Tuesday, November 07, 2006

For Political Junkies Only

I've used my blog for a pretty candid discussion of my campaign, but I decided to leave the strategy discussion for election day. I wrote this post a few days ago so I wouldn't be either smug or full of second thoughts.

The election math: We have less than 3200 voters in the city, of which I expect about 2000 to cast ballots. I expect ~35% of the voters who cast ballots will not vote for city council. With a 4 person race for 3 seats, that means I need about 1000 votes to get a seat. Here's my strategy to get >1000 votes:
  • get name recognition
  • convert name recognition to support
  • get out the vote
First, some details on Oregon election law (note-- there will be some major changes in 2007). State law requires you to form a Candidate Committee if you plan to spend more than $300. This requires a few forms, and a dedicated bank account to handle all moneys collected or spent. If you keep your total income/ expenditures under $2000 you have much simpler reporting rules. My total expenditures were ~$1750, so I was allowed to follow the "light" reporting rules.

I funded my campaign with money contributed by friends, most in $50 chunks. $50 is a magic number in Oregon-- the state allows a $50 credit on your income tax for qualified political contributions, so many of my friends will get their $50 back when they file their Oregon state income tax next year. It's surprising how few people actually use their $50 credit each year. It allowed me to raise the money for my campaign relatively painlessly.

To get some name recognition I put up about 60-70 lawnsigns (~$300), trying to get at least one on every main street or neighborhood. I also put up 3 larger signs (~$90)-- 2 opposite Safeway, and one at the intersection of Front St and State St.

I then printed door hangers (~$300) and started the door-to-door ($27 for voter list). I started by talking much too much-- while I learned a lot I didn't cover enough ground. I also learned some simple math for canvassing: The ideal team is one man and one woman. No social commentary intended, just observation-- On days when I went alone or with another man I made far fewer positive contacts than on the days I had a female helper. Another lesson I learned-- the color picture on the door hanger was really worth the extra money. You have so few ways to make a real connection with the voter. A good color picture creates that positive first impression, which can hopefully be converted to support.

I did three major waves of emailings to my known supporters ($0), asking them to contact friends and colleagues. I think this was pretty successful, since several people told me they received notes from several people telling them about my campaign.

Through my canvassing I found that my name recognition was pretty good (people had seen the signs), but they were wondering who I was. Several of my friends "volunteered" to send Letters to the Editor ($0) to the Hood River News, so I got a bit of free advertising as well as some public endorsements. This helped to give people a little bit of an image of what I stand for-- or at least who supports me.

I put a lot of effort into my submission for the Hood River News Q&A on the city council race($0), as this would be the only chance for voters to make a direct comparison between the candidates. I believe a large number of voters read this "interview" carefully and weigh the responses heavily in their choice.

I wasn't nearly as good canvassing as I had planned, so I decided I needed to do a direct mailing to the 3300 registered voters. I did a small postcard (~$1000 w/ postage) which was timed to arrive in the mail with the ballot. Again I used a color photo, a brief message, and pointers to my website and other contact info so they could find out more.

My hope was that my website could do the conversion from name recognition to support for some percentage of the voters. While I don't have much proof, I had ~500 site hits and numerous people have told me they read the website. I think it was well worth the effort (and the price($0)). By tracking the day-to-day hits, I think the letters to the editor were the most effective way to get people to my website, followed by canvassing, with the postcards trailing.

I've spent the past 2 months going to just about every public event to get my name and face out there. But by far I feel the most productive way to convert the name recognition to support has been by courting the opinion leaders in the city. Since so little info is available about city council candidates, many voters will ask someone they trust who they should vote for. I tried to get to as many of those people who people trust so I would be one of their recommendations.

I also did a few "meet and greets" where friends invited neighbors over to meet me and discuss the issues. I wish I had done more of these-- while you only meet a few people you can really make a strong contact. If I were starting again I would put more effort into the meet and greets than canvassing, on the theory that those strong supporters will convert their friends and neighbors.

Turning out the vote has been difficult-- I don't want to do random phone calls because I think they are annoying-- so I have been trying to do a phone tree/ email tree with my supporters contacting their friends. I'll admit that my energy has declined a bit in the last days of the campaign. With vote by mail you know there are fewer and fewer voters to convince each day, so it becomes harder to put energy into the campaign.


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