I was in Austin for a few days, attending the 2012 American Association of Political Consultants Pollie Awards and annual conference. Remember a few weeks ago when I went to San Francisco and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to talk with the California Republican Party (CRP) ‘establishment’?
Yeah, that was a walk in the park in terms of comfort zones compared to this shindig. This is the kind of event that honors James Carville. In fact, it’s the exact kind of event that honors James Carville, because the Ragin’ Cajun was inducted into the AAPC Hall of Fame, alongside Paul Begoda and Karl Rove. Eclectic group, huh?
At grassroots/activist events, the conference goers are all on fire for America, because … the Constitution! I love these people. They are my homeys. At the CRP thing in San Francisco, I mostly saw the same sort of the thing, just with titles like ‘GOP County Chair’ instead of ‘Beginner Blogger.’ I won’t pretend to equate that with all CRP things, and I especially can’t speak for GOP events in other states. I’m guessing the GOP varies greatly from California to Texas to New York to Vermont.
Republicans in Vermont. *snort*
Anyway. This was a whole new ballgame. These were … political consultants. What the heck do political consultants do? They help candidates win. Well, the good ones do, anyway.
It would be awesome if elections and campaigns were all about the message, the integrity of the candidate, and doing what’s best for our communities and country as a whole. The reality is, as my friend Brittany Cohan likes to say, is that politics is a game.
Only one thing wins elections – votes. Elections are number games. How many registered voters are in the constituency? How many voters intend to vote this cycle? How have they voted in the past? Can their vote be counted on? What’s it going to take to win the votes? It doesn’t matter if you’re the second coming yourself, if you don’t get the votes, you don’t win the election.
If politics is a game, and the candidate is the starting pitcher or the star quarterback, then the consultant is the coach. That’s a pretty loose analogy, especially given my (extremely) limited knowledge of sports, but it’s just something to give you a little bit of a picture of what happens in campaigns.
Maybe the candidate is the team owner … someone is going to have to help me out with my sports analogies…
The consultants analyze the numbers and come up with a strategy to win the votes. That’s why Karl Rove is always going on Fox News with his whiteboard and talking numbers. I’ve always understood that this is how it works, but it was cool to watch the really real professionals at work.
Because I was in Austin, Ashley Sewell drove in from Fort Worth. Because, duh, it’s Jenny and Ashley. Since Ms. Sewell and I were together in Texas, our favorite former Texas Railroad Commissioner and current congressional candidate Michael Williams met us for drinks. Since I was in Austin in the first place because Justin Hart brought me out to do some social media stuff and meet with some people, he joined up with us too. Then Justin’s CEO Ravi Singh stopped by to say hello, and he got to talking to Michael about his campaign.
Ravi’s company, ElectionMall, does this really cool Campaign Cloud thing. They got together with Microsoft to create this service that organizes campaign tools (social media, blast emails, donor lists, etc.), and makes them accessible through one login. They pretty much rule when it comes to managing campaign technology.
The conversation went something like this:
“Tell me about the race – what’s the seat?”
“U.S. Congress. District 33.”
“What’s the breakdown?”
“New seat. One of the four that Texas picked up in the census. The area voted for McCain in 2008.”
“How many candidates?”
“Ok, well how many votes do you need to win?”
Then they talked about some different strategies to get the vote out, how they could win over the independents, and how they could get sometimes voters to commit to going to the polls on Election Day. It was totally fascinating to watch, and a good reminder that if we want to win races and send conservative politicians to Washington, we have to play the game.
We need more than solid candidates. We need effective strategies and tools to gain supporters and get them to the polls on Election Day. That’s how we win.