Do Yard Signs Matter?

Increasingly, the answer appears to be no. But in Montgomery County, it’s a time honored belief that they do. So I don’t see them going away here anytime soon. Certainly not from the evidence of all the CD8 and Senate signs around the county.

The eternal question: are lawn signs an effective and efficient use of campaign resources?

A recent study suggested that lawn signs can influence an election. These results, which showed signs swing 1.7 percent of the vote on average, surprised even the study’s authors. “They’re supposed to be a waste of money and time,” Alex Coppock, a co-author of the study, told Politico. “Many campaign consultants think that signs ‘preach to the choir’ and not much else.” 
In fact, it’s hard to tell if yard signs are even reaching the choir, which has led to many campaigns at the federal level to scale back their use. In many cases, they’re now considered limited-edition campaign swag which supporters must pay for. Data-driven campaigns simply don’t have the evidence to support the printing expense.

* * *

 Still, there are some benefits to the traditional sign. They reassure existing donors and supporters that your campaign is robust and strong. The trouble with other forms of campaign communication is that they often go unseen. A TV ad lasts 30 seconds and disappears. Direct mail, nicknamed “the silent killer” because it flies under the radar, isn’t usually sent to staunch supporters. Signs offer tangible evidence the campaign is gaining ground.
They can also psych out your opponents. Having a robust sign program has the potential to drive your opponents insane because not only will they see the signs and likely overestimate your support, but the rival campaigns will receive calls from their supporters claiming your side is “everywhere.”
Signs are also an opportunity to create a gotcha moment when your opponent or her supporters steal your signs. Countless candidates simply cannot resist the urge to tear down, kick over, steal or otherwise destroy your yard signs. 
As much as they inflict grief on the other side, they can also increase your own candidate’s self-esteem. As your candidate travels through the district, it will make him or her feel good to see their signs as an anecdotal signal of broad-based support.
* * *

The simple truth is lawn signs are only effective at two things: driving consultants mad and making candidates and supporters feel good. They don’t win elections.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

As we head into the holidays, there’s going to be a wasteland period with little if any news to report. MD candidates are scrambling (product placement alert!) to finish Q4 fundraising with a flourish, but that’s about it. And we not have anything to talk about in terms of new numbers until January 15, although the whispering has already begun.

So to fill the space and hopefully provide some entertainment and information, I’m going to put it out to you, dear readers. 

Here’s a series of questions: if you have a campaign to run, who do you want to manage it? How about field? Which consultants are you hoping to engage? Which local activists do you want on your team?

Similarly, you’ve got a bill you want to pass in Annapolis or the counties: which lobbyist/activist/lawyer would you want to run your advocacy?

I want nominations. Totally anonymous, even better if you give me reasons why. I may use the narrative answers in a post, but again, they’re anonymous.

Categories:

1. Campaigns. A. Staff B. Activists C. Consultants

2. Policy. A. Lobbyists B. Activists C. Lawyers

Once I have nominations, I will create a poll that will allow the Maryland Scramble readership to vote in utterly unscientific fashion, so some folks can brag and others can curse the unfair voting system. Self-nominations are permitted, and I may throw a few in myself if they don’t show up in your submissions.

Before Christmas, we’re going to answer the question “who ya gonna call?” to see who are the biggest, baddest and most effective politicos in all the land – or at least Maryland.

I even created a new email – MarylandScramble@gmail.com – just for this little exercise. You can use it to cents for me for other blog-related communications, or you can use the site’s sidebar for non-public comments as well.

The floor is open. Whatcha got for me?

Gillogly On Wellstone/NOI

Kevin Gillogly has some thoughts on the Wellstone/NOI consolidation.

To our readership here at Maryland Scramble you might have skimmed past this article in the Huffington Post yesterday: Two progressive organizations merging. Yawn. Next story. But THIS IS A BIG DEAL FOR DEMOCRATIC activists everywhere.

I’m guessing most of you know of Wellstone Action. They provide training for Progressive Activists across the country. Created as a living legacy to Paul and Shelia Wellstone who died tragically in a plane crash just days before the 2002 General Election. Wellstone Action, headquartered in St. Paul, MN, has now trained 75,000 progressives in the mechanics of running campaigns and ballot initiatives. If you want to know how to run a shoe string campaign and give your soul to the large monied interests of the country then you go to a Wellstone Training.

Not as many of you know about New Organizing Institute (NOI). Started in 2005, originally started by some of the more activist unions, MoveOn and Emily’s List , it has been located in downtown DC for its entire life. The new digital metrics of campaigns – both in field and social media – can point to NOI trainings as the basis education for fighting for the left. Many of the successes of the Obama Administration can be traced back to the founders of NOI and their devotees. NOI did not create our President but the folks that drove ran his two national elections, the online petitions on his behalf, the low budget social media campaigns all have one thing in common: they were trained by or their supervisor was trained by NOI.

For a more in-depth look at how campaigns and communications are run in the 21st Century I would highly recommend Sasha Issenberg’s 2013 book “The Victory Lab”.

So today’s story is a BIG STORY. The merging of the two most progressive organizing groups of the modern era are now one. I have gone through trainings of both groups and loved them. I am both happy and sad. Happy that two groups I cherish are getting together and sad that NOI does not exist as a separate entity.

The Spin Machine

John Fritze of the Sun had a weekend article about the intense pressure to get top line numbers for congressional and Senate candidates before the reports come out, and the lengths to which some candidates will go to spin those numbers.

More than a dozen congressional candidates told the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday how much money they raised in the second quarter — highly anticipated figures for political observers trying to gauge the strength of the different campaigns.

