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Anticipating the 2018 Midterm Elections (October 2018): Practical Guidebooks for Success

By Will Miller

Practical Guidebooks for Success

Campaign guidebooks explore tactical matters in a level of detail other works devoted to the study of campaigns and elections do not. Their goal is not to place new-style politics in an analytical, broad, historical context. Instead, they emphasize practice over scholarship. For those readers interested in fully comprehending the inner workings of political campaigns, there is great value in examining the concrete strategies and tactics employed by candidates and their campaign staff. Perhaps even more valuable is the thought exercise of imagining to be a candidate and facing the litany of questions that must be considered in order to move a campaign along in hopes of winning office.

If all politics is local, it would seem logical that lessons applicable to local elections would apply no matter how high the office being sought. Judge Lawrence Grey’s How to Win a Local Election—last updated in 2007—focuses on independent races. Through his guidebook, readers will learn how to plan and organize a campaign, the roles people will play, procedures to be followed, and how to use electronic means to disseminate data. Even more practically, Grey presents thought exercises for designing finance reports, developing campaign themes, focusing on one precinct at a time, and decided where to place yard signs within a precinct. Ultimately, Grey provides great insights for first-time candidates who have not been exposed to campaigns previously. Catherine Shaw’s The Campaign Manager, which was just updated in 2018 for a sixth edition, goes a step beyond and presents information useful to both novices and veterans alike. Building off her experience as a campaign manager and elected official, Shaw presents easy-to-follow, concrete plans for designing messages, targeting voters, assembling volunteers, canvassing, and conducting a precinct analysis. In her most recent edition, she adds new considerations, including digital ads, data-driven voter targeting, and strategies for areas that vote by mail. What makes this volume so useful is Shaw’s ability to condense ideas and materials in manageable chunks that allow readers to not be bogged down in verbiage.

In How to Get Elected to State and Local Office: A Beginner’s Guide, Timothy Hickman and Catherine Hickman write from an idealist’s point of view. Their guide is aimed at those candidates who want an inclusive democracy and are committed to improving the lives of people within their local communities. Melanie Williamson has a similar offering entitled The Complete Guide to Running for a Political Position: Everything You Need to Know to Get Elected as a Local Official, as does Robert Thomas with How to Run for Local Office: A Complete, Step-by-Step Guide That Will Take You Through the Entire Process of Running and Winning a Local Election. Brian Duewell, having run for office with no experience nor name recognition, offers a guide for candidates who are compelled to seek office despite having no idea where to begin. In The Art of the Political Campaign: How to Run for Elected Office with No Money, Name Recognition, or Political Connections, he tracks everything he learned as he worked toward Election Day.

For more generalized campaign guides, S.J. Guzzetta’s The Campaign Manual—updated continuously since 1981 and most recently in 2010—presents some of the most granular-level data related to campaign tactics. Beyond inserting detailed discussions of campaign finance and strategies to efficiently raise capital, Guzzetta offers stratified information for various levels of office and district types (rural, urban, etc.). Like other guidebooks, Guzzetta provides sample charts, forms, and checklists that novice candidates can adapt for their personal usage. While not as up-to-date with technological advancements as other volumes, The Campaign Manual can help show in a tangible way how tactics have changed over the past forty years. Written in 2012, Christine Pelosi’s Campaign Bootcamp 2.0: Basic Training for Candidates, Staffers, Volunteers, and Nonprofits expands beyond candidates for office and offers practical advice for anyone seeking to run for office, advocate for a cause they believe in, or win a referendum or initiative battle over a public policy issue. Built on her experiences offering leadership boot camps throughout the United States and working with volunteers in numerous campaigns, her volume is slightly less tactical than those of Grey, Shaw, or Guzzetta, but offers more related to larger leadership considerations as part of a campaign. It offers a seven-step process to winning and includes get real exercises that readers can use to personalize Pelosi’s ideas in their own campaigns. She also focuses specifically on challenges faced by women on the campaign trail.

Beyond these widely recognized guidebooks, the market is full of additional options for interested readers or candidates and campaign volunteers. Michael McNamara’s The Political Campaign Desk Reference: A Guide for Campaign Managers, Professionals and Candidates Running for Office focuses on crafting winning messages through nearly every medium available, including television, the internet, and social media. Ron Faucheaux’s Winning Elections: Political Campaign Management, Strategy, and Tactics compiles chapters written by in-the-field consultants and candidates covering a variety of topical areas. While the information presented is tactical and easy-to-follow, readers will best make use of this resource by looking for specific pieces of information.

For more specialized guides, Craig Agranoff and Herbert Tabin’s Socially Elected: How to Win Elections Using Social Media focuses specifically on how candidates can and should be optimizing their efforts on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social media tools. In a similar way, Shane Daley’s Running for Office as an Online Candidate: Web Strategies for Local Campaigns provides a how-to guide for a candidate looking to develop a holistic presence, including online. Al Gore’s former speechwriter Robert Lehrman offers actionable advice for others in positions at any level of government in The Political Speechwriter’s Companion: A Guide for Writers and Speakers. Focusing on what candidates need to know, he offers the LAWS of political speech: Language, Anecdotes, Wit, and Support.

For more experienced, data-based professionals, Hal Malchow’s The New Political Targeting—originally released in 2003 and updated in 2008—explains how he used early microtargeting techniques in 1995 to help a candidate with a special U.S. Senate election. Prior to this level of data analysis becoming fairly mainstream in campaigns, Malchow maintained the only firm with a specific targeting arm to conduct advanced political modelling. While the volume may be useful to novices with an understanding of microtargeting, it will do more to help those with some background grapple with data struggles like predictions of candidate support, persuadability of voters, turnout predictions, and audience reaction. Similarly, Donald Green and Alan Gerber’s Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout discusses social science analyses that demonstrate ways candidates and campaigns can work to assure the largest electorate possible on Election Day. While informative for all, it is not necessarily useful for smaller campaigns with more limited resources.

Works Cited