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Plotting a campaign for Senate
I believe that elections are won on the basis of numerous and varied contact with voters. It’s the idea that you need seven different advertising impressions to sell a commercial product. In this case, the political candidate needs to be seen and heard as often as possible in a number of different ways. Personal contact - shaking hands, talking with individual voters - is the best approach, but it is also inefficient.
Minnesota has five million people. It would be impossible for a candidate for U.S. Senate to engage more than a fraction of them personally. Additionally, there is the problem of intruding on people’s personal space. A wedding reception, for instance, gathers people together but a political candidate could not use such an occasion to shake hands or pass out campaign literature without offending the people he needs to persuade. So candidates are left with a need to work through the media. That, in turn, creates a need to raise money. Money was not my strong suit.
My own strategy was to build on proven techniques of campaigning that I had used in statewide campaigns in Minnesota and Louisiana. Essentially, I would drive around the state and visit newspaper offices. I would have a clear message and plenty of photos. If I out-hustled my opponents in this way, I might do reasonably well. I would know many of the editors and reporters from my 2002 Senatorial campaign. I would know where the newspaper offices were located. Having now a cell phone (which I lacked in the previous race), it should be no problem to line up appointments or even do radio interviews on the road.
I saw my campaign in 2008 as consisting of the previous campaign- PLUS. I would gain additional votes by adding new ways to communicate with voters to what I had previously done.
The first addition was a website: http://www.newindependenceparty.org. Created in the aftermath of the 2002 campaign to express my aspirations for the Independence Party, I now used this as a campaign website. I could lay a foundation for being a serious candidate who had significant, important ideas. These ideas would be exhibited in great detail on the website. The Internet could be a traveling exhibition of position papers. No longer did I need to print the papers and photos to be handed out at newspaper offices. I could simply refer the reporter to the website from which desired materials might be downloaded.
I also had the idea that I could gain votes by giving speeches. Paul Wellstone was a master of this. I remember how, in February 1990, he paced back and forth in a friend’s living room while talking about health care; this may have been Wellstone’s first fund-raising party for his Senate campaign. Maybe party members could now help get me invitations to speak before civic organizations. Maybe the Independence Party could get permission from the Minnesota State Fair to use a microphone or amplifying system at its booth. Candidates such as myself might draw crowds by giving speeches. I saw myself doing this day after day to the point of exhaustion. Either it would catch on or it would not.
I also imagined myself speaking from a wood platform attached to the top of a car or truck. I would use a battery-operated megaphone. My little York terrier, Do Do, would be up on the platform with me. I would drive into a small town, or into the parking lot of a shopping center, or to another place with sufficient traffic, and simply start speaking. Eventually I might draw a crowd, and the media would be contacted. Alas, those were dreams that never came true.
I also thought of using some of the latest campaign techniques involving the Internet. I would produce short videos that would appear on YouTube. No heavy message here - just a cute sequence of shots that would appeal to young voters and generate buzz. I had two ideas in particular.
First, I had befriended and partially tamed a baby squirrel nicknamed “Sammy”. Sammy used to jump up on a sofa with me on my front porch. One day, he licked my hand. So I thought there might be a video of Sammy licking my hand. I would look up at the camera and say, “Some day, lobbyists will be doing this.” It was a cute idea but Sammy never licked my hand again. He disappeared after a few weeks.
The other video idea (“bleeding-heart liberal”) was inspired by the beggars in Minneapolis who hold up signs claiming to be homeless. My idea was that a car driven by a friend would approach such a person. The driver would slow down, roll down his window, and shout “Get a job!” at the beggar. At that point, I would climb into the front seat of the car from the other side, introduce myself as a Congressional candidate, and say something like this to the driver: “I happened to overhear your conversation. You should know that it’s not so easy these days to find employment.” Then, I would engage him with arguments about unemployment, trade policy, etc. The driver would sourly accuse me of being “a bleeding heart liberal.” Looking puzzled, I would pull a dollar out of my pocket and hand it to him (just like a big-spending liberal). “Thanks, man,” the driver would say with grin on his face. It would be self-deprecating humor, normally an effective technique for politicians.
Well, these two video projects never got off the ground. I did not own a suitable video camera, I lacked a camera man with patience and skill to produce the video, and, in Sammy’s case, the star became unavailable. But a vague intention remained.
Another idea was to hold coffee parties or small fundraising parties in the homes of campaign supporters that would feature “Ma & Pa Kettle” films. We could put posters announcing such an event on bulletin boards or telephone poles in the neighborhood. (In 2006, I had mentioned this idea to IP Congressional candidate Tammy Lee but she was less excited about it than I.) The inspiration behind this event was that, as her second cousin, I am the closest living relative to the actress, Marjorie Main, who played Ma Kettle in those films. I also own a complete set of Ma & Pa Kettle films on video. As a political candidate, then, I could show up at the fundraising party, put a video in the host’s VCR, and, after the showing, share my personal recollections of Marjorie Main with the audience. This, too, never got off the ground. There was not time in the campaign to organize such parties. Nobody volunteered to host one.
I also thought of organizing an event related to my interest in trade policy. As an anti-free trader, I would challenge economics professors at the University of Minnesota or another college to a debate. Hopefully, such an event might attract coverage in the student newspaper. Another idea was to organize a conference at which prominent critics of free trade might present proposals for an alternative trade policy. I myself had such a proposal and was sure others did, too. I tried to implement both ideas but failed in the attempt. As a third-party candidate, I was too small a player on the political scene for my projects to be of interest to anyone.
The Twin Cities offered another opportunity for political expression. In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as on the state level, there are politically-oriented discussion groups on the Internet called “e-democracy forum.” I was an active participant on both lists during 2006. My idea, as a Senate candidate in 2008, was to rejoin the lists and make myself and my positions on issues known to the list members. The Minneapolis forum alone had almost 1,000 members. Most were interested in politics. Even if the commercial newspapers in the Twin Cities would not cover the campaign, I was guaranteed a certain audience for my political message. The concept was plausible, but the results disappointing. More on this will be said later.
Finally, there was an assortment of standard techniques for communicating with voters:
(1) Producing a campaign flyer and posting it on bulletin boards or handing it directly to the voters.
(2) Seeking interviews in newspapers or on radio or television programs.
(3) Participating in candidate debates.
(4) Marching in parades.
(5) Trying to create newsworthy events announced through a press release that might generate publicity.
(6) Producing my own campaign video for cable television.
(7) Writing an article about my campaign in the Watchdog newspaper (associated with a landlord group to which I belong) or appearing on the group’s cable-television show.
(8) Submitting letters to the editor or opinion articles to newspapers.
(9) Producing and distributing lawn signs.
I did all these things in my campaign, with varying degrees of success.
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