Lessons for local candidates from the Presidential election

Due to its $985 million budget, 901 paid staff members, 700,000 volunteers and intense media scrutiny, comparing the Obama campaign to a local race could seem like comparing the San Francisco Giants to a little league team. But, there are lessons you can learn from the president’s campaign that you can apply to a local race.

Money is the key to victory

President Obama had sufficient monetary resources to build a massive field operation and communicate his message to voters. He also was able to direct how most of the money spent on his behalf was used.

Raising money is the most vital part of any political campaign. In their book Game Change, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann highlight the hours then-Senator Obama spent in his 2008 campaign calling potential donors and asking for money. While President Obama was able to raise millions online, he built this fundraising base through personal contact with donors.

When you take total expenditures, including super-PACs, the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns spent about the same amount of money. A major issue was control. Most of the money super-PACs spent went to TV commercials. The Romney campaign could not spend early money on a field program, like the Obama campaign was able to, even if it was desired. They simply did not have control over how those millions of dollars were spent.

No matter how large the independent effort on your behalf, take control of your own destiny and raise the money you need to win.

Identify, motivate and turnout your base

Your “base” is those voters you know will be voting for you. For President Obama, those voters were women, minorities and younger voters. His campaign worked to secure this base by taking a strong stand on issues and by building a field program to turn those voters out to the polls.

The first step of any campaign is to build its base. Take some time and make a list of every person you know will vote for you. Then determine what they have in common. Maybe it is your neighborhood or your kids’ school, that is a good indication of your base. This is where you should concentrate your time and energy.

Debates matter

The first presidential debate almost changed the outcome of the election. In local races, debates set the tone for the campaign. Debates can create the most powerful form of communication in a community: word of mouth.

The ten or twenty people who show up to a local debate might not seem to matter, but these folks will talk with their friends and relatives and start to create buzz around a candidate.

Take the time before you get into a campaign to take speakers training. A candidate who can’t speak easily and persuasively in public is like a baseball player who can’t hit a curveball: Doomed to the minor leagues forever.

Nothing you say is private or off the record

Mitt Romney’s famous 47% comments highlight what anyone in public life should know. Anything you say to anyone may become public. There is a good chance that every person you meet with has a cell phone with video recording capabilities. No matter the group or the situation, you should assume that you are being recorded.

These basic lessons apply to every campaign no matter the size, scope or arena.

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