As we reach the height of the holiday season, many candidates and campaign managers find it difficult to remain focused on campaign fundamentals.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, now is the time to buckle down and do what your opponents aren’t: prepare for victory next November.
To get you started, here are five ways to get a leg up on the competition and start the 2020 election year with an advantage over those who are busy overindulging in eggnog:
Get yourself ballot-ready.
Now is the time to make sure you’re absolutely certain what it takes to get on the ballot in your race. Deadlines and requirements vary from state to state, and even from one town to the next. Even if you’ve run before, check to see if the requirements have changed. Put the dates into your calendar now, and set regular reminders to give yourself time to prepare.
In most cases, you’ll need to collect signatures from voters in your district. Make sure you know exactly how many signatures you need, and plan to collect at least twice that number. If you submit only the number of signatures required, and their validity is challenged, you could be denied ballot access.
Let the story of Nick Freitas serve as a cautionary tale. Freitas was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2015 and had run unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2018. By all measures, he’d be considered an experienced politician.
In June 2019, he discovered that neither his campaign nor the district Republican chairman had submitted the required paperwork by the state’s deadline. Even though he was already in office and won his party’s nomination, Freitas was forced to run as a write-in candidate, turning a smooth re-election campaign into a costly ordeal.
Do your research.
Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
The best way to prepare for your opponent’s attacks is to be ready for them. That requires doing the opposition research on yourself so you know exactly what they’ll find (and don’t fool yourself, they will find it). Even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, start by doing this yourself and hire a professional later, as needed.
If you’re a candidate, ask a volunteer or your campaign manager to do this. Even if all they find is an unpaid parking ticket, it’ll be painful and embarrassing. And while you won’t like it, it’s better to dig into the issues and decide how do address them on your own terms, rather than wait until an angry mob is at your door with torches and pitchforks.
If you work for a candidate who refuses to do opposition research on him or herself, run as fast as you can. They’re hiding something.
Organize your donors and prospects.
It might not seem like a big deal right now if your donors’ names and addresses are stored in an Excel spreadsheet, your deposits are in Quickbooks, and phone numbers are stored in your phone.
What happens if your opponent launches a negative attack and you need to raise $50,000 by tomorrow? How quickly can you put together the names, phones, and emails of everyone who has given or pledged at least $500?
If you haven’t already either built or decided on a system to store your donor and prospect information, now is the time. You can get all of your information either imported or entered into your new system before Dec. 31 reporting deadlines, making your January filing much easier and avoiding costly fines for misfiled reports.
You’ll save time, avoid legal trouble, and raise more money.
Make a budget.
Like author Dave Ramsey says, making a budget is just telling your money where to go. In this case, you’re directing your campaign’s funds towards your ultimate goal of winning your election.
When I first started working on campaigns, there was a vendor who sold emery boards, pencils, and keychains to all of the state and local candidates. He had a paper catalog of endless items on which you could print your campaign’s logo. And candidates loved it!
Here’s the problem. How many votes will you get from handing out pencils and emery boards? The answer is none.
Without a budget, every idea seems like a good idea.
Putting together a campaign budget isn’t easy. So take the time and do it now. Find out how many households in your district have a likely primary or likely general election voter for your direct mail program. How many absentee voters need to hear from you with a phone call or a text message? What are the costs of radio, digital ads, and television?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll know exactly the fundraising number you need to hit. You’ll have more informed and compelling conversations with your donors. And when someone shows up with a so-called “great idea”, it’ll be a lot easier for you to simply say “no, that’s not in the budget.”
Stock up on sleep.
Being sleep deprived has a similar effect to being drunk. Going nearly a day without sleep gives someone the equivalent or worse “of a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 percent.”
You’d never let your candidate get on the debate stage drunk, but it’s amazing how many will get up to the podium without the mental stamina to prevail on the most important night of their life.
Sleep loss is cumulative, so don’t start 2020 at a deficit. There won’t be time to catch up.
So over the next two weeks, when invitations to holiday parties beckon and FOMO rears its ugly head, remember this advice. If you make the choice to carve out some time for a campaign tune-up, you’ll be the one celebrating victory next year.
Nicole Schlinger is the founder and president of CampaignHQ, the best conservative call center in America. Since 1999, CampaignHQ has delivered millions of effective P2P text messages, voter ID, persuasion, advocacy, patch through, and GOTV calls for winning campaigns and conservative organizations.