Because it pays, and because I ammasochistic on some level, I cover a lot of political campaigns.
State house races. State senate races. Public defender, state attorney, U.S. House, U.S. Senate. And a couple others I can’t remember offhand.
I deal with a lot of campaigns and a lot of candidates. And after they get elected, a lot of “public servants.”
In this capacity, and in the spirit of the political season, I’d like to offer free advice to any aspirant or current member of the political class … especially those who have designs on winning, or getting re-elected, or having a political future.
The first piece of advice: Get your money right before you run.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The mechanics of politics, as we learn every campaign cycle, are driven by capital. Why?
Consultants cost money. Polling isn’t free. Ads — TV, mailers, and everything more high-tech than smoke signals, Morse code, and megaphones — all of these are driven by COH: cash on hand.
You can tell when a candidate is losing the money race, or at least underperforming.
“Oh, we’re running a grassroots campaign,” is one phrase a person might say. Which is sort of like saying, “We’re running against the establishment fat cats.”
This comes a week or two before that person attempts to gin up free media by saying how “proud” he or she is to “not accept PAC money,” or something along those lines.
This false bravado is a smokescreen. Always. What it says is that there were some conversations with the money people, and those conversations went poorly.
It’s easy to figure out what you need to
The price tag on a real state house run is likely around $150K. City Council: $100K at least, $250K to be on the safe side. U.S. House? Better have a cool million on hand.
If you don’t get your money squared away early, and you launch on the empty assurances of people who are clearly going to back someone else, here’s what’s going to happen.
You’re going to compromise your brand, become identified as that ‘also ran’ candidate, and set yourself up for future similar candidacies.
If you’re really unlucky, as one U.S. House candidate was over Memorial Day weekend, your son might hop on Twitter and go to war with a reporter whose only crime was writing about how you’re getting pasted in the money race.
Then you get to find out how deep your support is. Or how thin.
The second piece of advice: Develop good relationships with the media.
The media carries your water: Don’t bullshit them.
If you’re feeding them opposition research, otherwise known as “oppo dump” material, on an opponent, make sure it is actually credible. Provide paper backup. Make sure it’s not some warmed-over crap that’s been reported already.
Outrage is like flash paper, vivid,
Don’t be that candidate, or that operative, sending links to three-year-old newspaper articles about an opponent. (Alvin Brown had an army of those serving up stale hits on Lenny Curry. But at least they got paid.)
Most journalists — at least half, according to a recent survey — can read. Even more than that can use Google.
You want to have exclusives to launch.
You want to cultivate your media contacts, and keep them all fed.
There is a direct correlation between the quality of coverage that you get and how well you cultivate that coverage.
Some politicos don’t get it. These are the same ones who garden without planting seeds, and wonder why they have a fallow field.
The third piece of advice: Don’t berate the media.
It works for Donald Trump, yes, but everyone in the entertainment media will tell you that Trump loves the press, and Trump’s shtick that “the media is so dishonest” is just pabulum for the rubes in the repo-ed split-levels and double-wides.
Chances are that neither you nor your candidate is Donald Trump. Chances are much better that you or your candidate is a sallow, out-of-shape mediocrity in a bad suit.
IJS, of course.
I can think of a certain candidate or three who has a default mode of blaming the media for its coverage of him or her. It doesn’t go well. And it is avoidable.
The final piece of advice: Be like Ronald Reagan.
I know — we all had Reagan overload after the GOP primaries. Everyone claimed to be the heir to Reagan. But no one understood the gimmick.
The shtick involves a neutral-tone suit, a well-honed sense of comic timing, and the ability to be self-effacing and project warmth.
It doesn’t matter if you or your candidate actually have warmth. Chances are good that you’re a “kiss-up, kick-down” type like many politicians.
You gotta project it anyway.
One last note: Lots of people use quasi-religious talk. “I prayed on it before I stabbed you in the back” lines.
Still others are “honored and humbled” by every trifling thing that goes their way.
That’s not credible, except maybe to people under the influence of heavy narcotics.
In most elections, that’s not a majority vote.
[Note: I wrote “most.”]