As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take stock of what went well and what went horribly wrong in the art and science of campaigns and elections.
A number of other politicos contributed their own lists of the year's best and worst, and I've included many of them below. Have a look and let me know what we might have missed in the comments section. First, my own contribution: the Mindy Meyer campaign in New York. She gets my vote for best of 2012. Meyer's state Senate campaign was one of those gems that stuck with me through this year's elections. She demonstrated that an underfunded and outnumbered political campaign can get massive and consistent attention, good and bad, through unconventional means. She blew up on the blogosphere with her hot pink website that featured an "I'm Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO MIDI file (Remember those?). In addition, she held a pink-themed country club fundraiser complete with a live elephant and skipped her only televised debate. Her campaign was a riot to follow. All told, she was featured in the Huffington Post, Gawker, New York Magazine and countless other publications for her quixotic campaign. For the candidates that run in districts where the numbers doom them to failure at the outset, Meyer demonstrated that these candidates can effectively bring attention to an important issue, build their party or, heck, engage in shameless self-promotion with little money or overall support in the district. Keya Dannenbaum, from ElectNext, was thinking a little more seriously (and clearly for that matter). She offered three sets of winners and losers from 2012 on the tech front: Winner: Narwhal Loser: Orca In the world of earned media... Winner: Nate Silver Loser: partisan punditry Finally, Keya offers something from her wheelhouse... Winner: Big Data Loser: big society Brian Hanf, former executive director at Trail Blazer Campaign Services, had this to say about 2012: Best: A return to retail campaigning. Singling out the Nolan campaign in Minnesota's 8th District—specifically the campaign manager Michael Misterek, whom I have known for several years (and is now Nolan's chief of staff and also might be one of the best ground game field strategists/managers on the planet)—for what I see as the best thing in campaigning strategy and tactics (also used by Obama), a return to the 'real' ground game. I mean person-to-person asking of votes. For the last 20-30 years at the congressional and higher levels we have seen consultants push direct mail and TV.
While those things worked, I think those days are mostly over. You still need to build name ID, so I'm not saying to drop those things, but think about how and why you are doing them. Social Media gets the hype, but it is only a return to talking to constituents that is really the key to social media; that is to say, two-way conversations are back.
Worst: Everyone else who relied on the tactics of TV and direct mail. I don't consider this the worst offender, but a good example is the Romney campaign's tactics in the last few weeks of the campaign—millions spent on TV and direct mail without having someone to be the face of the campaign in the neighborhoods. Of course, the Romney campaign wasn't the only one. I don't consider either presidential a best or worst. Another head-to-head example was John Sullivan in Oklahoma and on the Republican side Jim Bridenstine. To abuse the words of Ron Faucheux from the December 1997 issue of Campaigns and Elections, strategy is the when and how, the tactic is the tool used to implement. At the Congressional level and higher, professional campaign folks have forgotten that those tactics were supposed to influence voters, and many of us were on auto pilot and didn't change tactics. The strategy may still work, but we need to tweak the tactics." Blogger Colin Delany, from epolitics.com, was also focused on campaign tactics and tools. Best investment: Obama's grassroots machine, both the technology and the people.
Worst investments: Runner up Romney spending $8.9 million on a transition office and staff, and conservative independent expenditure campaigns, which poured their money into premium-priced TV spots that were lost in the media clutter. As for the tools... Best tool: Data, for grassroots mobilization and ad targeting—Obama's
Worst tool: Robocalls—is there any evidence out there that they actually work? Finally, consultant Geoff Sharpe centered his year-in-review on the campaigns themselves: Best campaign: The 2012 gay marriage movement—after electoral loses stemming back to 1998, gay marriage was approved in four different states. Each victory represents an important achievement in the American civil rights movement.
Worst: Mitt Romney's internal polls—based on a report from The New Republic, the Romney campaign's internal polls showed him leading in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. The problem? They underestimated the number of youth, African Americans and Latinos who voted. So how about you? What campaigns were innovators in the industry or executed better than any others in 2012? What issue groups were most effective or fell flat on their face? If you have something to contribute to the best of or worst of 2012, leave it in the comment section below.Ben Donahower is a contributing editor to the free guide, Get Out The Vote To Win, and a campaign veteran. You can connect with Ben on Twitter at @iapprovethismsg.