Positioning Women to Win (2006)

Lesson 1: Maintain a Cohesive Campaign Team

Over and over we heard that an experienced, integrated team is at the core of every winning gubernatorial campaign – and the lack of one is the first sign of a campaign in trouble. (Challenger Sarah Palin was the exception. Those interviewed on the Alaska race likened her election to the outcome of a movement, rather than the result of a well-executed campaign.)

Having a history with the candidate meant that a team could be efficient in anticipating and recommending realistic courses of action. A campaign manager confirmed these benefits: “She had the same consultants since 1998…. They really understand the state and they understand the voters. And I think they understood our race well because they understand the governor well and they understand how she works.”

Good chemistry among the team members bred confidence in their likely victory. One senior advisor described it this way, “Everyone was in on the planning, in the meetings, on the phone… we had all gone through it before, we all had worked together before and knew each other well and enjoyed working together.”

This was particularly true for the Granholm campaign team in Michigan, which raised $14 million only to see their opponent, Dick DeVos, raise $41 million, of which $35 million came from his personal fortune. In order to stay competitive, they had to endure weeks of TV attacks without responding. It required discipline and trust among the team and the governor not to blink. No one did, and when Granholm began her paid communication, she began to pull away.

Veteran teams didn’t need any time to adjust to each other or the candidate; they knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and they knew their candidates. They had a collective history of success and expected to win. The Napolitano team debated whether to respond to attacks and decided against it, again requiring confidence and trust in their collective judgment.

Conversely, when describing why they thought they lost, non- incumbent teams frequently cited their inability to agree, make a decision or reach consensus as a significant factor. Several teams felt demoralized after enduring multiple staff changes, a revolving door of consultant advice and a lack of clear lines of authority. One dejected field director lamented the “lack of a sort of management structure played a huge part in it…Once you got down to the day-to-day operations, there was really ultimately no one in charge.”

The finance director on a losing campaign described the chaos around the candidate as the reason for their loss: “It was the lack of preparedness for our campaign to compete at the level we needed to compete.” There was no substitute for acquiring battle scars and campaign expertise together; none of the non-incumbent campaigns had a core of repeat operatives.

For Candidates

  1. Decide To Run Today. It doesn’t cost a dime and it’s worth a lot. If you make decisions today with the idea in mind that someday you will run for governor, you will make choices that improve your prospects. Think Big. Plan. Explore. Think Bigger.
  2. Research The Experts. The field of political consulting is only 40 years old and still growing and diversifying. From phone consultants to canvassing experts to pollsters, web consultants and media firms, there is a great deal to learn about the services and products available. Get recommendations and win/loss records.
  3. Try Them Out Early. At the earliest opportunity, work with experts – on a bond measure, a statewide campaign or a national election they are running. Observe the practices you like and those you don’t and when the time comes, hire based on your values.
  4. Build Your Own Base. Successful women governors have close, long-standing relationships with key constituency groups. They included leaders of these groups in their campaigns and rely on them to produce contributions and volunteers. Want help in the future? Lend a hand now.
  5. Develop A Kitchen Cabinet. In addition to paid experts, successful governors had informal advisors: trusted friends, staff from past campaigns and policy experts who play important roles in connecting the in-house team to the woman on the street. Begin to identify them now.