Municipal elections are well underway, and a lot of hopefuls are gearing up for 2020 campaigns. It’s time to refresh some old campaign wisdom.
Some rookie candidates, beguiled by the supposed glamour of running for political office, are surprised to learn that successful campaigns are actually short on glitz, and long on lots of hard, laborious, pick-and-shovel work.
But it is the boring and tedious stuff that wins campaigns. Myriad details must be taken care of. Candidates who question the value of doing all the little things usually end up losing.
It’s human nature for candidates and campaign workers to want to be out doing big, glamorous things, like engaging in high-profile debates, giving speeches, filming television spots, doing media interviews, holding high-level strategy meetings and visiting editorial boards.
But those things won’t win an election unless they are supported by a solid foundation built through a lot of attention to detail, detail, detail—all the little, boring things that ultimately add up to success: developing lists of targeted voters, stuffing envelopes, printing and production, responding to calls, e-mails and letters, building a volunteer team, following up with donor prospects, recruiting and training grassroots workers, putting up lawn signs, building one-on-one relationships, and so forth.
I remember working into the wee hours, night after night, in a statewide campaign I managed. At about 10:30 or 11 p.m., just for the fun of it, we’d call our opponent’s campaign headquarters to see if they were still working. They never were. I can’t guarantee, for certain, that it was our long hours, hard work, and attention to the myriad details that won that election, but it was certainly a big factor.
Political success usually results from a million little things coming together at the right time. All campaigns seek for the holy grail of a political race: momentum. But momentum doesn’t fall on a candidate’s head. It doesn’t occur spontaneously. Campaigns have to create their own momentum by a lot of hard work.
A winning campaign is hour after excruciating hour of work and more work, with plenty of wondering if you’re making any headway, especially if your opponent is getting more headlines. But if you’re working smart, getting the fundamentals done right, focusing on the details, then all those little things will culminate in a big win at the end.