Think you're ready to manage a congressional race?
It was 8:57pm on election night when a text message popped up on my cell phone from a friend at the Republican National Committee. It read, “It’s over… I am very proud of you. You did a hell of a job. You just knocked of a sitting member Kat.”
I stared blankly at my phone while a furry of volunteers peered over my shoulder at the computer screen in front me, checking returns. I quietly excused myself to the next room fighting the emotion and tears. My candidate—Ted Yoho—had just defeated 12-term incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns in a Republican primary.
A few deep breaths later I moved into the living room of my candidate’s home. Without warning, tears rushed to my eyes and Ted jumped of the couch. “Did we lose?” he asked with a quiet, fatherly kind of concern. With his family and friends looking on, I lost it. Through sobs, I managed to blurt out, “Washington reached out. We won!”
Chaos ensued with hugs, cheers and tears. Phones began ringing off the hook. Every sleepless night, staff disagreement, holiday parade and county fair in 100 degree Florida weather suddenly became worth it. We had taken on a 24-year incumbent with a $2.5 million war chest—and we had won. These are the moments that politicos live for and all first time managers should strive to experience. Of course, it didn’t come easy. Until you’ve been in the campaign manager’s chair, nothing can quite prepare you for it.
You want to be a campaign manager? Get ready to log some serious hours. In short, work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God. Here are some lessons I learned along the way.
Get your candidate to work the phones
No candidate likes raising money, but it’s a must. It’s your job to make the candidate comfortable with the campaign’s fundraising efforts. If you don’t, they are sure to fail. I tried everything from setting up a station with snacks and call sheets in an air conditioned office to an outdoor lawn chair next to a cooler of beer. Turns out, after months of missed fundraising goals and dozens of arguments, my candidate was most comfortable making calls while driving his truck from meeting to meeting. It worked so I shut up about it.
In addition to getting your candidate on the phone and working to build a good call list yourself, a benchmark poll is a must. A simple donor memo that has recent benchmark polling data can do wonders for your fundraising efforts. Businessmen and women want to see their money invested in a cause worthwhile. Pitch your candidate as a business investment and the return you see will help swallow the cost of that benchmark poll.
Eat humble pie
This is advice you should follow all day, every day. Learn to listen to your volunteers, your candidate’s friends and everyone in between. Listen to what they all have to say and learn to say thank you. The worst thing you can do is forget to acknowledge someone.
Also, remember that you don’t know everything and you don’t have all the answers. You may carry the title of manager, but the higher you rise, the more humble you will have to become.
Chances are you have limited resources, so what do you do? Get scrappy. Our main opponent was endorsed by every major conservative organization from the NRA to National Right to Life, not to mention a host of elected officials. We had Lynyrd Skynyrd.
We knew that the media wouldn’t pick this up, so we turned it into a radio ad and played it five times a day on every country and classic rock station in the district. We even put it on some of the talk radio stations for good measure.
Only have money for one commercial? Better make it really memorable. We did a spot with men in suits rolling around in a pig pen. The idea was to make voters remember Ted, and it worked.
Build a relationship with the candidate’s spouse
I am incredibly blessed that I have a great relationship with Carolyn, Ted’s wife. She is the one who keeps us all going. One of the first things any manager must do is reach out and start building bridges with the candidate’s spouse. When you need an ally who has your candidate’s ear, no one will serve you better than your candidate’s “better half.”