Sunday, October 28, 2007

Republicans: How to Win Elections by "Walking Around"

Note: Please take a look at the previous columns regarding William Russell's important race against John Murtha.

One-sentence summary of today's column: The candidate should find people who know "everybody" (figuratively) in a town or small city, gain their confidence, and have them introduce him or her to all influential people in the immediate area.

Because I live with a disabled spouse and a disabled stepdaughter, I don’t get out as much as I should. Consequently, I spend a whole lot of time on the Internet, doing work for a couple of companies (including one in Illinois and one in Michigan) and conducting my political activity in support of several Republican candidates.

The Internet can be a great tool, especially for political candidates who aren’t exactly swimming in money (like William Russell, who’s running against John Murtha). However, it’s not enough by itself.

A successful political candidate – and I’ll do all in my power to see that William wins his race – has to make contact with the right people. Yes, because you can’t run a campaign with money, some of those “right people” will be those who regularly help raises funds for Republican candidates. I’m hoping people in the 12th District – and adjoining areas – will help William raise funds.

Two of those people are Diana Irey, who ran against Murtha in 2006 and raised nearly $900,000, and Republican Mark DeSantis, who’s running a remarkable campaign for Mayor of Pittsburgh – and reportedly might raise about $300,000.

But there are other “right people” who are equally important. They’re the individuals Malcolm Gladwell (in his book The Tipping Point) calls connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

Connectors are individuals whose “hobby” is . . . meeting other people. As Gladwell says, “They are the kinds of people who know everyone.” Some connectors literally know a thousand or more men and women. Yes, they’re rare, but they exist in just about town with more than two stop lights.

A candidate like William should never be alone. When he finds a connector – a police officer, a mail deliverer, or an insurance agent – he should walk around with them and get introduced to some of the people they know. There are connectors in Johnstown, Monongahela, Washington, Greensburg, and the other towns in the 12th District. They aren’t too hard to find, and if you quiz them, they’ll tell you who the other connectors are.

The connectors probably can tell someone like William who the mavens are. They’re individuals who know a lot about various matters. Mavens are the ones we all go to for advice on a variety of subjects.

Often, they’re the kind of people who read Consumer Reports cover-to-cover. Mavens know who the best real estate agent is – and which kind of cars have the best warranties. Political mavens – Adam Brickley who found the “Draft Sarah Palin” effort is one and I’m another – are the experts on candidates.

The salesmen (or saleswomen) excel at getting people to buy things – from products to candidates. They’re very good at persuading people. Often, they head up a small business that’s so successful it’s becoming a large business. Nicole Cavoti, a sorority sister in college of Melissa Hart, is one such people, and she just sold me and my wife an IRA plan.

One of the most important things a political candidate can do is to find the connectors, mavens, and salesmen. He or she must also ask for their support and work as closely with them as he can.

Many years ago – I believe Nixon was still President – I met two African-American men who did public relations work for the Republican Party. I asked them how Republicans could get more Black votes.

They told me: “Go to the beauty parlor operators and haircut people, the ministers, and the small businesspeople. They all vote – unlike the people standing around on street corners – and they know everybody else who votes.” Bingo!

The two public relations men were talking – without using the terms – about connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Win enough of them, and the candidate wins the election.

There are African-Americans – two of them are my neighbors – who know just about every Black person who’s a “likely voter” in Ambridge, PA, where I live. Get my neighbors on your side, and it could translate into a lot of votes. To meet small businessmen in Ambridge, the person to see is John Dunn, who spent more than 30 years as an insurance agent.

As you can see, I’m somewhat “old school.” I don’t believe in spending hundreds of thousands – or millions – on TV advertising. People are becoming immune (as Malcolm Gladwell noted recently) to political ads. Apparently, however, they aren’t becoming immune to a real candidate’s VOICE on radio ads.

Radio is relatively cheap, and TV is expensive (no relatively about it). When all else is equal, go for the cheaper alternative.

A campaign that emphasizes winning the right people is the right approach for a candidate like William Russell.

(Note: I’ll write more in the future about a low-cost, high-impact campaign. The Malcolm Gladwell book has excellent material on how Mayor Giuliani and Police Chief Bratton brought about a massive decrease in crime in New York City in the 1990s.)

Afterthought: If I were William Russell, one place I’d look for money and support is in Democratic congressman Mike Doyle’s City of Pittsburgh district. Doyle raises a lot of money, but he generally runs unopposed.

But there are tens of thousands of Republicans – although not enough to win the Doyle seat – in Pittsburgh. A candidate like William might seek contributions from Republicans in the Doyle district and perhaps pick up several campaign volunteers. It would be a shame merely to ignore the Republicans there. Call it the “Adopt a Candidate” approach.

William T Russell
PO BOX 630
Johnstown, Pennsylvania 15907
(814) 248-3435

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