Supporting a candidate for Council: Not too early to start | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

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By Douglas Moran

Supporting a candidate for Council: Not too early to start

Uploaded: Jan 6, 2014

There has been much talk about having Council members from outside the political establishment, and the policies and attitudes that that group represents. Although the election is 10 months away, this is when the serious considerations typically begin--the reporters have already started calling around.

Although the public campaigning doesn't begin until after Labor Day, putting together a campaign committee isn't trivial. Even established political figures, with their networks and experience, tend to start no latter than May or June.

Insurgent candidates need to start much earlier: Finding and shaking out the core campaign team works best when the campaign is not on deadline.

The extended campaign team is just as crucial to victory. Although it doesn't need to be organized as early, potential candidates try to get a sense of whether they have enough early support to have confidence that such a team will coalesce. What they need to hear is that people are willing to work for their election. But if people are simply telling them that they should run, or that they would vote for them, the wise choice is to not run.

Many people shy away from participating in local campaigns because of various misconceptions. They don't think that they have the skills needed because they think only of the highest profile aspects of campaigning. And they badly underestimate the total amount of work, and the number of volunteers, needed.
Aside: In the 2012 Presidential campaign, Obama's victory was widely attributed to his having a far superior "ground game"--more local volunteers and better use of their efforts.

At the simplest level of participation in a campaign is old-fashioned social/political networking. Most of the electorate decides who to vote for based on relatively little information (a fact, not for discussion here). Although information from friends-and-family is among the most influential (foot#1), many people who have become knowledgeable about the issues and candidates are understandably reluctant to pass it on until they know how it will be received. If you start now, you can gauge who is interested in what, for example, starting with an offhand comment that requires no response, and if they display interest, moving on in subsequent encounters to progressively more substantive exchanges.

The next stage up is holding a "coffee". This involves inviting friends and neighbors to your house to meet a candidate or group of candidates in an informal interactive setting. While the coffees happen in September and October, earlier commitments help.

If you want to participate on a candidate's campaign committee, but don't feel comfortable discussing the issues with strangers, that can be a real advantage: That is where there is often the biggest need, and the shortest supply. For example, there are a range of tasks needing the detail-oriented aptitudes, attitudes and skills, such as you find among people who are/were administrative assistants or engineers in their professional lives. The crucial role of Treasurer requires a major commitment, but there are others, such as managing the distribution and installation of lawn signs which have time commitments that are both lower and more flexible.

Similarly, skilled IT people are much needed: for the web site, for the various social media, for mass emails. Campaigns need people not just to manage the technical details, but to customize the content to the culture and conventions of the specific media.

And there are tasks such as distributing campaign literature to doorsteps that involve no special skills, simply a willingness to invest a couple of hours on a day or two.

Many of the campaigns I have seen are dominated by people whose experience is in smaller organizations where there is a lot of direct contact between people. They have no intuition of the problems with reaching the many thousands of voters needed to win. Consequently, their plans seem more suited to an electorate of a few hundred voters. People with experience scaling-up to this level, such as those with professional backgrounds in marketing and sales, can be valuable to campaigns. (foot#2)

A piece such as this should end with instructions of whom to contact if you are interested. But I don't have any such list (yet). Rather, this is to help people who are interested in supporting insurgent candidates to start thinking about how they could participate, and to be on the lookout for what will likely be happening in the next month or two.

---- Footnotes ----

1. Friends-and-Family as important information sources: From surveys conducted after the 2009 Council election (results) and the 2007 School Board and Council election (results).

2. "value to campaigns": Valuable, yes; appreciated, maybe. Remember that this being Palo Alto, there are people who believe that their sheer brilliance obviates the value of your experience and knowledge. If this is the case, recognize it and walk away. Life is too short.

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