It’s not easy to head into a new state looking for campaign work and no one wants to offend a prospective employer. Knowing that political-types can be a sensitive bunch when state pride is on the line, make sure you bone up on the region you’re heading into. Here are five common pitfalls:
1. Pronunciations Mispronouncing a city or, worse yet, state name is the easiest way to raise peoples’ hackles, says Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based GOP consultant and top advisor to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In the Granite State, the town of Berlin has emphasized the first syllable of its name since World War II to distinguish it from the German city. Emphasize the second syllable in front of a local and you’re likely to get an earful. Or take Bexar County in Texas, where San Antonio is located. Carney recalls a Democratic pollster rattling of how well he knew the county—all the while pronouncing the silent “x”.
Another state where you better get the pronunciation right: Nevada. It’s (Nuh-VAD-uh). The progressive training organization, The Atlas Project, includes a list of pronunciations in their state briefings. Some commonly mispronounced cities: Norfolk, Va.; Worcester, Mass.; Medina, Ohio; and Marin County, Calif.
2. Traditions We all remember John Kerry’s Philly cheesesteak debacle. “In Philadelphia, you have two important decisions to make: Pat’s or Geno’s and then Cheez Whiz, plain, provolone or American cheese,” explains Jef Roe, a Republican consultant. “Hint: John Kerry tried Swiss cheese and that didn’t go well.”
In Montana, Roe says, many statewide campaigns set an entire weekend aside to make 4-by-8 wooden campaign signs. And in Alaska, Carney describes the scene on election night—where both candidates and their supporters hold a revolving street party at the convention center in downtown Anchorage—as “orchestrated chaos.” While certain traditions might seem silly to an outsider looking in, they can be intensely important for local politicos. Aspiring staffers should be mindful of that and never take them lightly.
3. Pastimes Make sure you’re familiar with a state or region’s local leisure activities before you interview for a campaign gig. In some states—Ohio for example—high school football may take precedence over a campaign event on a given Friday night. The Atlas Project’s Ashley Spillane says in the fall Friday night football and Saturday Ohio State games are sacred. You simply can’t schedule events that conflict with local sports in some parts of the country—though the games themselves are great for candidate appearances and maybe even lit drops.
4. Terms Certain buzzwords in certain states can be just as offensive as botching their names to people in politics. You should always say “gaming” in reference to casinos in Nevada, instead of “gambling.” It was gaming that was illegal in the state from 1910 to 1931. The change came in order to boost tax revenue and improve tourism.
5. History Similar to their pronunciations, most states place a tremendous amount of stock in their history. One easy mistake to avoid: state vs. commonwealth. Four states are legally named commonwealths: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s simply a title meant to distinguish their governments as legitimate through common consent, rather than royal colonial status, but some states take it more seriously than others—namely Virginia. The Atlas Project advises would-be campaign staffers to avoid calling Virginia a state if you’re looking to land work there.