Challenging the Speaker of the House in one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the country is no easy task-even for a young, energetic Harvard graduate, Frank McNamara, with a $600,000 war chest. While most of this money flowed into the expensive Boston media market, a small amount funded an extensive youth effort and accounted for disproportionately high returns. A major reason for the success of the youth campaign was the Osborne II portable computer, complemented by specially designed campaign software.
The youth campaign carried extra significance in this particular race, not only because of the extremely high concentration of college students (the highest concentration of college students per voter of any Congressional district in the country), but also because the McNamara campaign desperately needed the kind of energy and volunteer activity that college campuses could generate. Well over half of “McNamara’s Band” was recruited from thearea’s student population.
Volunteers, like the hundreds of college students that participated in the McNamara effort, constitute the foundation of a dynamic and purposeful campaign. Without the ability to coordinate and manage an otherwise uncontrollable “paper blob” of names, addresses, and phone numbers, any campaign will be stifled.
Computers live on paperwork. Specialized campaign software, written in the Osborne II’s MBASIC eliminated the problems of ordinary list management and transformed the usual road block of unwieldy lists into a tool for expanding the youth campaign to its limits. In addition, the Osborne’s built-in software enabled the youth campaign to move on to a wide range of other campaign activities. Budgeting, correspondence, and campaign literature were easy marks for the Osborne’s electronic spreadsheet and wordprocessing capabilities.
McNamara’s youth campaign was funded in part by the Republican National Committee. Like any larger campaign, the youth effort was committed to a system of responsible budgeting and book- keeping. Visicalc, the electronic spreadsheet system included in the Osborne package, performed this function admirably.
Given the uncertainties associated with a political campaign – neither necessary expenses nor final income are predetermined – Visicalc’s ability to easily analyze a variety of budgetary scenarios provided much needed flexibility. Various estimates for unknown costs can be plugged into the budget, and as Visicalc automatically recalculates expense totals, the feasibility of specific campaign expenditures can be appraised.
For example, in the McNamara youth campaign, expected costs for campaign literature were dependent upon offset printing prices. During the planning phase ‘tentative budgets were considered, each with a different proportion of the total budget devoted to literature such as flyers and posters, and the impact on available funds for other uses was carefully analyzed.
Once all the alternatives had been considered, it was possible to develop a detailed, coherent plan of attack which was submitted to and approved by the finance director. ”I was impressed with Visicalc’s” ability to deal with the usual problems of unknown prices and quantities,” said Scott Donegan, the campaign’s finance director. “Visicalc is a useful tool for handling budgets in the uncertain campaign atmosphere.”
In addition to streamlining the budgetary process, Visicalc provides a systematic and accessible format for recording actual expenses. These records help keep the campaign on course, insuring that actual expenditures adhere to the overall campaign strategy.
List Management Made Easy
In the area of list management, personalized campaign software, interfaced with the Osborne’s package of ready-made programs, vastly increased the effectiveness of the youth effort. Anyone who purchases an Osborne receives hundreds of dollars worth of useful software: Wordstar wordprocessor with MailMerge , Visicalc , CP/M ’ System Diskettes, and two programming languages, CBASIC and MBASICQ . On the strength of our “hands on” experience with computers, especially in the political realm, we were able to write MBASIC programs to Capture the. full value of the Osborne software package.
As a result, the usual chore of list management became almost a pleasure. Names were easily entered, edited, deleted, alphabetized and displayed on the console or printed. This special software also permitted lists to be sorted by codes and merged with other lists. The “user friendliness” of this program and the fact that it applied specifically to campaign-functions made it immensely valuable.
Neat and easy-to-read printouts of the “hard core” on the various campuses served as directories and helped to preserve the vital lines of communication between the field and headquarters. Many hours were spent glued to the phone using these printouts to call and inform campus activists of the latest developments and unexpected events. When the campaign received late notice of an O’Neill appearance at a posh seaside restaurant, for instance, the youth campaign was expected to instantly provide eager young demonstrators to hold signs outside of the event. This could not have been accomplished were it not for the fact that the college lists were in excellent order and all probable activists could be quickly contacted.
