Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to Show Momentum, Part Three

Here’s a few more tricks from the candidates who have mastered the art of looking strong.

9. Show your activity.
When Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) hits the campaign trail, everyone knows about it. When his supporters began phone banking, he posted pictures of them at work on Facebook. When he held a solo “listening tour,” he sent out the announcement and posted more pictures of himself in action, prompting none other than Robin Ficker to say, “You are the greatest!” (OK, maybe Ficker’s support is a mixed bag.) All of this made Senator Nancy King unhappy enough to provoke a Gazette article, which of course allowed Ali to proclaim the unfairness of it all. Other politicians do the exact same things as Ali – running phone banks from their basements and holding rounds of coffees – without getting near as much publicity from it.

10. Show your social networking strength.
Three candidates excel in using Facebook to create buzz about themselves: District 17 Senate challenger Cheryl Kagan, District 19 Delegate candidate Sam Arora and, of course, the King of Facebook himself – Saqib Ali. Each of them has stratospheric Friend counts: Kagan has 3,116, Ali has 2,921 and Arora has 2,436. Any time they are favorably mentioned in a blog post, a news article or anywhere else, they send their thousands of supporters swarming in to read about it. It is no accident that this blog’s monthly top ten post lists regularly include several posts about one or more of these three since they are so good at promoting their candidacies. By showing their Facebook Friends the positive coverage they get, Kagan, Ali and Arora build morale among their supporters, encourage them to contribute more volunteer time and may even collect more in contributions.

11. Release your website stats
The most important campaign statistic other than money is door-knock count. Most candidates claim to knock on thousands of doors, but few really do it. None of them releases door-knocking statistics that are in any way verifiable. But Kagan has released something almost as good: her website statistics. Kagan came out with an early lit piece last summer that she has not mailed, but uses on doors. Like almost every lit piece, this one promotes her website. As Kagan makes the rounds of District 17, residents on the doors go to her website and likely keep going back because of Kagan’s regularly updated blog. All of this activity shows up in her website statistics, which she has released multiple times and we reprint below.

This is tangible proof of a campaign on the move and good as gold for any challenger.

12. The door-knocking video.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, United Mine Workers General President Cecil Roberts released this video of his knocking on doors in rural Virginia for Barack Obama.

This video was great for both Obama and the Mine Workers union. It showed the union’s General President working the doors like any campaign volunteer and making a case for why rural working class whites should support a black presidential candidate from Chicago. We have never seen a video like this from a MoCo candidate, but it would do a lot of good if it was produced the right way. Voters like to see candidates working hard, getting engaged and listening to the concerns of people just like them.

In summary, today’s politicians have more forms of media to cover than their predecessors – websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter – in addition to more traditional and still-necessary communication methods like coffees, mailers and door-knockings. But the candidates also have more opportunity to shape and control their messages because new media gives them more ways to talk directly to voters without going through a middle-man.

In the old days, politicians would have to worry about multiple mainstream media (MSM) articles and how to get their message through the prism of reporters. But the MSM is in steady decline. The Post’s John Wagner, who is the best state politics reporter in the MSM, was only able to devote 174 words to the District 17 Senate race and 79 words to Ali’s possible challenge against Senator Nancy King in a recent combination article about multiple contests. In years past, the Post would have had several Wagners writing solo articles about each race.

With the MSM’s fall, more voters will be learning about candidates through their websites, blogs, Facebook groups and videos – all of which are solely controlled by those candidates. This is potentially a great boon to politicians, but only those who work hard at new media and learn to exploit it at the expense of their opponents. Whoever does this successfully will have a good shot at building momentum and celebrating on primary night.