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In Tennessee, the Conservative Message Will Turn Out Voters
Lessons on How to Defeat an Incumbent Southern Democrat (Part 3)
December 15, 2002
In my last two columns I began the first of several articles chronicling the successful campaign of Judd Matheny (I was Judd's campaign manager) in the November 5, 2002 election that resulted in the unseating of a longtime democrat Tennessee state legislator. (See the rightturns.com archives, 11/15/02 and 12/1/02 to catch up.)
In the first two columns, I described the elements of our plan, devised one year before the election:
1. Build name recognition
2. Learn how state government works
3. Track the incumbent's voting record, statements, and fund raising
4. Analyze the 24 precincts in the district for the last two election patterns.
Now on to the actual execution of the plan.
Judd had no primary opponent but the incumbent did. We, therefore, envisioned the primary season to be time spent in building name recognition and raising money.
The name recognition effort I described in the earlier articles: 144+ homemade road signs; 5000 business card sized "push" cards that had his picture, background, basic campaign message ("No state income tax", "responsible spending", "conservative government"), and ways to contact him (telephone #, email address, and mailing address); and Judd attending every known event held in the district, invited or not.
The incumbent reported a $55,000+ campaign fund balance at year-end 2001. We anticipated the incumbent would build a $100,000+ campaign fund. A general rule is that incumbents are flooded with PAC/lobbyists money. It did not appear that he was taking his primary challenger seriously; therefore, he would not be spending much money on the primary.
We knew we could not match the incumbent's money raising and so never pretended to. Our cash flow plan indicated that with $35,000+ we could win. We needed to get started ASAP.
THUD! Our pre-primary fund raising effort was a bust. Many voters expressed dissatisfaction with the incumbent but begged off on writing checks because they were focused on several other races in the primary. The other primary races included two local candidates for Congress - one Democrat and one Republican. There was also much local interest in the heated senatorial race to replace Fred Thompson and the crowded gubernatorial races. Their money raising efforts overshadowed any attention we tried to get.
We spent part of this time lobbying the Tennessee GOP office for financial and campaign support. They were cool to our requests because they were unimpressed with our fund raising and (rightfully) told us so.
Judd's response was to put most of his energies into the name recognition efforts. A good showing in the primary (at least 1/3 of the total primary vote for the three candidates) would show people that his candidacy was for real. He went everywhere. He walked up and down business streets handing out cards and talking with people. We wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers describing the incumbent's tax and spend voting record. The encouraging news of all this was that the people Judd were meeting told him they, too, were dissatisfied with the incumbent's votes for taxing and spending. Though we had no money, we knew we had the right message.
The primary results re-energized the campaign. The incumbent won against his challenger though not overwhelmingly (by a margin of ~20% of the primary vote total). The challenger did not even run a campaign. We figured that the challenger's votes were anti-incumbent votes and decided to go after them in the general election.
Judd's totals were the highest of any GOP candidate in the last 10 years (probably the last 100 years!). He received 36% of the primary vote total, beating his goal. All the walking and talking was paying off. He had more votes than the incumbent in 7 of the 34 precincts! By our calculations, if we could convert 75% of the challenger's votes into Matheny votes, then Judd would win on November 5. The Tennessee GOP office now admitted that we had a mathematical chance to win, but still pressed us on the lack of fund raising.
So now we had some real results, yet still had no money. Next column, I will wrap up the story.
Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University. Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He was a contributor to In Search of Excellence, the best selling business book of all time. Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy. Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco. Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.