Same thing at Kos
As some of you may or may not know, I occupy a fairly unique position in the political world. Just like most of you I am obsessed by politics. I would estimate that in a normal week I spend 75 plus percent of my time involved in something political. This ranges from blogging to reading the newspaper to going to my classes in political science to lying in bed (is insomnia genetic?).
However, I said that I occupy a UNIQUE position from the rest of you. And I think that I do. I spend a large amount of time blogging, in between my real life activities. However, my real life activity is what seperates me. You see, when I log off I go to work, and when I go to work I stay in politics.
When people ask me what career I am going into when I graduate I have one answer. Campaigns. You see, I have only had one job in my entire life not connected to politics, and that was a temp job I only did for one month. I not only live and breathe politics, I wouldnt be able to eat without politics.
Consequently, I see most issues from both a campaign side and from a blog side.
I have therefore decided to write this two part diary. The first part will be for candidates. The second part for bloggers.
First, who are bloggers?
Bloggers are partisan. When you think of blogs, think of your annual county Democratic convention. When you are talking to bloggers you are talking to researchers, volunteers, door knockers, donors and often, precinct chairs. Treat them accordingly.
Second, these are donors, but they arent.
A blog is not a place for you to copy and paste an email asking for money. Those that give money on blogs do so because they believe in a candidate. I mean really, really believe. These are people who read about a candidate 5 times and spend the next two weeks eating ramen noodles so they can throw a few bucks to someone they believe in.
Also, dont just use them as donors. The most effective and excited volunteers I have seen were those that gave between 5 and 20 dollars to a campaign. When someone cant give you a $2300 check ask them to help you out in other ways. Chances are the smaller amount of money they gave you the more willing they are to put in dozens of weekends working for you.
Third, and the most important, engage.
A blog is not a press release. Think of every blog you post as a town hall. You give a short 10 minute speech and spend 2 hours answering questions from the crowd. That is blogging. If you post something and run you will get a tiny amount of support for paying attention to blogs. If you engage you will get some of the most committed activists around on your side. An easy choice, no?
In the form of a much longer explination, blogs are a new and growing aspect of campaigns. These are not a bunch of people yelling at each other, or patting each other on the back. These are activists who want to know more. They are true believers who want to get involved. But they are much more than potential volunteers or donors, and you need to realize that or you will lose their respect. Many bloggers write letters to the editor once a week. Most bloggers can say that they have contacted an elected official in the last month about an issue. These people are involved in so many ways. Remember maccaca? That story had 10 chances to die in the first 2 weeks. And it had 100 chances to go away in the months following that. Bloggers kept it alive, and showed why it mattered. Engage them and they will find out, for free, things that your $10,000 research binder could only hope to hint at. Give them a reason to believe in you and your grassroots operation will be started for you. Ignore them and they will ignore you. Denigrate them and they will turn that microscope on you.
Additionally, dont be afraid of what you say. This is saved forever, but dont let that scare you. Most of what you say is saved forever. You are in politics. "Thems the rules." Dont say anything in a blog that you wouldnt say at a candidate forum or a campaign event and you will be fine.
Now for the Bloggers:
Candidates are real people.
They are not perfect. They are not you. They are, largely, luddites. Explain what blogging is to them. Give them leeway. Additionally, know that you will disagree with them, but also know that your opinions can shape theirs. The Southern Dem tells the story of how, when Larry Kissell first started running, his positions on some issues were not finalized. He was a millworker turned school teacher. No one expects him to know the details of every issue. But, bloggers talked to him, explained the issues to him in long conversations, and he developed his opinion. You can be an annoyance or a you can be a resource. I think you know how I would like you to choose.
Campaigns are huge.
In every campaign, there are a million different things going on, thousands of tasks to be completed, and hundreds of subgroups to talk to. I can not stress this enough. Even in a netroots powered campaign, blogs will only get so much time. Thankfully, you arent part of the campaign. Have a great idea? Research it and pass it on, either as a blog or as an email. Make yourself available. You cant be appeased all the time. But, no honest candidate can appease all of their supporters. State your position, but be understanding when the candidate doesnt change his postion.
Campaigns are compromises
I dont say that to mean that a candidate has to compromise their ideals to win. What I mean by this is that to get elected a campaign must get 50% +1. In most places, this means talking to people from a broad spectrum of ideas, and convincing them to believe in you. Sometimes that means a candidate who can win has moderate positions. Sometimes that means a candidate who is not moderate has to whisper instead of yell. Please understand that there are honest ways to tailor a message, and every campaign works very hard to both maintain their overall message and speak to the issues that the audience cares about. Its not lying, its not even leaving something out. It is talking about what people care about.
I give you another example from the Kissell campaign. I worked with a number of different people. One of my favorite door knockers was a guy who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004. He was an ex Air Force man, who absolutely loved everything about Larry. One of my most effective phone people was a woman who was incredibly liberal and proud of it. Both of these people believed in Larry, and his message, even though they had disagreements with one or two things. Without their compromise literally hundreds of people would have not heard about Larry.
Now to explain a little about "campaign professionals"
We are not some evil horde of people who live in DC and get rich telling Democrats to run as Republican Lites. We do not all fail upwards. Now there are many people like this. I wont say there arent. However, the vast majority of people who work in campaigns put in enough hours to kill weaker individuals. In every campaign I have ever been involved in, outside of small local races, 50 hours a week by the core staff is considered vacation. On the Kissell campaign there were days where I know that the only reason his campaign manager and communications director were sleeping was because they knew the next day was going to be another 12 to 18 hours worth of work. And they arent unique in the campaign world. To say that we care is an understatement.
No one knows where blogs will be in a year. And no one can predict their impact on elections in 2008. Therefore, when you encounter candidates on blogs, invite them in. Explain what you do. Explain who you are. And tell them why they should join us in this new medium.
For the candidates lurking out there, jump in. Tell us what you think. Ask for our opinions. If you treat us as equals we will go to the ends of the earth for you. If you never show up, then we dont know anything more than what we read in the papers. And we all know how great the media is at giving the whole story.