Every cycle I find myself visiting with candidates at all levels who have gone through all of the stereotypical moves one thinks a campaign needs: logo, website, Facebook, Twitter, signs of various sizes, letterhead, contribution envelope, bumper sticker, pushcard, and t-shirt. From all outward appearances they have a campaign.
After two basic questions it becomes obvious that most candidates lack the basic facts and data one would need to mount a real campaign.
Me: What’s your magic number?
Candidate: What’s that?
Me: The number of votes you need to win?
Candidate: Oh, I don’t know. I think there were about (crazy guess that’s always way off) voters last election.
Me: The last midterm or presidential?
Candidate: I don’t know. I think presidential. Is that important?
Me: How many positive IDs do you have?
Candidate: What do you mean?
Me: How many people have said they will vote for you?
Candidate: I think there’s a lot of support out there. I was endorsed by (fill in the blank) and I think that will help.
Me: So do you have a list of yeses…of people who said they would vote for you?
Candidate: How/Where do I get that?
It doesn’t matter how many t-shirts you’ve given to casual supporters and people you will never see again, it doesn’t matter how many bumper stickers are sitting on a shelf in your HQ that will never see the light of day, and, I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but it really doesn’t matter how many yard signs you have randomly put out if you don’t know the answer to these two basic questions about your electorate.
Questions 1 & 2 come in that order because that is the order one should employ in a campaign: if I need 10,500 votes to get to 50%, I need to accumulate at least 10,501 positive IDs in order to stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. You can go a little out of order and start accumulating positives before you know your magic number, but sooner or later you must know how many you need or you will not know when to stop accumulating and shift to other activities like suppression and GOTV.
The good news is that if you have not figured out your magic number by 7 days out, it isn’t too late.
The bad news is that if you have not accumulated enough positive IDs (or any, as is frequently the case), it is too late.
The final week of a campaign should be entirely centered around getting your positives out to vote. If you have no list to get out, you have all of the accoutrement of a campaign but no real campaign. You have effectively bought an election lottery ticket: you may win, but it will not be because of your campaign efforts but rather outside forces of which you exerted minimal influence over.
So, if you can answer Questions 1 & 2, congratulations! The onus is now on you and yours to make it happen. If you cannot, may the odds be ever in your favor.
The Voter Games are cruel. There can only be one victor.