Brent Barksdale is a nationally known political consultant an author who currently serves as the Senior Vice President at Jamestown Associates. Brent is the author of several books on political strategy and a good friend of Local Victory. His latest book, Winning Political Tips, hit bookstores last month.
Today, we sat down with Brent to pick his brain on fundraising, grassroots strategy, and more:
Local Victory: You’ve got a lot of experience working with political candidates around the country. What’s the number one problem faced by candidates running for state and local office, and how do they fix it?
Brent Barksdale: Running for office requires most candidates to get way out of their comfort zone. Most normal people do not enjoy asking people for money or knocking on doors. The challenge is to get your candidate in the right frame of mind and to understand that doing things that are uncomfortable in the short term will pay off in the end. I’ll paraphrase what Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute teaches: You owe it to your philosophy to learn and execute the political technology required to win.
LV: Well said. If you believe in the issues you are campaigning on, if they’re really important, then you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to (ethically) win.
Most first-time candidates have trouble with fundraising. How can a new candidate raise the money they need to get their campaign off the ground?
BB: See answer 1 for the mental part of fundraising. Additionally, candidates must make fundraising a priority. Candidates must designate time on their schedule to making fundraising calls just like they would designate time for a debate or walking door to door.
First time candidates sometimes feel guilty about the obsession with money that a winning campaign must have. Here’s the deal…money is not evil. Money builds hospitals, money feeds children and money will help you win your election and advance your philosophy.
LV: How big does a campaign need to be in order to have a paid full-time campaign manager?
BB: That is really a question of budget and the political experience of the candidate and his family. Some smaller school board, city council or even state representative races in small towns have been successful by using only family members and volunteers. But most of the time, in a contested race your best chance to win is by having a full time paid campaign manager.
LV: Your book Winning Political Tips provides advice to candidates on a range of issues, including grassroots strategy. How important is it for local candidates to work the grassroots, and what are the best ways to do so?
BB: In today’s busy world people are inundated with information. I feel that personal contact from the candidate, his or her family members or an enthusiastic supporter can go a long way in earning someone’s vote.
There are a variety of ways to personally contact voters, but the goal is to always be more personal than your opponent. For example, after you walk a voter’s house or call them and ask for their vote, go a step further. Send a handwritten note or personalized letter to that voter about how nice it was to talk to them. They will remember you and they might think twice about believing the negative attacks that are sure to be used by your opponent.
LV: Let’s say you’re working with a first-time candidate, running for mayor of a small town. She comes to you and asks for your top three pieces of advice on how to win her election. What do you tell her?
BB: First, subscribe to the Local Victory Newsletter. Second, buy my book, Winning Political Tips, as a proven guide of what she should expect in running for office. Third, I think she should ask herself over and over throughout the course of the campaign, “Are the actions I am taking this minute going to help me achieve victory on Election Day?”
Election Day is coming, whether you like it or not. Don’t waste time doing things that will not help you win. If you are not raising money or talking to targeted voters you are more than likely not doing the right things to win your election.
LV: Great points. Thanks for your time and expertise Brent!