Campaign Mistakes: Warning Signs of a Losing Political Campaign

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Campaign Mistakes

Campaign Mistakes: How to Turn a Losing Political Campaign Around 

Can you spot a losing political campaign? People plan and launch political campaigns with the best intentions, but sometimes they get off track. Can you spot mistakes in your campaign? As a trainer and consultant for over 20 years - Here are some warning signs to help you spot and course-correct a losing political campaign:

24. ”It doesn’t matter how districts have performed in the past – I am a transformational candidate.”- You may be a great candidate, with high name recognition but party performance does affect election outcomes. There is a big difference between a campaign that is within reach and one that has been drawn for one party.  Learn the difference before you run. 

23. “I am not sure who is in charge.”Clear lines of communication and clear decision making processes make for a winning campaign. Without them, campaigns are harder. The candidate has the final say but there are lots of decisions that the candidate needs to delegate. Make this clear from the beginning. 

22. “I know we don’t have a budget, but we need to buy yard signs first.”- Everything you do on a campaign needs to be budgeted for, and tactical decisions, including yard signs, need to be a part of strategy. Make sure you are prioritizing your most important purchases and tactics in your campaign budget.

21. “We don’t need to raise money… People know me.”- Even small campaigns need money. Make sure you plan for the budget you need and raise the money accordingly. Do not underestimate your necessities. Do a personal assessment before you decide to run. 

20. “Nobody watches tv or reads direct mail., we don’t need to spend money on that.”- Make sure your tactics are based on fact and strategy, not opinion. 

19. “We are going to talk to everyone.” - Over-targeting and under-targeting are both big problems in the campaign world. Make sure your targeting is based on a vote goal.

18. “The candidate is almost done filling out all the questionnaires, they like to work alone.” - Yes, endorsements matter and the candidates should sign off on questionnaires and work on answers, but the candidate should not oversee all the questionnaires. 

17. “We can’t knock on doors” - You can’t? Shouldn’t? Or won't? Small races mean knocking on doors. Larger races make it harder for door knocking - but good for targeting areas.

16. “I don’t want to ask my friends for money, I prefer to call strangers.”- Good luck with that. In small races, people give money to the people they know. Even in larger races (congress or larger), starting with people you know will save you a lot of time and help you raise more funds for your campaign.

15. “My coalition will be the same it has always been.” - Assuming coalition members will always be with you, without outreach, will result in a problem. Your coalition needs to grow and evolve and that means consistent outreach.

14. “We have repeated our message too often, people are bored of it.” - You may be bored of your message, but it is very likely folks have never heard from you yet. Don’t change your message because you are bored.

13. “Base voters are with us; we don’t need to spend any time talking to them.”- This is a bad look and a worse strategy. You cannot ignore voting audiences, especially voters that need encouragement to turnout and fall-off voters, who may skip your race.

12. “We need to talk about everything.”- No you don’t. Make strategic decisions about what your message really is. It is not politically smart to take a stance on everything.

11. “We can’t take a stand on that.”- Don’t run, not to lose. Sometimes folks spend most of their time worrying if they are doing the wrong thing. Take some bold stances and calculated risks. If you spend all your time worrying about saying the right thing, you are not being bold enough.

10. “I don’t need to dial for dollars.”- Losing political campaigns don't do enough call time. The candidate avoids it, so the staff spends countless hours creating strategies to raise money without the candidate. If you are on a call trying to figure out how to raise money without doing call time, you are on a losing campaign.

9. “I just bought some great drink coasters and fortune cookies with my name on them!”- The best political campaigns are the most disciplined ones. They have the focus and understand that they can only spend money on a few things. It is crucial to define why voters should vote for them and not their opponents. The worst candidate campaigns waste money on things that don't communicate a contrastive message.

8. “I don't trust my political campaign team and think they make bad decisions.”- Politics is a team sport. You cannot win without the right players, so think long and hard about who is on your political campaign team and whether they can help you. Also, think about whether you have a good team structure and if the right roles exist within it. 

7. “What is a vote goal and how can I buy one?”- How many votes does it take to win and where will those votes come from? A vote goal will tell you that. You, need to be able to answer this question. If you can't, your political campaign is in big trouble.

6. “Somebody made up my vote goal, but I don't know who those voters really are.”- You must know the voters who make up your vote goal and who make up your winning coalition. Figure that out.

5.“What should we talk about today?”- What you talk about in the campaign must connect you with the audience you need to move. You can't just make it up on the fly. Be thoughtful and think how your message connects to your strategy. Have a campaign plan and make sure your content calendar reflects your strategy. Lack of disciple is a clear sign of a losing campaign.

4. “I don't want to mention my opponent's name—sssh! Don't tell anyone he is running.”- Folks need to know the difference between you and your opponent. If you can't articulate that difference in six words, keep working until you can. 

3. I will be the first Democrat to win in a 70 percent Republican district, please give me money.”- Before you put everyone through a political campaign, make sure you can win. If you can't win the race, do not run.

2. “We can’t go negative”- Make sure your decisions are based on strategy and the campaign you are in, not by assumptions. Have a thought-out contrastive message of what you cannot do. Remember, there is a big difference between a personal attack and a contrast based on issues and approach. 

1. “My mother won't return my calls and my wife begged me not to run.” Beyond paid staff and consultants, make sure your friends, family, issue groups, business leaders, unions, etc. are on your team and fully backing you. You must build a real coalition of the right people in order to win a political campaign.

If you are hearing these things on your campaign don’t just ignore them. Sit down with your team and have the hard and direct conversations needed for a winning campaign. Address things that are going wrong and fix them. 

Have you heard warning signs of a losing political campaign? Add them here. Have additional questions?