The campaign manager, Paul Sabatino, recognized the value of the well-ordered lists provided by the Osborne. “Without the computer, the youth effort would almost certainly have been less effective. Potential workers were neatly organized into lists and when we needed to make: 40,000 voter identification calls, these lists proved to be gold- mines for finding phoners.”
The coding function of the MBASIC program helped to effectively channel volunteers into the kinds of activities for which they were best suited. “V1”,for example were the “3AM types”, the true believers. “V2” were less devoted, but would go door-to-door or make calls if they were asked and had the time. “V3” and ”V4” were interested and supportive, but would only actually work once or twice during the course of the entire campaign. Normally the “V4”, of which there were many, would get lost in the back of a ‘dusty’3×5 card file. With the ability to code volunteers based on their level of interest, however, n o t a minute of potential volunteer time was lost. They were contacted late in the campaign – when the race was hottest and they were most likely to work – and asked to distribute literature or man the polls on Election Day. In most cases they agreed-probably because they had not been badgered every time anything needed to be done.
Inevitably, during every campaign, some volunteers just “burn out.” They can do no more. This situation was handled by the special campaign software by simply deleting these people from the active lists and moving them to a list ”where they would not be bothered but would also not be forgotten later when it came time for thank you notes. For a campaign like McNamara’s, which may quite possibly gear up again two years from now, this courtesy may pay big dividends.
The MBASIC program not only provided for simply deleting names, it also made it easy to add them. Throughout the campaign, as McNamara visited campuses and high schools in the district, his standard plea for new additions to “McNamara’s Band” always resulted in some fresh recruits. These new people were incorporated into the existing list for their respective school and called within the next few days to determine how active they would be in the campaign. Adding names posed no problem for the MBASIC program, nor did updatingand editing current lists. If originally only a name and phone number had been obtained for a given volunteer, addresses were filled in as soon as they became available.
The program’s ability to alphabetize lists served as a check for any duplicates when lists were merged in addition to furnishing nicely ordered screen or printout displays. As the size of the lists became so large. that visually checking them for duplicates became almost impossible, this function was especially appreciated. Naturally, additional names can be alphabetized into existing lists.
Personalizing with Wordprocessing
Osborne’s greatest effectiveness was demonstrated when the lists formatted by the MBASIC program were used in conjunction with Wordstar’s Merge-Print function. With this added option, not only could lists be sorted, merged, edited, and printed or displayed, they could also be inserted wherever desired in the body of form letters or on the accompanying envelopes.
This interfacing capability between the MBASIC program and the Wordstar software allowed for the fullest possible utilization of the Wordstar features. Within the bounds of the campaign organization itself, this meant that communications were vastly simplified and that leadership memos and thank-you notes could be quickly sent to only selected segments of the campaign master list.
In the case of the weekly leadership memos this capability proved to be very valuable. These memos, which usually ran two or three single- spaced pages, were designed to inform the youth steering committee of scheduled events unfolding around the district and of the general progress of the campaign.
On the memos, which were composed using basic Wordstar wordprocessing, short, hand- written notes personalized the message and brought pressure down through the system. Good work was recognized and those dragging their feet were gently cajoled. These quick notes, attached to the general memo, added that all-important personal touch in an efficient and practical manner.
A professional appearance for the memos was achieved by tacking the Wordstax printout to graph paper with rubber cement. Pressure-sensitive bold lettering at the top proclaimed the document as official Youth for McNamara stationery. With a simple photocopy process, the local printer could easily turn out the necessary number of official-looking leadership memos on all shades of paper in a matter of minutes – very inexpensively. Envelopes for the leadership memos were addressed using the Merge-Print option on the Wordstar menu. A file called “Envelope” was formatted in Wordstar which was able to utilize the lists created by the MBASIC program and address each envelope individually.
Thank you notes were done in a similar fashion. In the body of the letters, personal references were inserted where applicable. By utilizing the “output to disk” function of Wordstar’s Print option, a huge file was created which contained all of the form letters addressed to individual volunteers. Before actually printing hard copies in the form of thank you notes, this file was edited and references were made which mentioned a specific task performed by the particular volunteer. The basic letter was especially structured so that a line could be inserted recognizing a person’s talents with the phone banks or precinct walking, for example.
