After the 2006 elections, I thought about what it would take to get the Travis Republican party back on track and winning elections locally. Here's what I came up. Some things have changed, but unfortunately, 2008 was a repeat of 2006 in more ways than one. Two local races lost, and Travis Republican officeholders practically extinct.
Most of these recommendations or thoughts haven't really happened yet, which may explain some of the results on Tuesday. There is a lot to be done to get back in shape. We are at the bottom of the barrel, which has one advantage - no place to go but up.
A Strategy for Victory
What we need is a strategy of Ideas and Energy - Conservative Ideas and Republican Energy.
Our grassroots base is motivated by advocating principles and ideas; the base will grow so long as the ideas and positions are not too narrow and focused to lose the swing/independent voters.
TEN THINGS WE SHOULD DO:
It starts with leadership. We need local leadership and elected officials that re-engage and re-energize the grassroots. These need to be servant-leaders that show the way by encouraging broad participation. The model is a ‘big tent’, but it is based on core principles as the tent poles that brings activists in and energizes them. We need to re-connect our own leaders with our own base, and need to develop new leaders out of grassroots by getting broader activist participation.
2. Develop a simple, clear, positive platform - “A compact for Travis county”
A platform give the voters something positive to vote for and enhances the Republican brand locally, as they will know what we stand for. Develop a simple, clear, positive platform and agenda - "A compact for Travis county"- it must be short enough to have clear accountability, and we will need to hold elected officials feet to fire on promises and provisions in the platform. Clear and simple enough to be part of media campaigns, e.g., printable in a one page ad. Role models for this: Harris County GOP in late 1990s; Newt Gingrich 1994, Contract with
"Never be against something, be for something." - Gary Polland, former
3. Rebuild the Republican brand in Travis
We need media campaigns to rebuild the GOP brand. We ought not do that without fixing other things (points #1, #2) but this can be a good complement to those activities. People vote based on three elements: Personality/character; competence/qualifications; vision/positions/values. A branding campaign needs to get back to having people think:
- Get people to think "I am a Republican"
- Build up local personalities tied to GOP brand. (e.g., "Dewar's Profiles", what about GOP profiles?) Defend Republicans in the media. On the other hand, the GOP should stand up to politicians (even GOP ones) when they don't live up to principles, to show our stronger commitment to character, competence and good Government.
- Identify with their values: "Your Values are Republican values" campaigns
- Competence: Focus on Government program vision/results, accountability/metrics
and efficiency; can be tied with #2, positive agenda on accountable Government that serves the people.
4. Conduct outreach to build the base
With a positive agenda (#2), and a GOP brand awareness campaign (#3), we can use both to re-invigorate the base and expand it:
- Minority outreach, e.g., via churches and other organizations
- High-tech outreach via organizations and workplace actions
- High school / youth /College outreach
- Church outreach; "ASLAN" networks
- Neighborhood clubs outreach
Consider that all citizens out there are somewhere on a scale of ‘hostile/opponent’ to ‘generally oppose’ to ‘in the middle/uninformed/undecided’ to ‘generally supportive’ to ‘friendly but inactive’ to ‘active’. Our goal in outreach is to move all populations further from the opposing side and towards becoming active friendly participants. It requires different persuasion hooks for different groups, and “outreach” is about finding and using those various leverage points. For example, there are man socially conservative minority community members; our outreach can focus on such leverage points.
5. Get involved and attuned to local issues and local races
- Have a Republican profile / visibility on the local hot-button issues, e.g., what’s our position on tolls.
- Get candidates for all local races, such as school board, city council, etc.
- Get activists to become volunteers for City of
- Local Republican clubs, e.g, HCRW, ARW, CTRA, etc. can be a venue for local issue discussion.
6. Recruit for campaigns - run in every race
Why try to recruit and run a candidate in every single race possible? "90% of life is showing up" - Woody Allen. We don’t know what is possible until we try.
We are losing winnable races (e.g. HD47, HD48) because we aren’t trying and because the Democrats have less to defend when we don’t even try. 'The Forlorn Hope' strategy of running in every race is to keep Democrats tied down in their areas, so we have a better chance in our areas with better prospects. There is a concern that running in these “unwinnable” races distracts from the real races that are winnable. However, that is more properly a matter of financing and energy. Energy is not a finite sum and it is not a determined thing who is a reachable voter or not. Non-traditional candidates in traditionally “unwinnable” races is how the Democrats won some Congressional seats. We should give it a try.
7. Engage the Media and inject conservative views into the media
A focal point for this is the Travis Media project - community blog (Travis Monitor http://travismonitor.blogspot.com); letters to editor; media workshops.
- Fight media bias and make the base aware of media bias issues.
8. Wage political “guerrilla” campaigns that leverage new communications technologies
Use disruptive technologies to be disruptive. While we run every race, we will not *fund* every race. So how do we get the most out of campaigns without diverting too much money and effort from other needed races? The solution is to create a template for low-cost yet effective campaigns that leverage inexpensive communications and local activism to get the most for the least.
- Use power of internet and media-savvy to have low-cost campaigns: Media-creation of podcasts; leverage ‘free media’ i.e., local radio, cable local access, etc. Create YouTube ads that are forwarded as emails and/or shared via campaign website and other blogs. Leverage email trees; use ‘moveon.org’ type of techniques (“Forward this message”) to get the word out; Use free CMS for internet websites (e.g., McCaul campaign used Drupal for their online presence; it’s a free CMS!); shared and standard websites.
- The ‘low cost’ candidates should be trained to be as polished as possible and show up at as many forums as possible, to be brand-builders for the Republican party and our platform.
- Leverage candidates as advocates for the GOP local platform and 'compact' as the core campaign message; the consistent message will hit home and help us gain credibility as a party. Then each campaign will not be a disconnected ‘on its own’ campaign that lacks as message.
Those candidates in most races will be underdogs, but give them enough tools for at least a bare-bones campaign, and train them to be effective and attractive representatives of the party. Through this process, we can gain ground even if we lose the race.
9. Financing campaigns - coordinate campaign funding locally for best ROI
- Do not allocate money to each race, but rather ensure that key "winnable" races are fully funded
- fund based on quality of candidate, race prospects, and leverage against Democrats; it's an investment, look at ROI.
10. GOTV infrastructure for maximum grassroots effectiveness
11. Rebuild our internal cohesiveness and unity
We need to see our local party as one team, and ourselves, the local party members as part of that team that works together on a common goal. Different activists bring different views and perspectives, and we need to have the ‘politics of addition’ not the ‘politics of division’ in bringing different constituencies and views to the table. To rebuild our internal cohesion, the grassroots, the base members and the politicians in elected office need to have the same understanding of their roles and their expectations; elected officials need to live up to the promises they make and the expectations that are set. Part of the problem with the commitment and unity in the party is that elected Republicans have failed to live up to expectation, and some conservatives feel ‘burned’ by that. But what if those expectations from the base are not ‘politically possible’? Well, there needs to be a contract not just with voting public at-large, but internally with the base.
Keep up the energy: There is no down-time. Don’t stop just because there isn’t an election 30 days away.