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: My family isn't supportive of my campaign and has been publicly critical. Should I address their criticism directly or try to ignore them?
A: We’re going to channel Tolstoy for a moment: "All happy families are alike.” (That would have gotten you off the hook.) “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." You need to customize your response based on the vehemence of your family’s criticism.
If a bunch of your relatives go on the record saying you’re a moral reprobate or lend their voices to your opponent’s paid advertising, you won’t have any choice and must deal directly with their accusations.
But if your relatives are just members of the other party and tell a small circle of their neighbors they disagree with you on the issues, then it’s wisest to say most families have political disagreements and that, regardless of how they vote, you love them and hope to see them at the next family get-together. Then move on to explaining to voters why they should support you and reject your opponent.
Q: I’ve reserved my airtime between now and November. What's the best way to spend my remaining budget: persuasion digital, GOTV/field, additional fundraising, or save it for a late TV-ad flurry?
A: Here’s the deal: It’s malpractice to give detailed budget advice without knowing the specifics of the race—vote goal, partisan split, media costs, population density, precinct walkability, opposition’s cash-on-hand, top of the ticket, coordinated campaign program, super PAC activity, et cetera.
But let’s presume that 1) your airtime is robust and more or less equivalent to your opponent’s buy, 2) your fundraising operation is gangbusters and already juiced to bring in big bucks over the final haul, and 3) your polling has you close to 50 percent. Based on these premises, we recommend your leadership team actively assess a GOTV strategy that includes both field and digital. Energize your base with communications that target voters with iffy turnout histories.
Q: Our candidate and staff have received threats. One even had her car tires slashed. Are there precautions we should take as we get closer to Election Day and things get more heated?
A: This is an important question, especially now with so many candidates demonizing their opponents and the fringiest of supporters taking potentially violent action to support their cause—e.g., the North Carolina man who in 2016 stormed a DC pizzeria restaurant with an assault-style weapon.
Recommendation: Most large campaigns should have full-time security. Smaller campaigns should, minimally, have security on weekends and in the evenings. All campaigns should consider consulting a security company. Any incident or threat should be reported immediately to the police. Staff should be briefed on measures to increase security. And staff should be vetted for criminal histories.
From the archives: After being a paid staffer on a winning campaign years ago, an individual in the transition office pressed a gun barrel into my chest during an afternoon conversation in which no voices were raised, no alcohol was consumed and the candidate, not yet sworn into office, was not in the room. After the transition, this gun-wielding individual was given a job handling security. There’s a whole lot more to the end of the story, but that appointment was (understatement) a major mistake. So last but not least: vet the security personnel, too.
Q: Are you a fan of paid digital advertising?
A: Yes, it’s cost-effective, targeted and getting more important by leaps and bounds. Last year, digital-ad revenue for the first time ever passed TV ad revenue. All modern campaigns use digital, in all geographic and demographic settings, so don’t get left behind. Just be sure to demand transparency regarding placement and cost, since some firms still operate out there like it’s the Wild West.
Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst in numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.