Worclstar proved to be equally useful in the composition of documents which were strictly for mass consumption. The McNamara Youth Flyer, for instance, which dealt exclusively with issues important to college students, was composed in a manner much like the leadership memo. Once the specific wording of the document had been agreed to by the rest of the campaign staff, the layout of the piece was simplified by Wordstar’s ability to quickly change the size and shape of blocks of text. Pictures were cropped and fitted into the area between the text in an eye-pleasing fashion. The bold, pressure-sensitive letters were again used as headlines for the various sections of the Flyer. Once again, lining up the text and pictures on graph paper insured an even appearance.
Press releases were churned out using Wordstar in a most straightforward way. They were simply written and edited using normal wordprocessing functions. Although it was not necessary in this campaign, the list for the district’s media outlets could have been entered in MBASIC and used to address envelopes or adhesive labels for use in mailing press releases.
Even in the McNamara youth campaign, there was a strong need for easy to use software to write press releases. As is the case in many campaigns, newsworthy events break quickly and have to be publicized immediately if they are to be publicized at all. Turning out clean, edited copies of press releases was an easy task. They could be typed right at the keyboard, reviewed and revised and then printed out in minutes.
At one point in the campaign, the need for a quick press release from the Osborne became particularly, acute. One of the major events of the youth campaign was a mock election between McNamara and O’Neill on the Harvard campus. In a surprising finish which received national media attention, McNamara “tipped” O’Neill by a 55 per- cent to 45 percent margin. This event, was, of course, worthy of the usual local press releases from the youth campaign.
Unfortunately, the youth staff had to rush to headquarters to prepare signs for a rally that evening. Ordinarily under these circumstances the press release might not get completed or it might be produced in a rather sloppy fashion. The Osborne enabled the press release to be neatly and professionally prepared with ample time left to organize for the rally.
Osborne’s Wordstar and the C. Itoh letter-quality printer teamed up again to prod the campus media with a series of letters-to-the-editor. O’Neill’s refusal to debate provided an excellent focal point for several letters. The writing was centrally coordinated with the best writers composing various pieces and other members of the youth staff signing and hand delivering the letters.
In order to convey the impression of very broad support, however, the letters were not printed in the same format. Each was addressed slightly differently and pitches and daisy wheels were interchanged for the different letters. Margin settings and heading arrangements could also be easily configured to add a touch of originality to each document.
The C. Itoh® printer, which uses Diablo daisy wheels and ribbons, performed the printing function superbly. Its 40-character-perosecond printing rate not only made quick work of letters-to-the- editor and press releases, but it was also much appreciated in the sending of thank you letters and the addressing of envelopes.
In spite of all its valuable budgeting, list management and wordprocessing capabilities, the Osborne possesses one particular feature which really separates it from the competition – particularly when used for campaign work. That feature is its portability.
The added convenience provided by the Osborne’s portability was a significant factor – at least for the user. On those days when a break from the frenzied activity of headquarters was necessary, the Osborne could be brought home and used to print out materials needed that particular day. Folding up the Osborne and jumping on the Boston subway system was an entirely practical alternative to remaining in the office. In sum , the Osborne’s flexibility and portability made things a lot easier for what would have been an otherwise frazzled operator.
The Osborne represents the ideal tool for the management of people in the fast-paced world of electoral politics. It enables one to reach potential workers in an efficient yet personal way. It facilitates the transformation of mere lists of names into actual bodies at the campaign headquarters or in the field. Without it, many hours of volunteer time would have been lost, either because ordinary systems allow too many people to slip through the cracks and become lost for good, or because constant calls from the campaign eventually irritate volunteers to the point that they simply refuse to work anymore. Clearly, personal computers are revolutionizing the management of campaign organizations.
As McNamara remarked in retrospect, “anyone who neglects to take advantage of these new technologies will be severely hampered in any attempt for public Office. From congressional candidates to those striving for city council seats, the relatively small investment of a personal computer will reap heavy returns.” Computers seem destined to make an increasing impact on the political landscape for a long time to come.