11/21/2014

McCann (D) seeking recount for State Senate in Kalamazoo County

The 20th State Senate race was one of the heartbreakers of this election - perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit for us, yet we still lost.

Or maybe not.

Friends,

After much thought and consultation with my family, my team and supporters, I have decided to request a recount of the election results in the 20th Senate District.

More than 80,000 ballots were cast in the race, and the results showed a difference of only 59 votes, or 0.07% of the total votes cast, less than one vote per precinct. We think that this extremely close margin warrants a recount.

We also heard from many voters who expressed concerns about their votes being counted. Multiple issues with finalizing the local results give us enough concern that we believe a recount is appropriate.

This is primarily about finding votes that the electronic tabulators missed - faint markings, for example. Few, if any, votes were cast for O'Brien or Wenke that should've been counted for McCann. Generally, if it's clear that a voter intended to vote for McCann, the vote is supposed to count for McCann.

In addition, a recount can ensure that, regardless of the outcome, people at least have confidence in the process.

11/20/2014

Ten and a Half Communications Blunders and the Lessons They Can Teach Us (If We’re Willing to Learn)

“Amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic.” That statement is often used to remind us that even inexperienced people are capable of great things, while those who should know better… often don’t.

The latter part could certainly apply to the communications “efforts” of Democratic Party units, Democratic candidates, and progressive organizations this year, particularly in Michigan. Many political campaigns and organizations pay communications staff to produce and disseminate messages to the press, social media users, and voters, among other audiences. Yet many entities found the return on their communications investment to be lackluster.

It's not that hard to see why.

I’m embarrassed - embarrassed - at how horribly we in Michigan failed to communicate any sort of motivational or inspiring message to get our voters to vote. Despite major innovations over the last eight years, the Granholm 2006 campaign had a better communications operation than did the Schauer 2014 campaign. And our digital strategy? Well, I’m not even sure there was one.

I share these examples in hopes that we as Democrats will learn from our mistakes and grow as a Party. If we choose to, that is.

..........

EXHIBIT A: A mailer from a statewide organization promoted only two of the three Supreme Court candidates: Richard Bernstein and Judge Bill Murphy. The third, Judge Deborah Thomas, was not included.

Problem: There are two issues here. First, the mailer inaccurately presents Bernstein and Murphy as the complete Supreme Court ticket when, in reality, there was a third candidate. This leaves the false impression that you only vote for two people - that you're done when you vote for Bernstein and Murphy. Second (and more importantly), Judge Thomas is African-American while the other two are Caucasian; in omitting Thomas, they risked alienating a constituency Democrats need.

Solution: Even with limited space on your lit piece, be strategic in who you include or exclude from a mailing. Of course you’ll never be able to fit the names of everyone you want to fit on one single lit piece. But adding Judge Thomas to the mailer would not have cost anything extra (except a little space, which wasn’t used well in the first place, believe me). The bigger cost was found in the votes that Judge Thomas lost because of the omission - and the people who were needlessly alienated.

--

EXHIBIT B: Mistargeted sponsored content on Facebook.

Problem: I saw Facebook ads, boosted posts, and other sponsored content for a host of candidates in whose districts I don’t live.

Solution: Ads can be targeted based on geography. With a few exceptions, ads should only be seen by people who (a) live in your district and (b) are of voting age.

Rule of thumb: If I can’t vote for you, I better not see your ad. (If you’re trying to get people to volunteer or donate, that’s a different story. Even then, targeting is necessary.)

--

EXHIBIT C: A campaign email in which the Sender field was different from the person whose name was at the bottom. The 'sender' was a staffer, while the person signing the bottom of the message was the candidate him/herself.

Problem: Inconsistency. Also, if it's supposed to be from the candidate him/herself, then you're losing out by not identifying the candidate as the sender.

Solution: Have someone - or two or three people - *proofread* your communications before they go out. At a place where I used to work, we had a VERY thorough process for proofreading emails and other outbound communications.

