Government & Politics

Nine Things Voters Can Learn From Michelle Nunn's Campaign Strategy

Hint: It's geared towards coercion.

Aug. 6, 2014

Last week, National Review gave the Washington beltway a juicy tidbit of afternoon reading. Somehow, its reporter Eliana Johnson got her hands on a leaked copy of U.S. Senate Democrat candidate Michelle Nunn’s campaign plan.

The 144-page memo rips the curtain away from the modern campaign. For us writing about Washington outside the beltway, we see this document as a guidebook on political communication. Think of it as the Democrats’ strategy to win friends and influence people.

In the next few months, the midterm elections will gear up and candidates all around the country like Michelle Nunn will run television spots, pose for photo-ops and kiss babies. By understanding Nunn’s strategy, we understand more of how the politicians are trying to convince us that they should be the ones going to Congress next year. We also learn how the Left, specifically, targets certain demographics and plays certain groups to accomplish its goals.

Here’s what we learned reading through the document:

  1. The modern campaign takes a lot of science and number crunching. This may be a no-brainer. However, the memo starts off by looking at the history of voter turnout in Georgia and estimates how many votes the Nunn campaign should rake onto their side. The Feldman Group wrote, “[W]e need 1,378,001 votes to win. Rounding up reduces the risk and so 1.4 million is my recommended goal.” For this purpose, the Georgia Democratic Party keeps a massive voter list, probably with data such as voter history and the like. In fact, voter data is big, shadowy business.

  2. The Nunn campaign was researching to find out what voters wanted to hear. When this memo was written in December, Nunn didn’t define much of her message. Only a few months later, when her challenger would be decided in the Republican primary, would she forge the details of her running platform. For us not living in the swamp along the Potomac, this shows a candidate is not motivated by integrity, but by what tickles the ears of the voters during election season. They certainly ride the winds of opinion.

  3. The Nunn campaign said it was looking for groups of Republicans to endorse Nunn. The Nunn campaign created two political groups to help lend some weight to their campaign. The groups, Republicans for Nunn and Independents for Nunn (we’re sure there is no pun intended), would be on call to be quoted in the media. This was an effort to reach demographics that Nunn herself was not comfortable reaching in person – like conservative, rural folks.

  4. The Nunn campaign, in conjunction with Georgia’s Democratic Party, has a Voter Protection Program, which is there to deploy people to monitor the campaign, work the polls, and deal with any “voter protection incidents.” Election law is no joke. Mess with ballots, or manipulate voters, and you are manipulating the democratic process itself. For this reason, the Nunn campaign wanted to recruit lawyers or law students. For the non-law types, it was going to create an outline for those people to bone up on their election law, then turn around to advise the campaign. Go figure.

  5. What kind of voter you are depends on what message you’ll hear. In the memo, there was a PowerPoint slide labeled “CONFIDENTIAL & PROPRIETARY” in which it identifies three kinds of audiences. First, there are the “Strong supporters.” In their mailboxes, Facebook accounts and online ads, they see messages reminding them to vote, give money or volunteer. Second, the “Drop-off voters” are probably people who support the candidate but somehow don’t make it to the polls. They need more persuasion when it comes to getting out and voting. Third, “swing voters” need to be persuaded about the candidate.

  6. If the campaign were to get dirty, Nunn would be prepared. Early on, her campaign was compiling books of information about her possible Republican opponents. Her staff would gather all the information the public record had to offer on her opponent. Furthermore, the Democrat Party of Georgia hired a tracker. His or her job is to show up at press conferences, county fairs, fundraisers and videotape the opposition candidate whenever possible. The footage would be transcribed and analyzed for quotes, developments in the opposition’s campaign and for possible attack ads hitting the airwaves. The campaign’s research also went into debate preparation – policy documents refuting the arguments Nunn’s opposition would make.

  7. Nunn’s memo bluntly goes through several demographics and their use to the campaign. Like a typical liberal, Nunn planned to use blacks and Latinos for their votes, and she targeted Jews, homosexuals, Asian-Americans and CEOs for their money. But these are not the only groups the Nunn campaign targeted. Her campaign viewed religious leaders as “validators” – people that she could leverage to get voters, especially Latino voters. For gun owners, Nunn herself wouldn’t reach the Second Amendment crowd (probably not her type of person). Instead, she would target the group around hunting season, releasing a newspaper ad or two, using people who did own guns as endorsers of her campaign.

  8. When it came to Veterans, Nunn’s campaign had plans for them too, using them as “validators.” In her memo, the campaign wrote: “The veterans community will be organized primarily as validators. The campaign will work to recruit leaders in all areas of the military community and release their support prior to the primary. Following the primary, the campaigns will release their names of a larger number of military supporters, thus showing growing support.” Like many politicians, the Nunn campaign only gives veterans lip service in exchange for more votes. Such respectful treatment for the people who chose to bear the responsibilities of uniform!

  9. Finally, the campaign has a love-hate relationship with the media because much of the outreach to voters is played out in the media, which can write whatever it wants. The campaign’s goal is to stick to a set of campaign talking points and repeat them again and again until Election Day. The media is hounding the campaign for any crack or deviation in the message. “In fact – in 21st century campaigns with wall-to-wall media coverage and super-pacs able to put millions of dollars behind video behind a single cellphone video – a slight deviation from the agreed upon message could end up being very damaging to the campaign,” the memo said. The communications team even rehearses the stump speech. Part of the team’s job is to “push back against negative research hits” using the strategy to “kill or muddy the story.” Remember that the next time you read a political piece on a candidate.

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