But the numbers that candidates file with the government, as required by federal law, sometimes tell a different story than what political aides publicize in advance.

Former Prince George’s County Councilwoman Ingrid Turner, a Democrat running in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, distributed a press release Tuesday claiming her campaign “raised” more than $260,000. The release went on to note that 75 percent of the donations were $100 or less, “showing the strong grassroots effort of the Turner campaign.”

Omitted from Turner’s release was any mention of the $220,000 loan the candidate had made to herself, representing 84 percent of her total haul.
In an interview Friday, Turner said her campaign didn’t intend to inflate her fundraising position. She said her own money spends just as effectively on campaign expenses as money from donors.
“It’s important that I’m putting skin in the game,” Turner said.

Turner was the only one who spun the numbers so hard in this fashion. I didn’t have to deal with it because by the time I saw her number, Fritze and others had already revealed the extent of Turner’s self-funding.

Then there’s the omissions, and the Friday night new dumps attempting to hide bad data. 

Some candidates leave out key context when previewing numbers: Rep. Donna F. Edwards, who is running for Senate, declined to state how much cash she has on hand. Her FEC report later showed that number to be just under $419,000. Her opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, whose report has not yet posted, is expected to have $3.5 million on hand.

Others, particularly those whose fundraising is not as strong as expected, release their numbers at unusual times. Edwards disclosed her latest on a federal holiday. Former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is running in the 4th District, announced he had raised $122,000 at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

Still others lump in multiple quarters when announcing their fundraising. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as it’s clearly disclosed in the press release. I reported all the data I received in the form the candidates set out. I would then provide the context that might have been missing from the spin. I don’t mind having to think a little, so long as I’m not bring outright lied to. Ingrid Turner claiming she “raised” $260,000 when $220k was a loan, that’s the one example that I think crossed the line. The rest was pure spin, and I’m happy to cut through that and give the full context.

Dude, You’re Not Helping

The process of persuading voters to support a candidate for office is, particularly at this early point in the various 2016 campaigns, a delicate one – more art than science. While the goal is ultimately to persuade as wide a swath of voters as possible, at this early point one critical goal of congressional and Senate candidates (either directly or through surrogates) is to persuade the “influencers” and “opinion makers” to support the candidate. Voters are for the most part just not that tuned in just yet, nor will they be for many months.

Being so close to D.C., Maryland (and even more so, Montgomery County) is full of these influencers. Leaders of think tanks, policy and advocacy organizations, and political geeks of all stripes (God bless them, they read my blog) are a significant part of our communities. Persuading these folks to get behind a candidate is not easy – they’re smart, savvy and not easily swayed by propaganda. 

So it was with a great deal of shock and amazement that I saw a Facebook post this weekend by Tony Varona, inquiring, HUAC-style, whether Elizabeth Birch, former board chair of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and more recently the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign for a decade, was in fact supporting Kathleen Matthews over Jamie Raskin in CD8.

  
You see at the bottom Birch’s incredulous response, which is precisely the same as mine. Calling out anyone publicly in this manner demonstrates exceedingly questionable judgment – but questioning the civil rights bona fides of someone like Elizabeth Birch is just bizarre. And to do it on the very day of the Supreme Court’s historic  marriage equality decision is simply astounding. If Tony Varona wanted to alienate and anger Elizabeth Birch, he couldn’t have succeeded more fully and completely than he did here. He’s not helping his cause, and he’s not helping his candidate.

Moreover, Varona is not just some guy who happens to be a Raskin supporter. He’s Jamie’s colleague at the Washington College of Law at American University (my alma mater, as it happens), associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. He ought to know better. More interesting tidbits as I research further – Varona was general counsel to HRC for fully half of Elizabeth Birch’s tenure as executive director. In other words, they were colleagues and Birch was Varona’s boss. Wow.

Side note: this fixation that some have with Kathleen Matthews’ contribution to Roy Blunt is waaaaay overblown. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but to make a single contribution out of over $60,000 in total contributions a disqualifying event is quite frankly kind of silly. But each to his own, I suppose.

There’s a lot of effective ways to persuade someone to support your preferred candidate for office in this situation. This is definitely not one of them.

Campaign Basics

Or, as Neal Carter would say, Campaign 101. As the Senate and House races take shape and candidates get to work, I’m going to try to post interesting articles on the nuts and bolts of various aspects of a good – or not so good – campaign machine. Yesterday, I saw this piece on avoiding your blast emails being trapped in spam hell. The fancy term is “deliverability.” Worth a read for the hard core campaign nerds out there.

Deliverability is an issue affecting nearly every campaign to some degree. Still, many candidates go through their races having no idea there’s even a problem with their mass email communication. Without recognizing the issue, they aren’t able to defend against it.

* * *

If your email program breaks out statistics by Internet service provider (ISP), you can see if there’s a problem from a sudden drop off in deliverability. But in general, you can keep an eye on overall open and click rates, and pay attention if they suddenly nose dive. If you haven’t done a list cleaning in a while (or ever), or if you have had poor opt-in email practices, it’s a good bet that you have a deliverability problem now with one or more ISPs. The good news is that there are ways to fix this.

I particularly like the last of the nine suggestions. Bigger is not better as to email lists – bad practices turn a poorly managed list into spam very quickly.

It’s better to have a smaller list of engaged supporters than a large list that isn’t even receiving your messages, because they’re going directly to the spam folder. Cutting your list can seem scary, but it can translate to more votes, volunteers, and money if done right.

Preach.