The following post is an adaptation of content previously posted at MPAPolitical.com. It was the second in an ongoing series of Conventional Un-Wisdoms that erode the quality of progressive campaigns. If you have crossed one of these Un-Wisdoms, or wish to “fact-check” something that you’ve heard about campaigning, or wish to talk to us about your potential campaign, please contact us here.
Conventional Un-Wisdom: In this district, you need to project a more moderate message, avoid sounding like or looking like a Dirty Hippie at all costs. To win, you need to win Republican votes, so you need to target them from the start. Make it a habit of “Hippie Punching” on a regular basis, it will give you the separation from those values you need to win.
This is very commonly recited in long held Republican districts, and some of the most established and well regarded political consultants and “celebrity politicos” push it on TV and in print. I’ve worked in some of the reddest districts and communities across America, from Utah County, Utah to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to western Iowa, to north Florida. I’ve found it doesn’t matter where you are in America or where you actually fall on the political spectrum, what matters most is the conviction you project. People respect leaders with the courage of their convictions, they want to know the person they are trusting to represent them in the halls of government have confidence in their own capacity and beliefs.
If you are running as a Democratic candidate and have Dirty Hippie values, whether your district is the bluest blue or the reddest red, the first steps are the same – build your base by engaging and motivating your base. As donors, as volunteers, as word of mouth message dissemination machines – you need this base to support the growth of your campaign to the strength needed to motivate the conversion of “less likely” supporters to join the team.
Some will encourage you to engage in “Hippie Punching”, the fine art of kicking the progressive movement in the teeth. Scolding those that would encourage you to act upon your values, giving them a backhand for calling you or your friends out for not doing enough to advance progressive causes. Mocking those that would have the audacity to suggest that options exist beyond what the beltway punditry have put forward. Don’t do it. Recognize that those most likely to support you are also going to be critical at times and constantly encourage you to be better. They are your motivating force, not your weakness. Applaud them, thank them, and punch the jackasses telling you to sell out instead. If you do “Hippie Punch,” you will alienate your most ardent supporters and still be tagged as being a dirty hippie, but worse, a dirty hippie that even the dirty hippies don’t like.
If you are a moderate, tried and true (which is exceedingly rare), you should be both proud of the party designation you have chosen and the beliefs you hold. You should project those beliefs with confidence and conviction, just as a dirty hippie should. It is the strength of your projected conviction that carries your support, energizes and motivates volunteers and donors to part with precious time and treasure. It is that perceived conviction that will get people in the center and on the opposite side of the political spectrum to support you, despite disagreements on a few particular issues or even nearly every issue. When you have a high level of distrust/dissatisfaction for the incumbent, this is the greatest opportunity for these “cross-over votes” from registered members of the opposite party. You don’t target these votes, they come to you as a result of the strength of your campaign, the desire for a change and the passion and conviction you project. Some will be caught by mass media efforts, some will be motivated by earned media coverage, but the most impressive means of “converting” registered members of the opposing party is word of mouth/personal networks.
For word of mouth/personal networking to have any chance of playing a significant role in the outcome of an election, you must understand the ‘physics’ of communications among a chain of people. The minimum
chain of communications is Candidate > Supporter > Voter, where the candidate has direct and intimate contact with the supporter who then is motivated and conveys their passion to a voter they have a personal relationship with, persuading them to join them in support of the candidate. If you are running in a district of 10,000 votes, this short chain may work fine, but if you need upwards of 30,000 votes, you will need to recognize that with every ‘link in the chain’, the level of energy/passion/conviction dissipates a bit, until you reach the Ferris Bueller chain of indeterminable relation where the end of the line is not going to convince anyone to join the cause. The stronger the projection of passion and conviction from the candidate, the more ‘links’ can be placed in the chain and still support campaign growth. If you start from mild, lacking conviction and passion, minimally inspiring, you aren’t going to gain any votes beyond direct contact. If you are Rep. Alan Grayson or Senator Bernie Sanders, you can support chains longer than a dozen people (which luckily for Sanders is nearly all the voters in his state).
In a well executed (and some what idealized) situation, by the later stages of the campaign, a number of registered Republicans who passionately support the campaign will have been identified and those supporters will make calls to potentially persuadable registered R’s and NPA/3rd party voters. Using their own personal narrative, why they have chosen to cross party lines, they will have a much better chance of persuading conversions, and be less likely to motivate voters for the opposition. Dirty Hippie volunteers calling registered R’s is never a good idea. In a particularly wild demonstration of “Un-Wisdom”, a 2008 Congressional campaign gave Jim Dean of DFA (brother of Howard) a canvassing list that was 50% R, 40% NPA and 10% D. Exactly what does Jim Dean say to a Republican to convince them to vote for a DFA Endorsed candidate for Congress? In the late stages of a campaign, the focus must be GOTV, reaching out to your own identified supporters and high percentage unidentified voters (registered D, likely voters, of favorable demographics) and getting them to the polls. If you are putting your resources in September and October into contacting Republicans and unknown NPA/3rd party voters, you are more likely to active votes for your opponent.
Back to the beginning, if the district is 28% Democratic, 38% Republican and 44% NPA/3rd Party, basic math tells you that you need all or nearly all the Democratic vote, a majority of the NPA/3rd party vote, but keep in mind some percentage of those voters are more conservative than the registered R’s, so maybe 25% from D’s, 22% from NPA/3rd, leaving you a need to get 5% from the Republican spectrum, since we aim for 52%. If you focus on getting those 5% of R’s, you will bleed voters from the other two spectrum, requiring you to get more R’s to compensate – this creates a situation were you are basically bailing out a sinking boat with a spoon. If you project strength and passion, you will gain votes you were never accounting for and gain more monetary and volunteer support with which to further disseminate your message. Additionally, you will increase turnout rates among your “base demographics,” while your opponent may see reduced turnout. Given that few election contests in America see turnout over 60% overall, and more often well below that level, there is no need to panic at being “out-numbered” by the opposition party, just do a better job of getting your people out to vote and that gap disappears pretty quick.
Beyond the numbers above, one must further understand the dynamics of cyclical elections on communities. If there is no competitive candidates from one side for a number of cycles, the other side gains ground in both the numbers and the rhetoric projected by the community, inserting strong candidates to counter that for one or more consecutive cycles can neutralize that effect and create a very competitive district where it appeared impossible previously. The numbers can also be overcome with a very emotional action or event, from personal scandal/corruption to a devastating blow to the community like a natural disaster or economic strife.
The long term effects are more pronounced and dangerous – if today’s candidate avoids progressive symbols and rhetoric, they reinforce the negativity of those symbols and positions, making it even harder for the next candidate. If you win eschewing the party, you make your re-election harder and you make it harder for candidates above and below you on the ballot. While you should not blindly support anyone who carries the same party identifier as you, you should support those who share the bulk of your beliefs and you believe to be honorable and decent. In the end it will foster a stronger opportunity for you to effect the changes that motivated you to run in the first place.
In short, be proud of your Dirty Hippie values, speak about them with passion and confidence, and your supporters will step up and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Play the middle like a sissy, and you’ll be all alone election night, feeling like a hooker that took a bad check.
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