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We’re into the thick of presidential primary season when the political world and voters’ attention is aimed at the top of the ticket. If you’re a political junkie, you live for this time every four years. 

But too often for down-ballot campaigns the presidential primaries are an unavoidable distraction during the incredibly important first two quarters of an election year. Success in the early going is the foundation of any winning campaign, and you must find a way to limit these distractions. 

Avoiding the pitfalls of presidential primary season largely relies on finding a way to harness the momentum that the interest at the top of the ballot can create, while at the same time ensuring your message doesn’t get lost in all that noise. 

Use the Momentum 

Presidential primaries activate the party base and help shape a national political narrative that become part of the public consciousness throughout the presidential year. There are several ways to tap into this momentum on the local level. You should host debate watch parties at your campaign office in an effort to recruit volunteers for your budding field operation. 

Your field staff will thank you and your volunteers will be energized to carry your message to the voters. You can also use the primaries to your fundraising advantage. Focus your call time targets to donors who are partisan loyalists after a major debate or televised event. You may spend a few extra minutes on the phone, but as any good call time manager will tell you: conversation leads to collection.

Getting your donor targets talking, even about the presidential primaries, is a great way to breakdown barriers and build relationships. Find a way to take advantage of the building momentum in the national climate. Your campaign cannot sustain a first quarter being on the sidelines and an afterthought to your potential donors and volunteers.

Don’t Let Your Message Get Lost

What’s the biggest trap during presidential primary season? Losing focus on your own message. That means you also need to find a way to divert focus from the in-vogue issue of the primaries to an issue that you’ve well researched and is within your message frame. 

Remember, you’re wasting time if your campaign is talking about an issue that’ll not directly impact the voters in your election. Trust your research and determine how close or distant your campaign should be from the presidential race.

Take the time to script out responses to questions that involve a nationally focused issue and use these talking points in interviews, with volunteers, and with donors. 

Practice message discipline. Your campaign may sound like a broken record, but remember that local elections are about convincing voters that you have the background and capability to solve everyday problems. 

Be Mindful Of Your Budget

If you allow the presidential primaries to be a distraction, they have the ability to cripple your fundraising operation and negatively impact your budget. The first quarter of any election year is critical to the perception of electability. First, budget low and maintain a low overhead through the first quarter. 

Doing this will allow you to retain the most dollars possible leading up to the first campaign finance report of the election year. Are the presidential primaries impacting your digital fundraising program? Incorporate strategies to boost your low-dollar digital donations. 

Taking this precaution will allow you to continue to build a digital donor base for your fundraising program, which can be activated throughout the race. A large number of individual contributors will also be perceived as fundraising potential. 

Incorporate the strategies needed to ensure you’re staying on message, building volunteer capacity and collecting the funds necessary to keep your campaign strong. All of this can be accomplished through adequate planning, message discipline and tapping into the building momentum of presidential primaries. 

JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Media, and a veteran campaign operative. Follow JR on twitter @JustinRyanS