A campaign manager’s advice to municipal candidates: Part 2
Knocking on door after door can be a valuable tool when running for office
Last week, I wrote in this space about the good work being done by the City of Peterborough in providing helpful information to people running as candidates in this fall’s municipal election. In addition, and based on my experience as a campaign manager, I shared a number of campaign strategies, tactics and techniques that are not likely to be taught by government employees. This column adds to that file.
First, candidates should keep in mind that a campaign is an act of hubris. In effect, you are telling voters that you can competently and fairly represent their interests, whatever those interests might be. If you are contested, you are telling voters that you are better at doing that than other contestants. In reality, you are partially representing your own personal interests, which most often have to do with either changing the world or changing yourself. You will need to come to grips with the act of having two faces: one that fronts a public good – which is always on public display – and one that fronts a personal good – which is never on public display. The ability and willingness to camouflage one’s own personal interests varies substantially from candidate to candidate. Be aware of the duality and find your comfort with it.
Second, as a candidate, you are a public performer. You will want to put forward the best version of yourself as a means of conveying attributes such as intelligence, attractiveness and a value orientation to which voters can relate.
The challenge lies in finding the balance between just being yourself as opposed to parading as someone else that you imagine might be more appealing to voters. The key is to be true to your own persona. Voters are more adept than you might imagine at seeing through an affected personality and distancing themselves from it.
Third, experienced candidates come to understand a curious contradiction. On one hand, people report that they hold politicians in low esteem and view them as easy and assailable targets of criticism. On the other hand, people also show deference to politicians and report that they want to look up to and respect their leaders. As a candidate, you will experience both criticism and admiration in varying degrees. Take them both in stride and take neither to heart. Otherwise, emotional excesses can take the joy out of the journey.
Fourth, there is no substitute for the act of meeting voters face to face. Door-todoor canvassing should represent the most extensive use of your time; it will also represent its best investment. There are many skills required in successfully managing the doorstep encounter, including the courage to openly ask for the receipt of your literature, a voting intention, a lawn sign or a donation. The benefit of the doorstep encounter that is most often overlooked is its value as campaign research. That is, asking questions and recording responses of voter concerns. That information should become part of a regularly updated loop that serves to either reaffirm or adjust your campaign strategy. The very best canvassers – even those who do not hold elected office – will also promise to act on the concerns they hear at the door, regardless of difficulty or jurisdiction, and then do so right away.
Finally, while disciplined adherence to a predetermined campaign strategy is essential, so too is the ability to quickly adjust on the fly, particularly in response to breaking events that offer an electoral advantage. Stay in constant communication with your team; feed each other with all that is timely, and develop the capacity to act with immediacy.