Craig “Campaign Doc” Varoga is a longtime Democratic strategist and manager. Questions on strategy, general consulting, or anything campaign-related? Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US and he’ll answer them right here.
Q: I'm a Democratic consultant and have connections with a couple of the presidential primary candidates. Should I pitch my firm's consulting services or try to land a senior staff position?
A: Working as senior staff on a presidential campaign, even for a long-shot candidate, is a tremendous experience. It’s exhilarating, you’re mainlining a tremendous amount of information, and you’re exponentially expanding your network. We’re unabashed believers in jumping into the center ring at the circus.
But if you cannot relocate to the city where the main headquarters is located, or are unable to devote 24/7 to traveling, phone calls, meetings and the endless stream of organizing and hyping duties in an active presidential campaign, then you should determine whether a consulting niche is possible within the organization. It’ll still be a plus and a potentially profitable one.
Q: My mail firm is trying to expand into a new market where we haven't worked before. From your experience, is it better to hire someone local who can prospect clients, partner with a local firm or try to drum up business through fly-in meetings?
A: I don’t see the point of partnering with another company if the goal is to build up your own business. The right local person might help, with the caveat that operatives with deep contacts also come with downsides – e.g., grudges, adversaries, friends whom they might favor for the wrong reasons, I could go on. You will want to inherit that person’s good stuff, not their junk.
Finally, no campaign that’s any good will hire you sight unseen, even if you are partnered with the greatest local ambassador. So absolutely plan and budget for fly-in meetings.
Q: I didn't receive the DCCC letter about working for challengers, but saw the reports. Should I be worried about my business if I take on a client who is challenging an incumbent?
A: Depends on your business model. If you are happy to hustle on the outside and see yourself as a purist change agent, then yes, by all means, don’t worry. But if you want to play nice with incumbents and believe that the general election is where the real action is, then you should think twice of self-exiling yourself from the party committees. And FWIW, you might also self-audit your name ID to determine why you didn’t get a letter in the first place, i.e., a lot of business development is being done under the radar screen in the first place.
Q: Persuasion or turnout? If we are forced to choose because of money, which is it?
A: We have answered versions of this perennial question before, and we hate (hate, hate, hate) the premise, which is a false choice between energizing and expanding the base. As Stacey Abrams, who last year ran for Georgia governor, recently put it: “I do not believe in turnout targets. You cannot run a campaign in the 21st century that believes in a base. Every voter is a persuasion target.”
Translation: Take nothing for granted, talk to everyone, persuade your “base” why it is important for them to enthusiastically vote for you, and convince swing voters that you would better represent their needs than your opponent. Simple to say, harder to do, which is why some so-called “frontrunners” defy the polls and lose on Election Day.
Q: Our candidate is a jovial guy who enjoys backslapping, handshakes, hugs, kisses, you name it. Should we tell him to curb the physical contact on the trail? I'm worried it will make him more of a bland candidate, or possibly shake his confidence if we bring it up.
A: You’re asking for a friend, right? What a loaded “ripped from the headlines” inquiry. But here goes, as succinctly as possible: Unwelcome contact is verboten and, even when innocent, will remain unwelcome. A good candidate will adjust behavior and remain friendly and enthusiastic, without becoming bland or having a crisis of confidence. A bad candidate, like an inferior athlete, will ignore or fail to follow coaching tips to improve performance.
Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst for numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.