The #1 Tip for Republicans Running in Urban Districts

It’s a fact – Republicans don’t do well in urban districts.  Even in Midwest cities or sunbelt locales where the population is generally a little more conservative, GOP candidates still have trouble winning elective office.  Successful candidates like Rudy Guiliani, Bret Schundler, Steven Goldsmith and others prove that Republicans can win in big cities.

Many times, candidates hear that you have to be a liberal Republican to win in a big city.  Not true – look at the list above.  Two of the three candidates I named, Bret Schundler and Steven Goldsmith, were clearly not liberal.  Schundler was a darling of the far right.  No, you don’t have to be a liberal Republican to win in an urban district; you just have to be smart Republican.  


The single biggest mistake that Republicans running in urban districts make is relying on TV, radio, and earned media to get the word about their campaign.  They think that grassroots organization is a waste, especially in Democratic leaning precincts. Instead, they rely on “big picture” mass media to get their message out… bad move.

Democrats in big cities are masters of grassroots organization.  Precinct captains, ward leaders, rides to the polls, get out the vote workers going door to door… Democrats are on the ground, building support and getting supporters to go to the polls.  Take a cue from them – get out there and work the grassroots!

Sure, TV and radio, earned media and other big ticket items are important.  Look at Sam Katz, who in 1999 almost upset Democrat John Street in the Philadelphia mayoral race.  Katz lost the election by just a few thousand votes in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 7 to 1.  He used TV, radio, press coverage and other mass media appeals to spread the word.  What he neglected was the grassroots – with a little more effort in this area, there would be a Republican sitting in Philadelphia City Hall today.

Don’t neglect the grassroots.  Organize every precinct in your district – even the ones that only have a few Republicans in them.  If you want to win, you have to work the streets.

It CAN be done

If you’re a Republican running in a big city election, you’ll face plenty of naysayers.  Remember, in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, it’s not the critic who counts… the glory belongs to the man (or woman) who is actually in the arena. 

Republicans can and do win big city elections.  Sure it takes more work, but the rewards are greater as well.  So get out there, start early, organize, register new Republicans and fight as hard as you can…  I’ll see you at the victory party.


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3 comments… add one
  • Well said, Theo. Organization really is the key to winning these city / urban areas. I often have to tell candidates who are running in those areas “forget the party – do it yourself!” Many times the party organization in those areas is very, very weak, so candidates should plan to build their grassroots organizations on their own, and, as you said, block by block.

  • Theo Dennison

    YES. The tougher the urban centre, the more important is grassroots organisation. In the London Borough of Wandsworth (South London, UK) the traditional Labour constituency of Battersea consisting almost entirely of solid Labour wards was turned round by the Conservatives street by street. The local Conservative organisation was not very strong in many of them but the candidate, John Bowis, established a ‘hit squad’ of keen campaigners who drove by minibus into these wards and relentlessly worked them, knocking on doors and picking up local issues. On some council estates (social housing) they would be recording barely 25% support initially but Labour took these areas for granted and turnout was very poor – in the end they won all but one of the 10 wards and missed the last by just 100 votes.

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