Guest editorial: A successful congressional campaign requires many ingredients
Former 1st Congressional District Democratic nominee
Two metrics that matter in campaigns — money raised and votes earned. One enables the other.
Running a congressional campaign is akin to a start-up venture. A candidate has to create a brand, develop a message, target an audience, communicate with all segments of that audience employing a portfolio of tools and channels, product test their message and platform, make adjustments, conduct opposition research, hire a team, galvanize volunteers and get people out to vote. Moreover, they need to raise the capital to finance all these activities. No one pays a candidate to run a campaign — at least not this former candidate.
The ability of a voter to recognize a candidate’s name can impact and affect their voting behavior and which candidates they select when casting their ballots. Exposure to a candidate’s name, with or without the conscious awareness of the name recognition, can lead to an increase in the candidate’s likability. It is about marketing, advertising promotion and persuasion. Without money to advertise it is challenging to become known, recognized, supported and elected.
It is crucial to get in front of voters that one needs to win over. It is easy to sing to the choir of your party. It is much more difficult to get mind share with independents. Money has become so much more important since the election laws were changed from offering equal time to candidates to only having to offer equal pricing for advertisements.
Money begets money. In districts that are rated by the Cook Political Report, an independent, non-partisan online newsletter that analyzes elections and campaigns for the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, governor’s offices and the American presidency, as leaning heavily Republican (as in Utah) or Democratic (as in Massachusetts) have less likelihood of garnering financial support of targeted PACs. They want to invest in races that are winnable.
The challenges of campaigning and winning as a minority candidate are many. Utah is one of a seven states that offers straight party ticket votes. There is a lack of competition in many races and voters do not know enough about the candidates. Both contribute to voter apathy. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found 40% of registered voters who did not turn out during the 2016 election — the last presidential election — didn’t vote because they either didn’t like the candidates/campaign issues or didn’t feel like their vote mattered/weren’t interested. Let me remind everyone, your vote matters.
Gerrymandering, which is the drawing of political boundaries to maximize partisan support, is a concern that is commonly brought up with congressional state representative elections, but it has little impact on nonpartisan municipal elections. The end result was thousands of registered Utah voters did not participate.
Despite “being crushed” and sustaining “lopsided losses in both of the elections” as emphasized by The Park Record, I am grateful to the volunteers of Summit County and the 1st Congressional District who invested their time, talent and treasure in me, the voters for believing in me, and an awesome campaign team who supported me on two climbs. The long days on the campaign trail were made that much easier because no matter where I turned, you were there — standing with me, challenging me and guiding me. Your grassroots help and grit in all the many aspects of the campaign — calling, canvassing, tweeting (perhaps we should have tweeted more), commenting, parading, waving, persuading, fundraising and cooking was invaluable — I’m proud, honored and humbled by your confidence and commitment.
The elected is not always the more qualified or the “better” candidate, it is the candidate who can get the vote out. And that requires money. Not left. Not right. Forward.
Donna McAleer, a West Point graduate, US Army veteran, author and non-profit Executive Director, was the 2012 and 2014 Democratic candidate for Utah’s First Congressional District.
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