Endorsements Guide: Why Candidates Care About Your Indivisible Group

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 average congressional district has about 700,000 people and many Senators represent millions of constituents. 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 $1.3 million. The cost of the average Senate race is $10.4 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.

Different Campaigns, Different Mindsets.

Campaign professionals are used to working across a range of different types of races. Some of these differences will be familiar to many voters: elections can be statewide, like races for Governor or Senator, or confined to a single geographic district. They can be federal, where the winner moves out of state to represent their constituents in Washington, or take place on a state or local level.

Just as important as whether a race is state or local is what type of election the candidate is running in. There are a few key types of elections:

  • Primary elections with an incumbent are elections in which a new candidate is challenging a member of their own party who currently holds office. Incumbents often build up large campaign bank accounts and endorsements to scare away primary challengers. But they know that turnout in primaries is much lower than in other elections, and so results are more unpredictable than general elections.

  • Primary elections with an open seat are primary elections without an incumbent.  These primaries happen when an incumbent chooses to resign, leaving a seat open, or in cases where one party will be challenging an incumbent of the other party in the general election. While front-runners often emerge, open primaries are often real free-for-alls, attracting multiple candidates. For this reason, and because turnout is usually low, no race is more unpredictable than an open primary.

  • General elections with an incumbent are elections in which a candidate challenges a current officeholder from another political party. Typically, this will involve Democrats challenging Republicans or Republicans challenging Democrats, but general elections can also include Independents, as well as Libertarians and Green Party members. Generally, candidates will move to the center politically in the General, but every state and district are different. Cook Political Report is a great resource to take the political temperature of your state or district. 

  • Open general elections are elections without an incumbent. In these cases, both major parties usually field candidates that they’ve chosen through a primary election. These candidates then face each other, along with any candidates from other parties, in the general election. General elections are typically, but not always, held in early November. 

Why Campaigns Care about Your Indivisible Group 

Indivisible groups are a legitimate source of political power. While money flows into campaigns from just about every direction, independent groups of locally-based, engaged constituents are quite rare in American politics. Campaigns ignore individuals or organizations without real people power all the time. Indivisible groups around the country have demonstrated that they have real people power that is impossible to ignore and that they’re committed to progressive action.

Your Indivisible group’s support is valuable. Campaigns seek an Indivisible group’s support -- either informally or through an official endorsement -- because it will help them get money, media, or people.

Because of the value of your group’s endorsement, you should think carefully about how to engage with candidates, how to make these decisions, and what type of campaign support you can commit to providing if you decide to support a candidate. Read on -- that’s the subject of Chapter 2.