By Terry Benham
It was election night and most of the candidates were nervous about turnout and how that was going to affect their race. The night before, I had told my candidate to get a good night sleep and be confident in what was going to happen.
Since he had never run for office before, he didn't know what to expect. It was a closely contested– at least in appearance – primary election between 3 candidates and we felt confident of making the runoff.
Only I was confident of winning without one. This play had been run before. Our candidate gained 52% of the vote, avoided a runoff, and saved thousands of dollars. He did it the good old fashioned way . . . he identified his voters and got them to the polls.
THE NEED FOR GRASSROOTS
How many times have you been involved with a campaign and all people wanted to talk about is media. I'm a big fan of radio and TV but campaigns that talk about sinking resources into that before they have developed their turnout model make my head want to explode.
I can't count how many campaigns I have seen in my 18 years of campaign politics that lose because they bet their whole campaign on the success of their media strategy. Over my career, I have won over 70% of my races and I can tell you that I have never consulted a winning campaign that didn't have an effective ground game. The need for grassroots in your campaign should be the first and most important priority.
THE FOUR PILLARS OF A TURNOUT MODEL
There are basically four pillars that build a solid GOTV effort. The first pillar is identifying as many voters as possible and managing them into workable universes of future constituents. There are many ways to do this but the most efficient is to use paid vendors to gather data or buy pre-existing lists from professional vendors.
This exercise is critical and if you let some of your weak hearted supporters – or one of the 350 experts you are sure to meet on the street – talk you out of it, you are making a mistake.
Trying to run a GOTV effort without knowing who to contact (and who not to contact) is like putting money in the stock market without reading a single stock profile.
Every time your volunteers make a phone call or knock on a door or shake a hand at the county fair, they need to be gaining information and stockpiling it in a centralized location. Without information, you will waste thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours.
Now this point is important. You might want to make a note of this: The most important piece of equipment that your campaign will ever purchase is a good pair of shoes.
Door-to-door campaigning is my second pillar and perhaps my favorite of all campaign tactics. It is a great way to learn more about your district and your future constituents. It is a great way for voters to remember a down ballot face in a down ballot race, as well. If you have identified who the critical voters are for your election, it is only natural that you should pay them a visit.
Voters like to see candidates that are willing to work for it. It communicates hard work and leadership. Don't be afraid to shed a few pounds while showing the voters this election is important to you.
There was a candidate who once asked me to cancel a phone program because he had received two phone calls that were berating him over getting an automated campaign call. Ironically, he didn't hear from the other 4,000 that got the same call and I persuaded him to continue the program. He is the same guy that got 52% of the vote. Phone programs are valuable tools when done correctly.
That is why they are the third pillar of a strong GOTV effort. Yes I know that people don't want to get phone calls. Yes I know that you don't want to call those people. Yes I know that you believe it will cost you the election. But I also know it works at getting people to go vote. Any good grassroots consultant should know the dos and don'ts of campaign phoning. Don't be afraid of tactics that work. If they were as bad as you think, well, they wouldn't work.
But if your heart is really longing for spotlight and you have to plaster your face on something, the place to start is with the final pillar – direct mail. Before you buy a single ad of paid media, make sure your direct mail budget is covered. Don't have enough for direct mail and media? Narrow down your direct mail list and fund the mail program.
A picture is worth a thousand words and direct mail moves votes. Dollar for dollar, it is the most cost effective use of your “media” budget. You can design your “push card” brochure as a self-mailer and send it out to your district to introduce yourself. You can mail oversized postcards to drive home key issues in the campaign and target that message to specific voters.
You can send them a note and remind them of the importance of our right to cast a vote on Election Day. Direct mail is a critical communication tool and every campaign should make it part of their GOTV effort.
MAKING THE MODEL WORK
When it is all put together, a strong GOTV campaign will put your campaign in a position to win. John Q. Public is a registered voter and has voted three of the last four primary elections. Since the campaign knows what party he favors, they know that he is a likely voter in their election.
Mr. Public receives a phone call from a polling company to see if he has a preference in the upcoming primary election for state legislature. He doesn't. He is undecided. The next week, he gets a mail piece with the background of the candidate and the issues important to him.
The next week, there is a knock at his door and it is the candidate; going door-to-door – in the rain – and just wanted to stop by, introduce himself and ask for Mr. Public's vote. After a very pleasant 90 seconds, Mr. Public indicates he will keep the candidate in mind. Two days later, Mr. Public receives a note from the candidate, thanking him for his time and giving him feedback on a question that he had raised.
A few days before the election, Mr. Public receives another mail piece telling him of the importance of voting and the sacrifices that give us that right. A day later he receives an automated call from the candidate, left on his home voicemail while he is at work, reminding him of the early voting process and encouraging his vote on Election Day. No TV. No Radio. Just good old fashioned retail politics.
If you want a winning campaign, having a GOTV program will put you in the best position to achieve it.
Terry Benham is a Republican political strategist and managing
partner of Impact Management Group in Little Rock, Arkansas.
He is an expert in grassroots advocacy and has lectured
nationally and internationally on grassroots
campaigning and media relations.
Terry can be reached at Click here to contact this Author