How to run for Senate, according to Michelle Nunn's campaign
BY REBECCA BERG | JULY 28, 2014 | 3:46 PM
A lot of thought and planning goes into running for Senate, but those machinations often occur fully behind the scenes -- and far from American voters.
But an early memo from one Senate campaign, published Monday by the National Review, brings some of this strategy to light and offers a fascinating look at the challenges and considerations faced by candidates today.
The plan -- drafted in December, according to the National Review -- outlines the path to victory for Michelle Nunn, the Democratic candidate in Georgia's Senate race and one of the party's most-heralded recruits this election cycle.
Sign Up for the Politics Today newsletter!
Here's what we can learn about running for Senate from the memo:
1. Raise money — and lots of it
The Nunn campaign, according to its memo, planned to spend $15 million in a bid to win back Georgia's Senate seat for Democrats — but amassing such a massive war chest is easier said than done, described in the memo as "a heavy lift."
Indeed, the vast majority of the candidate's time during the campaign is spent raising the money, not actively politicking. Nunn's campaign planned for her to spend 80 percent of her time fundraising during the first quarter of the campaign, compared with 10 percent of time on political activities; even in October, the final month before the election, Nunn will still spend half her time raising money. Only in November, for a sprint through the finals days of the campaign, does the operation shift entirely to political activities.
Nunn, former CEO of the nonprofit Points of Light, might be "a fundraiser's dream" for her business connections, as the memo says — but the campaign expressed concern early that Nunn had only spent 56 percent of her time fundraising during October 2013 — an example of the campaign "not meeting our strategic goals."
In the memo, the Nunn campaign evaluates groups that could be ripe targets for fundraising, from the "Jewish community" ("Projected Goal: $250,000") to the "Tech Community" ("Message: Michelle knows what it’s like to do a startup").
The campaign also will be able to count on $1 million from the pro-Democratic group EMILY's List, which "sees this race as one to watch and a campaign that they are going to invest in at significant levels," the memo read.
With help from other Democratic groups, the campaign estimated pro-Nunn allies would spend $37 million for the cycle, versus an estimated $46 million on the Republican side.
2. You're competing with your own party, too
Nunn did not face a competitive primary, but she is facing competition from other Democrats as far away as Alaska -- for money, that is.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee apportions money to candidates and races based on how competitive they're perceived to be. In its memo, Nunn's campaign outlined its "best guess" as to how the Georgia Senate race stacked up, as of December, against other competitive contests across the country.
The campaign ranked the Georgia Senate race as the 11th-most competitive, preceded by the Iowa Senate race at No. 10, where Rep. Bruce Braley faces Republican Joni Ernst, and followed by the Kentucky Senate race, where Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"We will continue to fight to receive funding and to move up in priority," the memo read.
3. Know your weaknesses
To prepare for the general election, Nunn's campaign began to outline its potential areas of weakness, or Republican lines of attack, in its memo, indicating it would be creating a " 'pushback' document" for each.
If the campaign is correct, Nunn's career with Points of Light will be a major focus, including "grants to problematic entities," such as a group with links to Hamas, and even her salary.
The campaign also assumed Republicans would attempt to pigeonhole Nunn as too Democratic for Georgia, portraying her as "Obama’s/Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi Best Friend" or as "a rubber stamp for Democrats."
4. Keep in touch
Even in December 2013, the Nunn campaign had a sense of how many emails it would send supporters every month until the end of the campaign, and whether the messages would solicit donations.
In February, the campaign planned to send out eight emails, including five "engagement" messages — trying to build the campaign's list and engage supporters with the candidate — and three fundraising emails. In October, set your spam filters to "obliterate": The campaign plans to send 13 emails to its list.
For the campaign, it's worth bugging supporters: According to the memo, Nunn's campaign hopes to bring in nearly $1.9 million from fundraising emails alone.
5. Make policy
In Nunn's case, the memo outlines a team responsible for formulating the policy positions and proposals that will be cited throughout the campaign. In addition to volunteers, the campaign relies on a "kitchen cabinet" of advisers, including Nunn's father, former Sen. Sam Nunn, and Georgia business and political leaders.
6. Don't say anything too interesting
In politics, this is called "message discipline," and it prevents press from straying from topics important and beneficial to the campaign.
"The political press is not inclined to cover a candidate repeating their message," the memo notes. "In fact, many reporters see their job as getting the candidate to 'reveal' what (sic) their 'true' inclinations and orientation may lay or to cause a gaffe. Any deviation from that message will be newsworthy to them."
7. And remember: Smile!
Ultimately, after raising money and fighting back against Republicans, a candidate must still campaign — and bonding with voters is neither spontaneous nor organic, but relentlessly strategized.
The Nunn campaign's memo is full of tips, large and small, for appealing to Georgia voters. Some directives, aimed at campaign staff who will be manning public events, are intuitive: "Remember, the drinks & food are for guests," the memo warns.
The memo even tackles the tricky etiquette question of cutting off overly chatty supporters: "This must be done with grace and finesse, of course."
More difficult, and addressed at greater length in the memo, is the question of how to appeal to groups that might not otherwise be inclined to support Democrats.
Nunn's campaign has tried to appeal early on to the state's rural voters, including farmers — who "will be important validators for the campaign, especially in rural Georgia," the memo noted. "These individuals will help show Michelle Nunn as a different kind of Democrat."
So far, the campaign has taken great pains to frequently portray Nunn, who lives near Atlanta, in rural settings, such as in Nunn's ad, "What's Going On."