--

EXHIBIT D:

Problem: Well, the tweet is about diversity… so where’s the diversity in that picture?

Solution: Again, a proofreading/checking process may have caught this.

--

EXHIBIT E:
Problem: “Weiser” refers to Ron Weiser, a Republican running for U-M Regent. That’s right - the Twitter account of the Democratic Party’s standard bearer pushed a message favorable to a Republican candidate.

Solution: Be cognizant of your role and place in the overall Democratic Party campaign. It's no small responsibility to be in charge of any aspect of the campaign that heads the Democratic ticket.

--

EXHIBIT F: During the last few weeks of the campaign, the Schauer Twitter account tweeted or retweeted dozens of times each day.

Problem: That kind of hyperactivity on Twitter can clog up people’s Twitter feeds - and give them ample reason to unfollow you.

Solution: Be more selective in what (and when) you tweet.

--

EXHIBIT G: Some organizations run multiple Twitter accounts. Sometimes those Twitter accounts tweet the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Problem: This can (a) clog up other people’s Twitter feeds and (b) make it so that other people who check Twitter throughout the day won’t see your message.

Solution: Tweets should be spaced out so that multiple people can see your message throughout the day. If I’m following three Twitter accounts which tweet the same exact thing, I’m 3x as likely to see it if you tweet it at different times, compared to if you just tweeted it out at the same time.

--

EXHIBIT H: Many communication to voters used such "inside" terminology as "CD," "SD," and "HD."

Problem: Those of us in politics know what is meant by those acronyms: Congressional district, Senate district, and State House district, respectively. But your target audience for this communication - swing and sporadic voters just won’t understand them. More to the point, they don’t know which of those candidates to vote for - they just see a bunch of names and faces.

Solution: Consider your target audience. Do they know what is meant by CD, SD, or HD? If not, don’t confuse them. If political communications professionals can’t consider our audience when producing said communications, how will we ever get them to actually vote?

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EXHIBIT I: When you knock on doors for a campaign, you’re usually given a script of what to say to voters (not verbatim, of course, but mostly as a guide). In helping out a Michigan legislative candidate this cycle, I was given a script that said that folks should vote for the candidate because they “understand the needs of residents in the Nth district” (paraphrasing).

Problem: Your target audience - be it swing voters, sporadic voters, or anyone else - won’t care what district they’re in. They know their communities (city, for example), but not their district. Most people who do know what district they live in are either (a) definitely going to vote for you or (b) definitely not going to vote for you.

Solution: Let’s say that the candidate “understands the needs of people in [TOWN].”

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EXHIBIT J: An Election Day email from a Democratic Party unit.

Sender: URGENT LOW DEM TURNOUT
Subject: URDENT GET OUT NOW LOW DEM TURNOUT - polls open until 8 pm
Body: LOW DEM TURNOUT!!!
Next line: WE CAN SIT ON THE SIDELINES
Next line: Get out and VOTE NOW

Problem: Oy. Where to begin? Well, for starters, you have the typos (“Urdent”). The ALL CAPS conveyed a sense of panic - and no, that didn’t help either. The second line (“We can sit on the sidelines”) makes no sense, particularly within the context of this email. (Perhaps they meant "can't" instead of "can" - if so, there's another typo) It all looks like a discombobulated mess. But above all, it’s clear that this email was not created with the audience in mind. The folks on this listserv? If they care enough about politics to be on your listserv, then they care enough to vote. I bet you that nobody was going to be reminded to vote just by seeing this email.

Solution: Sometimes, it's best not to send an email at all. Just saying.

--

BONUS: Okay, I don't really consider this a blunder on the level of the others, and it's best not to go into much detail about what prompts me to write this. But I'll just suggest that political jobs are not normal jobs. The strength of our communities depends on Democratic success - and that success hinges on all staffers, consultants, and candidates being at full strength. There's a ton that goes into planning certain life events. There's also a ton that goes into winning an election. You can't focus on both at the same time.

