Strategizing for Success

JH Team Meeting
Clockwise from right, campaign volunteers Amanda and  Lindsay with Justin Hodge (center)

Hodge’s apartment near Ford Lake smells of saut√©ed carrots, onions, and roasted chicken. His kitchen table is covered in campaign paraphernalia. He shares magnetic name tags emblazoned with his campaign logo. A printer sits squarely in the middle, beside the laptops of the two campaign volunteers that have arrived early. Amanda, the communications director on the campaign, and Lindsay, the campaign strategist, are social workers as well. For Amanda, this is the first time she has been on the inside of a campaign, while Lindsay is a political veteran, having run for student body president at her college in Idaho. “Since I can’t pay them,” Hodge explains, “the least I can do is feed them.”

They have gathered in his apartment not simply to sample the culinary skills of him and his wife, Tajalli, but to strategize the next several weeks of the campaign. It is a little over two months until the primary, and Hodge needs to get his name out to voters in his district. Strategy in elections is key. Hodge knows he needs roughly 2600 votes to win, but he cannot simply knock on 2600 doors in District 5 and expect those voters to show up for him on election day. Hodge and his campaign team are attempting to devise the most efficient way of reaching their most likely supporters with the resources that they have.

He and Lindsay discuss what they want to accomplish over the next two hours. There is canvassing that needs to be done, along with a schedule of who will do it and where. Campaigns in 2018, even for county commission, need a social media strategy. Hodge has already developed a campaign website, but he and his volunteers need all of their social media to coordinate similar messages and make it easy for voters to follow the campaign and receive information. There is a video to be shot, again to introduce himself to voters. There are events to attend. Finally, there are endorsements to secure.

A third volunteer, Crystal, arrives, and two others–Kevin and Danielle–join via video conference. After eating, they open with a conversation on canvassing. In our last post we mentioned that Hodge had purchased data on voters in his district. These data allow his campaign to target specific areas in the district. He discusses two metrics in the data that will be particularly useful for targeting potential voters. The first is their likelihood of being a Democrat. There’s little reason to canvass Republican voters, for example, in a Democratic primary. The second is their likelihood of voting. Democrats that are likely to stay at home are not the kind of Democrats Hodge will need to win the primary. Hodge knows it will be particularly important for him to canvass near his own residence. “It just looks bad,” he says, “if we don’t get a lot of votes from here.”

Another important group he discusses with volunteers is absentee voters. Because the incumbent has greater name-recognition in the district, Hodge understands that it will be important for him to introduce himself to absentee voters before they turn in their ballots.

As the conversation transitions to other agenda items, the value of volunteers to a candidate becomes evident. In a moment of levity, Amanda reviews opposition research on Hodge himself. (This kind of research, Hodge admits between laughs, is quite valuable). More broadly, though, throughout the meeting volunteers offer ideas and suggestions Hodge would not have heard in their absence. Lindsay, for example, advises Hodge on they “why” of his candidacy, to really think about it, have a bank of stories to include on the campaign website about why he’s running for County Commissioner specifically. Each volunteer adds ideas to the content of the video Hodge’s campaign will put together with an eye toward what works, what is consistent with the message Hodge wants to deliver, what is practical, etc.

The volunteers are also tremendous time savers for Hodge. Amanda, for example, is responsible for drafting scripts volunteers will use to make calls to potential voters. She is also responsible for filling out most of the endorsement questionnaires the campaign is submitting to organizations and political action committees. (These endorsements are valuable not only as marketing material, but in the case of political action committees may come with donations to the campaign as well.) Crystal finds several events Hodge should attend around the district in the coming weeks.

Tajalli represents an invaluable and tireless volunteer for the campaign. At the time of the meeting she has already identified every restaurant in the district, and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the boundaries of the district itself.

As a full-time social worker at Michigan Medicine, Hodge maintains a busy schedule of clients, meetings, and program coordinating. He was also recently offered a clinical faculty position with the University of Michigan School of Social Work. With the demands of the campaign, his commitments to the Washtenaw County Democratic Party, and his work, Hodge is stretched for time. He admits to saving some aspects of his professional practice to moments of down time. Not all social workers wear as many hat as Hodge wears, but those contemplating running for office should consider how much time they are willing to commit against other priorities in their lives.

Hodge acknowledges that all of the effort he and his team are putting into the campaign may not be necessary. The incumbent in the race “isn’t doing any of this”, he says, referring to attending events, coordinating social media messages, etc.. “Anything that isn’t winning us votes, we don’t have to do.”

That determination will have to come at a future strategy session. After roughly two and a half hours the meeting adjourns, but the merriment continues. Tajalli has graciously put the leftover chicken and vegetables away, but no one is in a rush to get up. Hodge jokes that “the meeting’s over but you don’t have to leave.”



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