In my career, I’ve never lost a race where my candidate was the money leader. Now, I’ve won many times while being outspent, and I’ve lost those races, too. But in a handful of campaigns, we’ve won despite being outspent by massive sums by using big data, microtargeting, and street fighting.
Until this year, the largest spending disparity in a race we had overcome was 8 to 1. That was during a county judge’s campaign in 2020.
But our client in the 2022 Nevada primary, Jim Marchant, defeated the establishment’s choice candidate by a 17-percent margin for the GOP secretary of state nomination. A super PAC spent more than $2 million in attack ads against Marchant – a state record for primary spending in a down-ballot race.
Still, we won while being outspent 10 to 1. While every race and every geography is different, there are some keys to winning while being outspent that have proven true for me over and over again.
Data, data, and more data.
You probably won’t have the money to target your entire universe of likely voters. That means you must select a universe of voters who are mostly likely to agree with your message once they hear it – then sink that message enough times to leave an impression. Especially in a multi-candidate field, your candidate can probably win with 30-40 percent, so focus on that section of the electorate which is most likely to vote for your candidate. Forgo targeting everyone else.
Ten touches to a microtargeted universe is preferable to two touches to the entire likely voter universe.
In the county judge’s race, mentioned above, we targeted an analytical model of voters, who would likely support a female candidate over a male.
In the secretary of state’s race, we focused on voters who were modeled to have concerns about the 2020 election and ardent supporters of President Trump. About half of Republican voters see their loyalty as primarily to President Trump, over the Republican Party itself. We focused our message exclusively on approximately half of the likely voter universe, and walked away with 38 percent of the vote – winning 76 percent of the voters we targeted.
Find wedge issues and make the entire campaign about just those issues.
If your candidate and your opponent are both running on “Lower Taxes, Better Jobs, Secure the Border” – then whichever candidate can say it louder and more often will win. If your candidate doesn’t have the cash, you’ll lose that match.
Your candidate’s experience on those issues doesn’t matter. Moreover, your candidate’s 10-point policy plan on her website, about those issues, doesn’t matter.
Find an issue that separates your candidate from your opponent, that matters to voters – and make that issue the frame for the entire campaign.
“Why won’t candidate X pledge not to raise taxes?”
“I’m 100% pro-gun, why won’t candidate X tell us where he stands?”
Or for my friends on the other side of the aisle, “I support 100-percent renewable energy, why does candidate X still accept money from fossil fuel companies?”
Save money and skip the vanity items.
If you’re running behind in cash, 80-85 percent of your budget needs to be spent on voter contact. That means skipping out on the things that make the campaign feel good – but do nothing to win votes.
Fleeces, T-shirts, Yard signs (have a few to give to your volunteers and donors), large banners to hang behind you at the booth at the local fair, the community event sponsorships – these things do nothing to win votes.
Direct voter contact is the only thing that wins.
Punch ‘em in the nose.
In elementary school an older, larger boy was picking on me, and I asked my Dad what to do. He told me: “If you legitimately think he’s going to put his hands on you, you punch him in the nose as hard as you can, and don’t stop punching until he can’t get back up.”
My political strategies haven’t evolved much past that conversation with my father at eight years old.
If your candidate is underfunded – your opponent is the bigger kid. They’re going to have more name ID. You must give voters a concrete reason not to vote for that candidate.
A negative campaign drives down the favorability of your candidate, too, so in a multi-candidate field you must be concerned with driving voters to a third option. A good operative will be able to utilize the press, opinion leaders, bloggers, et cetera, to advance the negative message for you. But someone has to punch the big kid in the nose.
Rory McShane is Republican strategist and founder of McShane LLC, a consulting with offices in Washington, DC, Austin, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada