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.”
Ask an expert, but then ask three more
Consultants have been in the trenches. They’ve worked on campaigns. They know the business. They also make a living on your paid media and their “expert” advice. There are good consultants and there are bad consultants, so trust your gut feeling on this. I had one consultant who made me sit in the car during a meeting (Yes, he made me sit in the car in Florida for an hour in the dead of summer. Graciously, he cracked the windows for me.) He didn’t last long.
When you are looking to bounce ideas of someone, recognize that you can also call other managers, congressional staffers or party leaders. They can give advice for free.
You’re the face of the campaign, so act accordingly
When I was interviewing with my candidate and preparing to move from Denver to Florida, my Facebook page almost sunk me. There was no partying or drinking on my page. But somehow, my candidate’s wife thought I had been a stripper in college (I had just graduated). Within 15 minutes of getting a concerned call from Ted, I had my Facebook page clean as a whistle.
And when I arrived in Florida, there were wardrobe changes to be made. Heels got a little shorter, hemlines got a little longer and the clothes a little less fitted. When working a primary election with an older demographic, it’s important to be conscious of how you are perceived. Check your ego and just roll with it.
Know your numbers
Know the demographics and likely turnout for your district inside and out. Run different voter turnout scenarios until you are blue in the face. As a first time manager on the congressional level, people will test you and if you don’t know the answers, it will hurt your credibility.
Turn every negative into a positive
Is your candidate having a hard time asking for money? Turn that challenge into a fundraising appeal. One of our fundraising blasts: “Ted and Carolyn have always worked hard for everything they have which is why asking for donations is difficult or even downright awkward. However…”
Running out of yard signs? We told our supporters to take theirs out of the yard and place them near their polling place when they went to vote.
Believe in yourself and the campaign
Campaigns are emotional roller coasters. You will have a few days of riding high, great feedback from volunteers and then the next day you wake up to a crap storm. Campaigns are unpredictable, high pressure, high stress and they will leave you emotionally drained. These are the times when you need to believe in yourself more than anything or anyone. If I had a dollar for every person who told me I was a fool for managing Ted Yoho’s congressional campaign, I would be a very rich woman.
People will give you every reason to quit the campaign, but don’t bite. And don’t ever tell your candidate, staff or volunteers they are going to lose. Sometimes a quick call home to mom or a drive around the block blasting music can make all the difference in the world.
Kat Cammack is the campaign manager for Florida Republican Ted Yoho, who defeated longtime Rep. Cliff Stearns in an August primary.