Organize the Chaos

In the final 72 hours, even the most well run campaigns descend into “organized chaos,” says Jen Harrington, director of special projects at the Prosper Group. It makes maintaining some semblance of control crucial, and that starts with the campaign’s senior staff.

The last thing you need is an intern stealing an opponent’s lawn signs or a candidate committing a careless email gaffe. Find a way to channel the last-minute intensity into productive uses, advises Democratic strategist J.J. Balaban. “What you really don’t want to do in the last 72 hours is to make mistakes,” he says. “Emotions get very high; you don’t want the last taste in the mouth of the voters to be some scandal or malfeasance.”

Any event your campaign puts on in the last 72 hours should be about turning voters into volunteers to help get even more voters to the polls, Harrington says. Every communication should advertise Election Day and direct voters to the nearest polling location. Spending resources on rallies, TV ads, mail or social media that fails to tie back to the impending vote is a waste.

“People get focused on their victory night party, which is irrelevant and unfortunate, if you don’t win,” Harrington says. Strategy during the final push must remain malleable.

“Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,’” says Nuckels. He suggests a data-driven game plan with times set aside for campaign management to pause and reflect throughout the last three days. Flexibility is critical in the final days given that most undecideds aren’t seeking information about your candidate until very late in the game, says Balaban.

“There’s a not insignificant portion of the electorate that starts thinking about the campaign maybe 48 hours before they go to vote,” he says. “So it’s important not to make assumptions.”

Election Day

Here’s where the campaign and candidate really need to be flexible. A good deal of thought should be put into your candidate’s itinerary, as well as the itinerary of his or her top surrogates on Election Day, says Ben Nuckels.

Where the candidate, family members and top surrogates are positioned on Election Day could make a real difference on turnout in a close contest. So spend some time thinking about where their presence might have the greatest impact on turnout. Sometimes you’ll need a big name, while other times you’d want a local one in a certain location.

Nuckels suggests two senior strategy meetings on Election Day itself—one at noon and another at 4 pm. Take that time to carefully look over data from bellwether polling locations to determine whether your turnout plan is working the way you anticipated. Even with just a few hours left before the polls close, campaigns should still be making strategic decisions regarding the allocation of resources and manpower.

One thing to avoid on Election Day, says Phillips, is spending too much time and manpower on a campaign sign blitz. Candidates and organizers are much better served by spending their time talking to voters in the final hours, rather than standing alongside local roads with signs.

“Traditional person-to-person calling is still the best way to reach out—local folks calling other local folks,” Phillips says. Local organizers are powerful phone bankers in the last 72 hours, and the same holds true for door-to-door work. In a close contest, none of those efforts should shut down until the polls close.