It’s another Sunday, so for those who tune in, welcome to a diary discussing the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic campaign. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up any time: Just visit our group or follow the Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.
One of the things I love most about doing what I do is speaking to county parties and groups about the efforts they put in to win elections. While I’m not able to go in person, through Zoom and Microsoft Teams I get to talk to and hear feedback from diverse communities. I am sometimes struck by the differences in attitudes. In one community, some Democratic values are deemed the most important while in others, they are looking at a different set of core issues that mean the most to them. The starkest difference, though, is the way in which groups view candidates who ran and lost. While the candidate may have lost, the knowledge gained through their race should be welcomed back into the party, at least in my opinion. This week, I’m going to talk about why welcoming back candidates is the right thing to do for our Democratic Party infrastructure.
Respect brings recruits
It is easy to celebrate success. Every organization loves to do it: We highlight the work that brought in the reward. In business, the result can sometimes be quantified. Those quantified results can then find us answers as to what went right, what went wrong, and how we can improve. There is a downside to this as a strategy, though, especially with campaigns that don’t succeed, and especially campaigns we know are unlikely to win. CFO Magazine lays it out this way:
A finance leader had ambitiously thought, “Through metrics we can push people to systematically identify opportunities and focus on the right things.” But soon the managers were spending all of Monday and Tuesday morning going through piles of numbers in the (vain) hope of surviving the “torture” and getting away unscathed. Being able to scroll up and down efficiently through almost 50 (!) metrics and looking good on the call became more important than actually improving business performance. The results were disastrous. Attrition exploded, the stock price collapsed, and a manager moaned, “This place is a sweatshop.”
I want you to transfer this to campaigns and candidates. A healthy look at a loss is important, and we can talk about improvement. The end results in some cases, though, lead to outright attrition. The constant metric-mania with no reward to the candidate who lost can lead to the candidate you really want to run saying, “Boy, I don’t need this kind of torture.”
In some meetings, the feedback I received was that candidates who lost felt as though they had no respect in the party; they were treated as though they no longer had a real role in the party, which was a send-off that left them feeling unwelcome. What a way to bring in new candidates! By making prior candidates feel uncomfortable, it depresses their interest in trying again or telling anyone else they should run. It poisons your own well. Don’t let candidates and recruits feel as though they are working in a sweatshop with no respect being provided.
Provide honor and dignity to those who ran
In one meeting I attended, however, the process went very differently. While most of their candidates lost in red districts they were not expected to win, these candidates were still greeted in the same manner as the candidates who did win their elections. The support and encouragement of those candidates led them to seek party structure roles like county chair, vice chair, or treasurer. They wanted to pass on their experience to others because in that room they felt safe.
This is the goal of every Democratic organization: to make candidates old and new feel welcome and valued. We value all people, but I recognize when a candidate is asked to run in a district we know they cannot win, they will be subjecting themselves and sometimes their family to heinous attacks from Republicans who will work to defile their character and attack them personally. There has to be some level of reward and safety in that, and that level of reward and safety cannot come from staring at the results in precinct data sheets or evaluating their returns. It goes beyond funds raised and strategies used in a campaign.
In other meetings, and even here on Daily Kos, you can find stories of candidates who ran and lost and don’t find the support to tell their story. Not the metric story, not the financial story, and not the data story—they want to tell the story of a voter they met at a door. They want to tell the story about something that happened during the campaign that gave them the hope to keep going. They want to relate to people around them and feel recognized, not ostracized.
Campaigns aren’t Six Sigma
Ten years ago, in another lifetime, I sat through training programs for Six Sigma, which was designed to help improve our business workflow. The course work dealt with how a manufacturer could improve the bottom line and how it would benefit everyone. We did it by a simple methodology: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.
This is where we get into trouble. In so many ways, campaign consultants and party leadership can make candidates feel like the widgets we were designing as part of project management: define the product, measure the outcome, analyze the results, improve for the next round, and control errors.
Simply put, this will never work in a campaign. Issues change, candidates change, the emotional attachment of your audience changes, and the candidates can win or lose on charisma or connection. The candidates just aren’t widgets.
This methodology, though, completely locks out candidates who don’t win. They find themselves outsiders when their errors are reduced and their improvements are set to return. They quickly realize they’re being made into a product instead of a person. What a terrible way to treat someone who ran for office!
Do you know a candidate who ran and didn’t succeed? Did you support that candidate? Do they feel welcome in your local meetings, and are they appreciated for the hard work they’ve done? As the inauguration approaches, you might find now is a good time to reach out and thank someone. It’s the right thing to do, if for no other reason than candidates are human beings, not widgets.
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