When planning a campaign it’s wise to anticipate the issues and plan for your opponent’s message. Whether it’s a negative attack upon you or simply the opponent getting out their story you need to be able to frame the issues of the campaign. By using a campaign issue box you can sharpen your campaigns’ message.
In order to develop an understanding of this approach candidate A would sit down with the campaign committee and begin to list the important qualities of candidate A. After that is completed, the committee should look at any of candidate A’s negatives that might be raised by the opponent. In other words, candidate A’s “baggage”.
The next step is to do the same thing for the opponent, candidate B. Two things must take place here in order to be effective. You have to anticipate the opponent’s strengths and you have do opposition research. Every campaign needs to do opposition research and it should be done early in the campaign. The use and degree of negative campaigning is up to the candidate. Negative campaigning has its’ place if it is based upon facts and is not a personal attack. It allows the voter to draw a comparison between the candidates. Voters are entitled to know about a candidate’s record and suitability for the office the candidate is seeking.
On the positive side voters are less impressed with paper qualifications or the number of conferences a candidate has attended. Voters don’t always vote for the most qualified person. They want someone who is basically qualified but they also want someone who can communicate with them and cares about them. It’s not unusual to see candidates in any election who are great at policy questions but cannot connect with people. In order to get a better handle on developing a campaign message the best advice is to talk with voters. That’s why it’s really beneficial for a candidate to qualify by petition. It forces a candidate to talk with voters. For some campaigns filing by petition is not practical. There are other ways of meeting voters such as a neighborhood door to door campaign. Some clever candidates have even walked the state. Whatever it takes, talking with voters is a valuable way to understand the issues of an election.
Illustrated below is what a campaign issues box might look like after talking with voters and doing the proper opposition research. Note the themes that have been developed by each candidate.
CANDIDATE A on A
State Representative CANDIDATE B on B
Campaign theme: Leadership
-six years in legislature
-chairman of budget committee
-returned over $10m in taxes to the district
-perfect voting record from five different state organizations
-led coalition of business leaders against higher taxes
-ran a successful business for twenty years Campaign theme: Change
-held county office for four years
-endorsed by local newspaper
-record of changing county business practices
-served eight years in military
-demonstrated ability to work with both political parties
-has both a law degree and is a CPA
CANDIDATE B on A CANDIDATE A on B
Theme: On the wrong side of important issues
-opposed needed school improvements
-opposed new business incentives
-a maverick accountable to no one
-beholding to special interests Theme: Irresponsible and wasteful
-voted for more spending on every annual budget presented
-missed 65% of scheduled meetings
-two separate DUI arrests
-doesn’t answer mail from constituents
-failed to vote in two of last three primaries
As an example, a candidate will usually be successful if the election issues are focused on his/her strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses. That means candidate “A” should think in terms of a diagonal line in the issue box running from the upper left box to the lower right box. That should keep the campaign “on message”. The opponent “B” should concentrate on the same strategy, emphasizing “B’s” positives and “A’s” negatives.
Candidate A’s Message (positive)
Candidate B’s Message (positive)
Candidate B’s Message (negative)
Candidate A’s Message (negative)
If the voters begin to focus on the opposing candidate’s message your campaign will be on the defensive and in trouble. Message discipline is important in any campaign. Either you will define yourself to the voters or your opponent will do it for you. This simple illustration will help keep everyone involved in your campaign on message. Remember: The candidate who is able to frame the issue of the election usually wins the election.
Question: When should a candidate announce their campaign for an elective office and how do you begin a campaign?
Begin the campaign by being organized
It has been said that a voter must have at least 5-6 contacts by a candidate before name recognition takes place. If that is the case, then the best time to start your campaign is NOW. Many times candidates, particularly challengers, know a lot about the policy issues but are unable to get their campaigns off the ground because they don't know where to start. There is a temptation to announce their candidacy and then "see what happens". This can be a huge mistake unless there is such an overwhelming margin of voter support to the point that the election is a formality.
Every campaign should start with campaign committee appointments and the designation of a treasurer and a campaign manager. They can be volunteers. New candidates should talk with several people familiar with the political process who can lend knowledge as to how much work it takes to be a candidate and what it takes to win. After enough information has been garnered the candidate and the campaign committee should attempt to write a campaign plan.
The campaign plan for a local election needn't be a 200 page document that reads like a technical manual. It should start with a theory of how to win the election. It should then detail major elements like fundraising, communications, voter identification, and getting out the vote. A campaign calendar should be developed by working backwards from election day. It should include all of the deadlines for reporting, fundraising and notifications. It should also contain a campaign budget and a plan for keeping contacts. Once the candidate and the committee have agreed on a campaign plan the first step is fundraising.
Incumbents, unless term limited, should always be talking positively about running for re-election. Uncertainty will breed opposition. For incumbents, the election cycle never ends. It is always a good idea to have an advisory committee that encourages involvement with the electorate. Incumbents can often garner the support of the opinion leaders in the community by being in contact with them before any formal election campaign activity begins.
The difficulty of getting free media coverage
The so-called "campaign announcement" is just an event that is used to garner free publicity. Free publicity is also sometimes referred to as "earned media coverage" as opposed to "paid media coverage". Earned media coverage is the lifeblood of local campaigns which typically don't have the funds to use much paid media coverage. The difficulty is that many media outlets will not cover campaign announcements or for that matter any campaign activities.
For a challenger it is hard to get any media coverage because they are usually not well known. An incumbent usually is better known and can get some media coverage based upon the performance of their official duties. Some candidates have gotten earned media coverage by staging an event. We can all remember candidates who walked the state or filed their nominating petitions all at once or held public forums, etc. While local campaigns often think in terms of earned media coverage, the real secret in local campaigning is name identification. The more your name is out in the public the better your chances of victory. That's why it's helpful for candidates to join and participate in community organizations and events.