Last month, Republicans won full control of Virginia’s House of Delegates after an incumbent GOP member won a drawing to decide a tied election.
That’s right, a drawing.
Republican David Yancey earned a victory over Democrat Shelly Simonds via a tiebreaker drawing after each received 11,608 votes in the race for the Newport News-based seat in the Virginia legislature’s lower chamber.
The headlines and hype surrounding this election tiebreaker masked an important lesson.
In today’s political climate, races are won or lost well before Election Day.
We’re talking months, if not years, ahead.
The decisions you make today – weeks and months in advance of your Election Day – are key to your preparation and creating an environment that gives you the best chance at success.
Start Raising Money
Effectively communicating with voters takes more avenues and more money than ever before. Fundraising must be the first priority for your campaign.
Prioritize not just collecting contributions but also building fundraising relationships and growing your network of influencers, fundraisers, bundlers – the people with relationships and access to other people with money.
Craft a Comprehensive Messaging Strategy
Develop and refine a comprehensive communications and messaging strategy. You need to know the issue platform, successes and accomplishments, and contrasts and attacks you’re going to run on.
Remember, messaging is as important to fundraising as it is voter contact.
Build relationships with the regional and state media contacts as well as key individuals associated with non-traditional mediums such as blogs. Cultivate relationships that can be leveraged for communications in the future.
Recruit leaders and activists on specific conservative issues who can be a conduit for messaging, adding a greater degree of credibility, either in a personal capacity or with some official role, for example, an Education Reform Advisor.
Thoroughly maintain and update your influencer list. Continue to build relationships with individuals who have the capacity to influence the way voters think and discuss candidates, campaigns, and elections.
Invest in Opposition Research
The best way to win in a difficult political environment is to disqualify your opponent. Begin opposition research on potential opponents as soon as possible.
Once you start, don’t stop. Opposition research needs to be ongoing. The process does not stop once you get the initial report. Your opponent will make mistakes throughout the campaign, and you need to know about them in order to capitalize on them.
Invest in Research and Data
Survey research, and quality data helps you spend the rest of your campaign resources – money, message, volunteers – more intelligently.
Polling should focus less on the horse race and more on message testing. What works, and what does not work?
In an election in which every communication matters, you need messages to be as tight and focused as possible.
Start Early and Go Hard
Prepare to start your campaign earlier than you planned. This means beginning voter contact as early as possible.
That may be testing issues and messages before it is reasonable to ask a candidate support question. This will also inform and help test the accuracy of data modeling and voter scores.
Make the race about your opponent. Driving up your opponent’s unfavorables is going to take awhile, so you need to flood the zone with contrast or negative messaging as soon as it makes budget sense. Digital and mobile are very good and relatively inexpensive ways to get this started.
It is cliché but true when you hear, “Every vote counts.”
Virginia showed us that this year.
Don’t let your race come down to a drawing after Election Day.