Campaigns exist to win. To do this, they mobilize all the resources at their disposal to get their supporters out to vote. Whether the candidate is a seasoned campaign professional running for her second term as Governor or a first-timer looking at challenging the incumbent in a local school board race, every campaign relies on the same basic tools and building blocks for success. This chapter explains what your local candidate’s campaign HQ is thinking, and how your Indivisible group factors into their thinking.
What the Campaign Wants
Campaigns win by mobilizing people, media and money. The specific tactics that campaigns use for fundraising, communications, and volunteer coordination will vary depending on the circumstances of the campaign and the campaign manager’s personal style. But, when coupled with messaging, these three elements are the foundation of every campaign.
People: When you get right down to it, people are the most important electoral resource. People vote and are crucial to turning out other voters. They phonebank, canvass, staff campaign offices, recruit volunteers, build word-of-mouth excitement, orchestrate people- and media-attracting events, and donate. Pretty much anyone who’s worked a campaign will tell you that at the end of the day, the single most valuable resource is an engaged, supportive constituency.
Media: Media is all about getting a favorable image of the candidate out to voters. The number of voters you’re trying to reach will vary depending on your level of the ballot. The average congressional district has about 760,000 people and many Senators represent millions of constituents, whereas a county commission seat may only cover about 20,000 people and a local school board member may represent less than 300 people. The quickest way to reach the most voters is through media exposure, both “earned media,” and “paid media.” Campaign ads are one of the better-known forms of media. We’ve all seen them. They range from inspiring to corny to downright despicable.
In addition to this “paid media” of advertising, campaigns also seek “earned” media. Earned media is free media coverage of the candidate speaking at events, taking a stand on a policy issue, or giving interviews to the press. Candidates are relentless in seeking out earned media and extremely careful about crafting their image through these opportunities. Local Indivisible groups are well-positioned to generate opportunities for earned media coverage that the candidates wouldn’t otherwise have.
Money: Like it or not (we don’t), money in politics is a reality. The average winning campaign for the House of Representatives costs $1.8 million. The cost of the average Senate race is $13.5 million! Candidates (and incumbent elected officials) spend a TON of their time raising money so that they can afford to actually run their campaign.
You can tell a lot about a candidate from where they get their money. Some campaigns are largely fueled by small-dollar donations. Most candidates spend literally hours every day cold-calling rich people and asking for money. Often campaigns rely on Political Action Committees (PACs) that represent corporations or interest groups. For federal election candidates, you can find out who butters their bread at Open Secrets -- just search for the candidate’s name to find past and current lists of donors.