Campaigns for local office are less glamorous than presidential or statewide elections, but victory still requires considerable skill and political acumen. Making an effective use of small budgets, part- time volunteers and limited media coverage is no mean feat. Often, a candidate’s discipline and organizational talents make the difference between victory and defeat.
The old adage to “plan the work and work the plan” is simple but valuable advice. Candidates frequently fail on either end of the equation: sometimes a campaign isn’t adequately planned, and sometimes a well-planned campaign fails from poor execution.
In politics, planning means accurately estimating and acquiring resources – both financial contributions and volunteer efforts – and efficiently using them to win votes on election day.
Every activity in a campaign has three dimensions: scope, schedule and cost.
What is to be done? When must it be done? And how much will it cost?
Planning a neighborhood drop-in, for instance, requires consideration of the date, the host, the invitation list, the expected turnout, the amount of money expected to be raised and the cost of punch and cookies.
Candidates also face resource constraints. Not everything is achievable.
For example, buying yard signs limits the money available for newspaper advertising.
Or door knocking in an outlying precinct on a Saturday afternoon might mean missing an appearance at a festival or parade on the other side of town. Opportunity costs abound.
An organized campaign starts early. Well before the filing date, preparations include assembling a core group of volunteers with defined responsibilities, securing key endorsements, preparing a fundraising list, drafting budgets and schedules, composing press packets, and committing to a platform and associated talking points.
Sometimes candidates start years in advance by networking within civic and fraternal organizations, obtaining appointments to critical boards and commissions, and building a positive reputation.
In comparison, an unprepared effort – even with an articulate, charismatic and politically savvy candidate – will fail like a pick-up basketball team getting crushed by NBA all-stars.
These principles were illustrated in the recent Republican primary.
In County Council District 2, Camille Furgiuele focused on the fundamentals. Prior to her announcement, Furgiuele built her campaign team, planned her budget and schedule and established her core message around “experience, common sense, and results.”
Furgiuele got out early and hit the ground running. She targeted her efforts toward vote-rich Republican precincts centered in Cedar Creek and Woodside Plantation.
Her team held more than two dozen drop-ins, designed, ordered and placed yard signs as well as prepared three mass mailings, according to the original plan.
Her winning margin was impressive: 66 percent district wide, with an overwhelming 95 percent in Cedar Creek, 64 percent in the four precincts comprising Woodside and adjoining neighborhoods, and 74 percent among absentee voters.
Furgiuele’s competitor Mike Stake captured 56 percent in the remaining precincts – including a stunning 70 percent in Jackson – but this didn’t impact the end result.
Furgiuele’s fundraising also met the planned target. According to campaign manager Bob Ruddy, “Camille followed our game plan to a ‘t.’ It was a disciplined effort, and she didn’t get side tracked on peripheral issues.”
Chris Corley’s victory in S.C. House District 84 was similarly well organized and executed. Corley raised the funds necessary for the planned mailings, signs, and newspaper and radio advertisements.
He was the first candidate to jump in, and he ran an old-fashioned grassroots campaign utilizing volunteers from across the district.
Given the multi-candidate field, benchmarks were established for a potential runoff.
There was no runoff, however, due to Corley’s personal efforts and his team’s dedication. Receiving 58 percent in a four-candidate field is a considerable achievement.
According to one knowledgeable observer, Corley “had some great coaching and showed a passion for being the representative of District 84 … I give him credit for keeping his eye on the goal and being ready to run the race well.”
In contrast, Kathy Rawls’ victory in sprawling County Council District 1 – her first win as a Republican – was a triumph of planned minimalism. Reusing yard signs from previous campaigns and calling key supporters, she received 61 percent of the vote and carried every precinct.
“I don’t think I spent more than $600, including the filing fee,” Rawls said afterward.
Given the district, greater expenditures might not have mattered. Few voters have a neutral opinion toward the County Council veteran and few minds could be influenced.
Matching the effort to the need is good management. In District 1, Rawls demonstrated that a low-key effort can be the right solution under the right circumstances.
Gary Bunker is a former Aiken County Councilman.