Not all major life events can be planned for. But some are.

...........

Michigan Democrats' field operation this year was like the Tigers’ starting rotation: Top notch, among the best in the business. But like the Tigers' bullpen, our communications effort was the weak link that cost us the big prize.

I love the Democratic Party and the Detroit Tigers. I hope they both win it all soon. But before that can happen, each will need to fix what's hurting them.

10/27/2014

The Grand Rapids Press, which rarely endorses Democrats, backs Winnie Brinks

The Grand Rapids Press hardly ever endorses Democrats in competitive races. When they do back a Democrat, it's usually because the race is settled (Senator Levin got the Press's backing in 2002 and 2008, as have state lawmakers like Brandon Dillon and Michael Sak, who have represented the city's more Democratic district).

How Republican have the Press's endorsements been over the years? Even Pete Hoekstra and Mike Bouchard got the Press's nod in their landslide losses to Senator Stabenow.

Before now, I can only recall one other Democrat who received the Press's endorsement in a competitive race: Jocelyn Benson in 2010.

Winnie Brinks just became the second.

But Dejonge has failed to convincingly argue why voters should not send Brinks back to Lansing for a second term. Her political experience is limited to a two-year stint as Grand Rapids city comptroller. Dejonge quit that post in late 2012 after voters rejected her ballot proposal to make the position appointed instead of elected.

Brinks has shown growth as a legislator. She has focused on policy issues that are important to Grand Rapids, including road fixes, education and health care. She boasts the unanimous support of the Grand Rapids Public School Board and is endorsed by three city commissioners and Mayor George Heartwell.
Brinks's seat was expected to be a top target of Republicans; now, their odds of winning the 76th are diminishing, even as they're forced to defend seats they thought were safe.

10/18/2014

Al-Jazeera picks up Land's foibles

...along with her party's general inability to improve their standing among women:

But there’s some evidence that the Democrats’ strategy is working and the Republicans’ isn’t. Some experts say the Land ad provides an example of why: When Democrats have attacked Republicans for their position on controversial issues, Republicans have countered mostly through image: putting women at the front of the party but not providing concrete evidence that Democrats’ claims are wrong. “She had that one ad and then didn’t follow up trying to appeal to women voters,” said Susan Demas, a writer and political analyst for the website Inside Michigan Politics. “But her record on equal pay and abortion rights is well known in Michigan, and that doesn’t resonate well with women.”
The article goes on to discuss, among other things, the "Say Yes to the Dress" ads, which an MSU student said had offended her:
“It offended me that she’s trying to sell herself as a candidate for women but she didn’t talk about any kind of policy,” Havern said. “She’s trying to appeal to women, but I don’t know what her stances are.”
I guess I kind of expected the Party of Sarah Palin to do better among women. Not!

9/24/2014

Political communications mistakes I've seen TODAY ALONE (w/some solutions)

1. A statewide organization omitting a certain candidate from a lit piece - a candidate whose support largely comes from a constituency Democrats need.
2. A reminder to sign up to vote early - in Florida. I don't live in Florida, I was only there once, and there's no evidence on my Facebook that I even did go there (until this post).
3. A campaign email in which the Sender field was different from the person whose name was at the bottom.
SOLUTIONS:
1. Even with limited space on your lit, *be strategic* in who you include or exclude.
2. *Target* your Facebook ads to those who are able to do what you ask them. Can't vote in Florida if I don't live there!
3. Have someone - or two or three people - *proofread* your communications before they go out. At previous employers, we had a VERY thorough process for proofreading emails.
Just 41 days left, people. COME ON!!!

9/19/2014

Young, Catholic, and reverent of the forgotten

Folks who attack religion as some sort of problem that we'd be better off without... and folks who make broad swipes at millennials... I see you, and I raise you this:
Young people of faith who want to make sure every deceased person is fittingly remembered.

