C&E: You went from journalist to staffer to city council candidate in one of the most competitive districts in Los Angeles. How did you go about hiring your vendors?
Davis: I brought a lot of the management of the campaign in house. My campaign manager was Anthony Holland, who had worked previously on Wendy Greuel’s congressional race. He was full time from the summer all the way through the March 3 primary. I was able to do it because I got rid of my fundraiser and I had Anthony Wear all the hats. I had him serve as the treasurer, as the fundraiser as the campaign manager and overseeing the mail production. I was the lead writer on the mail. We got a graphic designer who had previously done mail up in San Francisco and we got a printing house [to produce it]. We got out seven pieces of mail.
C&E: What was your total budget?
Davis: About $200,000. I raised about $125,000 and got $75,000 in public matching funds. That was really key. You needed to have 200 donors in the district [to qualify]. It was a new rule. By the end of October we had all the donations we needed in that regard. Organically we got 140 contributions and we probably got 60 of them off the door. I was canvassing for a full year before the election. By October , I was literally asking people at the door, if we had a good conversation, to make a contribution.
C&E: Did you spend on digital?
Davis: I didn’t go that heavy on it. The electorate skewed older. I had NationBuilder. We did a lot of blast emails. I did some promoted Facebook posts. It wasn’t a large amount of money. [The budget] went more towards mail and field—paid canvassers—and volunteer phones.
C&E: Did you do any polling?
Davis: I did no polling. NBCUniversal was doing some polling on the race.
C&E: Why not?
Davis: I was talking to so many voters, I had a real sense of what they cared about; what they thought. Personally, I talked to thousands of people. I wrote hand-written letters to the people I met. My theory was that in our high-tech era, it was the personal touch.
C&E: If you had the money would you have polled?
Davis: I think we made the right decision given the resources we had. If you had a much larger budget, I think polling has an important role. I felt like I had talked person-to-person with so many voters that I had a sense for what they cared about so that it didn’t make sense to take away from mail pieces to do additional polling. The other thing, in a race like this, is the lines aren’t hard and fast. It’s officially nonpartisan.
If I’d had more resources, I thought early on about having more neighborhood-specific mail. In the end, the voters had such an ill-defined sense of us as candidates. If I’d been the local guy for the neighborhood that probably would have turned up more support. But it would have shrunk the size of the mail universe and we would have been paying more per piece. It’s a little bit of a trade-off.
C&E: Where did you get your data and was it a big chunk of your budget?
Davis: I used PDI [Political Data Inc.]. It wasn’t too bad and I got it early so I could walk those lists.
C&E: Where did most of your money go?
Davis: Mail, staff, data then digital. And rent in there, too. I thought it was important [to have an office]. The people you rely on most for volunteering are students. A lot of your peers are professionals, young parents. But the students, who see it as an important professional opportunity, those are who you’re relying on. And you need a place for them. So I thought it was important.
C&E: Did you spend money on yard signs?
Davis: I feel like in those big races, people say it’s a waste, why would you do it? But here you’re working so hard for a little bit of name ID. We were really trying to make the sale to people who would put them in their lawns. The reason I thought it was important to do that is because you wanted the visibility. And there’s a little bit of bandwagon effect.
C&E: Did you find it hard to get press coverage?
Davis: To be honest, I was surprised by how much press coverage there was. I started with the assumption that in a down-ballot race there isn’t any real press, particularly in a multi-candidate primary where it’s very hard to stand out. But we got some attention early on when we made the decision to send back some developer money. The L.A. Times did more coverage on the race than I expected them to.
C&E: What was the hardest part about being a candidate for you?
Davis: The hardest part to get used to is the fundraising. It was a very long, 18-month campaign. The first four months, I was fundraising purely on my own. The next six months, I worked with a fundraiser, Renee Hatchwell. After that period of time, I just had my campaign manager [Holland], who was mostly just on me to keep making phone calls.
Once you get over that, the second trickiest part was learning how to balance meeting with the community leaders. If you were just endlessly meeting with them, you could never go out there and build a bigger base of people that would vote for you. That was a hard thing to get used to. You get to know them, but you couldn’t count on support from them if they were priding themselves on wanting to meet with everyone.
C&E: How much time did you spend each day fundraising?
Davis: For the vast majority of the race it was a few hours each day. I thought it was very important to do. At first, it was basically people I knew; people I had a personal relationship with. You had to rely on people that, for the most part, they wanted to back you no matter who you’re running against. Then you hope for those strongest supporters to turn around and get other donors. The traditional givers, for the most part, those folks wanted to stay out and be friendly to everyone.
C&E: Was there something you wish you’d done differently?
Davis: Vote by mail. My Election Day vote was 14 percent. The winner was 15 [percent]. Very close. My vote-by-mail percentage was quite a bit lower. It was only 9 percent. There was almost a 50-percent growth rate from vote-by-mail to Election Day. That’s partly because I think we were building momentum. I think the one thing I would have been more focused on was registering people to vote by mail and pushing them to vote by mail. It’s election month not Election Day, that’s what I told my staff.