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The Anatomy of a Political Campaign

By Dr. Phil O'Dwyer, Chair
February 29, 2008

Election campaigns are complex, demanding, and filled with risk. These well-known features keep down the numbers of those willing to "put their neck on the line" for public service. Most who seek office are well-motivated and driven by principle. They seek to advance a perspective that they believe to be important. That view quickly puts them in conflict with those who are passionate about an alternative vision. Suddenly, they become legitimate targets of criticism, rumor, and innuendo.

One becomes a candidate by securing sufficient signatures to get on the ballot, and that action usually launches the campaign. Well-run campaigns have three key elements: message, money, and field plan. Different skills are needed for each element, and it is rare that a candidate is individually well-skilled in all three. That necessitates the recruitment of a campaign committee whose membership should represent all needed skills.

The overall campaign is directed by a campaign manager. Crafting a persuasive message tests the creative skill of writers. Graphic design specialists try to present the message in an appealing way. The most challenging task is raising money. One has to truly believe in one's cause to be able to ask others for financial support.

The field plan is the method by which the message is delivered to the electorate. It includes mailings, knock and drop, letters to the newspaper, radio, TV, lawn signs etc. It also includes the timing of various activities for maximum effect. All modern campaigns utilize websites to communicate their message and this requires the campaign to have a webmaster.

Beyond these technical essentials is the most important element in every race: the likability of the candidate. This factor can be a great help or a challenge to a race.

There are other roles that impact elections: the Party, the Clubs, and individual activists. The Party can provide technical support, access to useful walking lists, and other "in kind" assistance.

The Club provides grass-roots energy for campaigns and personnel for some of the strategic roles. Clubs sometime endorse candidates and at other times deem it wiser to remain neutral, preferring to allow the members to make their own choices. This preserves the Club's evenhanded role in welcoming all Democratic candidates to present their views.

Our precinct delegates have primary responsibility for the information flow to their precinct. They are expected to be the representative of the Party in the local community. Some precincts are targeted in campaigns and in such cases they may need additional help to coordinate with the specific campaigns. Elections are won at the precinct level.

This year our Party has outstanding candidates up and down the ticket. They will appeal for your financial and field support and they deserve a favorable reception. The national trends bode well for Democrats across the country.

Future editions of this newsletter will list the candidates for the primary and general elections. Often Democratic activists have little knowledge of candidates in judicial races. These are supposedly non-partisan races but the reality is very different. All candidates regardless of party or platform deserve our respect, and many have earned our support. The challenge is to know the difference!