For the past 12 years, students in the pallbearer ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland have attended funerals for the forgotten, walking with those who have no one else to accompany them to their final resting place. Since the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry was founded in 2002, more than 400 juniors and seniors have served as casket bearers at local funerals for deceased who were homeless, financially insecure or simply didn’t have anyone to give them a dignified burial.

“The mission of the pallbearer ministry is to try and practice the works of mercy, to bring our faith to the streets of Cleveland,” said Jim Skerl, a theology teacher at Saint Ignatius High and the founder of the ministry.

It’s the largest student organization at the school, and members have been present at about 1,450 funerals. “Each funeral is different, which is an interesting reminder that each person we carry is an individual,” said Skerl.

7/30/2014

Bernstein launches Supreme Court campaign with stellar branding

Richard Bernstein announced this morning that he's running for Michigan Supreme Court. His announcement was accompanied by branding himself the "Blind Justice" - a clever effort on many levels.

For one thing, a catchy tagline ensures people will remember him. Say what you will about Snyder, but "nerd" did stick in many people's minds - enough that he went from almost zero to the governor's office in less than a year.

Second, he's turning what some would consider a negative - his blindness - into a positive. Rather than let others point out his disability (and try to use it to question his ability to serve), he's making it clear that his disability will help, not hinder, him.

Third, he sets forth his idea that justice should be blind. It shouldn't be skewed by partisan (or other) bias - which the current Court is.

Bernstein is seeking an eight-year term on the Court, of which there will be two on this fall's ballot. Brian Zahra holds one of the seats that is up for grabs, while the other seat is being vacated by Justice Michael Cavanagh, who is retiring due to age.

Judge Deborah Thomas is challenging incumbent David Viviano for the two-year partial term of the seat formerly held by Diane Hathaway.

6/20/2014

Grand Rapids-area Democrats more organized than ever, ready to win

Dozens of Democratic candidates and activists packed the 3rd Congressional District Democratic Coordinated Campaign office for the office's grand opening Thursday evening.

Located at 345 Fuller Ave. NE (site of the Obama-Biden campaign office in 2012), the office will serve as a hub for Democratic campaign activities in West Michigan during the 2014 election cycle.

Not in recent memory has the Grand Rapids-area Democratic Coordinated Campaign office opened so early in a campaign cycle. In previous election cycles, the Coordinated Campaign office didn't open until July or August; in 2010, it didn't even open until September.

Speakers at the grand opening event included:

  • Bob Goodrich, candidate for Congress, spoke of the need for Democrats to get women to vote.
  • Rep. Brandon Dillon discussed Democrats' effort to win a majority in the State House, an effort which he is heading up this cycle.
  • Rep. Winnie Brinks said she had no interest in politics until just a few years ago, but saw a need to get involved.
  • Lance Penny, candidate for State Senate in the 29th District (challenging Dave Hildenbrand), noted that the district is winnable for Democrats. President Obama carried the district in 2008 and 2012.
  • County Commissioner Carol Hennessy talked about the influence Democrats have gained on the County Commission.
  • Daniel Morse, candidate for County Commission, discussed his race against County Commission Chair Dan Koorndyk in the 18th District. Morse has the support of a number of police, fire, and teachers' unions.
We're just 137 days away from Election Day - and Democrats are doing everything we can to make sure November 4, 2014, is as magical as November 4, 2008.

Live in Michigan? Join the campaign - sign up right now to volunteer.

6/10/2014

Free advice


  1. If your Facebook/Twitter feed has a high level of negativity or suckitude, folks probably won't follow it.
  2. Using BOLD AND ALL-CAPS in the body of your emails? Don't expect that to motivate people to get involved in your cause.
  3. If you do feel you need to use BOLD AND ALL-CAPS because people aren’t helping, then maybe you should stop ignoring their offers to help.
  4. Respect, Empower, Include - it’s not just a saying, it’s also sound strategy.

But what do I know, I’ve only been involved in communications strategy and community engagement for a number of years now (including working for OFA in Chicago and being Deputy National Communications Director of the College Democrats of America).