Over the last year, I had the opportunity to interview operatives from around the country as host of the “Getting Elected” podcast. At the end of each interview I like to ask my guest, “What’s the biggest mistake you see campaigns and candidates making over and over?” Based on their answers, here are the four common mistakes that every campaign should resolve to avoid in 2014.
Neglecting to focus on the big picture In my interview with long-time campaign manager Ruben Alonzo we discussed several important aspects of launching and structuring a campaign. Over the years he has seen hundreds of campaign fumbles, but he believes that campaigns that “lose sight of the objective” are doomed to electoral failure.
He explains that candidates can get obsessed with anecdotal evidence that is based on a perceived problem. Due to this, candidates sometimes want to change the course of the campaign. Elections are won and lost based on facts and figures, he recommends you base decisions on facts, not a phone call from supporter who didn’t like your last mailer. Remember the mailer went out to thousands of voters and you only got a couple of phone calls.
Putting fundraising on the back burner Most candidates don’t run for office because they enjoy fundraising. Rather, they get involved because they’re passionate about their community and want to effect positive change. Joe Garecht, a fundraiser and author, explained that fundraising drives the whole campaign. When asked about the biggest mistake he sees campaigns make, Garecht responded with “relegating fundraising to the backburner.” He explains that the most successful campaigns put fundraising at the same level of importance as issue development, polling, research and grassroots organizing. “None of the other things can happen without fundraising,” says Garecht.
Focusing on the base alone Campaigns often get stuck focusing on their base and neglecting other voters. It’s easy to see why: Your base agrees with you. They volunteer for your campaign and they enjoy listening to you (most of the time). Jeff Stapleton, the former research director at the Arizona Democratic Party, explained on the show that this is where many campaigns fail. Often times, voters on the margin decide election, according to Stapleton, who encourages campaigns to spend the time and resources necessary to identify margin voters and engage them.
Sidelining the manager In almost every interview, in one form or another, my guest will explain that everyone on the campaign has a job, especially the candidate. The candidate is the only person who can be the candidate. Despite this clear job description, candidates seem to have a hard time not trying to act as the campaign manager. Having two people on the team trying to be the campaign manger and no one being the candidate will never end well.
As campaigns from around the country look to the 2014 elections I encourage you to keep these common mistakes in mind and do your best to avoid them.
Jason McDonald is a former political consultant and host of the “Getting Elected” podcast.