Learning the Game of Campaigning

I’m Alexandra Scarborough, and I attended VoteRunLead’s Plan the Work. Work the Plan: Campaigning 101 webinar with Co-Founder Shannon Garrett. It was a jam-packed hour of useful information for any woman considering a run for political office.

I currently work as an AmeriCorps VISTA, so I’m unable to campaign until my term is completed, yet I’ve considered a political run for some time. I’m a social justice activist, and see many areas of government where I could bring innovative action to the political landscape. Given that I’m new to this world, however, I needed some guidance on getting started.

Garrett provided just that by outlining steps for a successful plan from beginning to end. The details of her talk can be found on VRL’s website at “Understanding the Game,” but I wanted to touch on specific elements of her discussion that were particularly resonant for a newbie like me—such as her recommendation to work backward from the actual election, taking into account all the steps needed to get to that day. She used the acronym SMART (strategic, measurable, ambitious, realistic, time-bound) as a tool to keep one remembering the rules for planning, and I found this immediately useful in thinking about how to structure my own campaign.

Another thing Garrett mentioned that is particularly important for female candidates is to be aware of one’s limits. Not limits in terms of capabilities—because we all know we’re taking on the world, everyday—but over-extension. This is common, given the many responsibilities we’re already expected to juggle, such as mother, breadwinner, wife/girlfriend and friend, and we need to know that “campaigning consumes your world [sometimes] to the detriment of yourself.” She suggested building self-care time into any campaign plan, in whatever form it comes. Along with that is using one’s time practically, and becoming comfortable with saying “no” to too many conflicting obligations.

In terms of strategies, a candidate is looking to secure 51% of the vote, so it’s important to understand how to generate it. Garrett said it’s virtually impossible to represent everyone’s interests, so focus on who makes up your voter base and aligns with the issues you care about. Those are the people to target for building a good voting core; they will support you. She said the primary way to secure someone’s vote isn’t through robo calls or yard signs, but one-on-one contact: when a voter can shake your hand and look you in the eye, it makes all the difference. This is a time-intensive endeavor, though, so it should be blended with other methods, such as personal phone calls, outreach events, literature, media and paid ads. All provide visibility and exposure—convincing voters that you’re the best candidate.

Finally, Garrett discussed how to assemble a team and organize funding while adhering to a timeline (details also found in “Understanding the Game”), but was careful to remind us that “‘best’ is the enemy of ‘done.’” Think strategically, but don’t trip yourself up on the details too much. Track everything that’s undertaken, but find ways to celebrate throughout the process, including the offer of thank yous to all who assist in the campaign.

This webinar was a comprehensive overview of the steps for mounting a campaign, but it also presented invigorating assurance that I too, can do this! This message was summed up in Garrett’s takeaway statement: “even if you lose, you have still changed the debate with your presence.”

Catch the Live Replay of Plan the Work. Work the Plan: Campaigning 101 for yourself for full the in-depth session!