are good decisions and they are rarely made by committee. The candidate must realize that when he says “yes” and signs on the dotted line, he is stepping to the front and that he will have two challenges: 1) beat his opponent and 2) harness the energy that brought him to the point of “yes.”
Even in the forthcoming age of organic politics, when we attempt to elect candidates who share our views and who are willing to stand up to “business as usual,” there will have to be hard decisions made. America seeks new leadership and it will not be enough for a candidate to simply sign on the line and put their name on the ballot.
The hard work will still be necessary. Ads will still have to be produced, all of those soc-net portals will have to be managed and events will have to be coordinated. Production, management, and coordination take people—but people still need to be led. That part is up to the candidate… even if the people got him into the game. The consultant’s job will be to make him the dominant player.