Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Congressional campaign update: Back to the drawing board

[Cross-posted from my campaign web site - TLK]

The conventional wisdom says that politicians should never admit failure. We should drag our feet, try to put the best spin on things, and then issue a grudging "mistakes were made" and blame our opponents if the matter becomes controversial and can't be ignored.

Well, screw the conventional wisdom.

I articulated specific, quantifiable goals for the primary election phase of this campaign. Supporters wrote checks to help me achieve those goals. And I failed to do so. It's that simple.

So, as you read the details, please take this to heart: I'm not going to spin. I'm not going to offer excuses. At the end of the day, those goals weren't met, and at the end of the day only one person -- me, the candidate -- can be responsible for the fact that they weren't met. All the rest is trying to figure out why, and what direction to take moving forward.

Now, to the ugly numbers:

My goal was to double -- and hopefully quadruple -- participation in the LP primary over that in the last election.

In 2006, the LP's candidate for US Representative in Missouri's 2nd District received 215 votes of 70,798 total votes cast -- 0.3%.

Yesterday, I received 211 votes of 76,297 total votes cast -- 0.27%.

There's no way to get lipstick on this pig. Not only did I poll fewer votes, I polled a lower percentage of the vote.

Some other statistics and musings

- Compared to the last primary in a presidential election year (2004), my vote percentage was the same as the LP candidate's that year (0.27%).

- Compared to other LP congressional candidates in Missouri, I polled in the middle -- of six LP congressional candidates in Missouri, I had the third highest percentage.

- Statewide, LP primary turnout (based on the highest statewide candidate vote) this year was down 56% from the 2004 primary ... but up by about 2% from 2006. So I underperformed versus the general trend as well.

Why did I under-perform and fail to meet my goals?

Once again, let me first take personal responsibility: Some of the things I intended to get done, I didn't.

I planned to get signs in front of polling places, and didn't due to a family schedule conflict.

I planned to hang every last postcard and brochure in my possession on doors or cars. I didn't get all of them out. Most of them, but not all of them.

Here's what I did do in the last week to maximize my votes:

- I mailed GOTV postcards to about 300 individuals, almost all of them identified as dues-paying LP members or dues-lapsed LP members, and almost all of the rest people who had contacted the LP at one time or another (a very few were sent to officials of another party -- I was hoping to provoke a response by making them think every voter in the district was receiving the mailing).

- I did a neighborhood lit drop of another 400 or so postcards and general party brochures in an area that I had identified as likely open to a Libertarian candidacy, and where I had previously attended events and sought community interaction.

- I recorded a GOTV message and purchased "robo-calls" to 265 phone numbers (excluding unanswered/busy/disconnected numbers) associated with LP contacts in the district.

First conclusion:

Either none of these things worked, or LP voter turnout was "naturally" far more depressed in this district than in others. I don't think the latter is a supportable conclusion. The approach I took just didn't work.

Second conclusion:

The fact that none of these things worked demonstrates either that I'm an inferior candidate as compared to other LP candidates and would "naturally" have polled even fewer votes without these efforts; or that I'm a stellar candidate but the techniques not only don't work but in general but actually hurt; or that I'm a candidate of about the same quality as other LP candidates and that these techniques were ineffective on the small scale with which I was able to deploy them.

I can't exclude the first possibility. Maybe I'm just not very attractive as a candidate for public office.

Since the techniques in question have been demonstrated time and time again over the years to work for other candidates, especially major party ones, I have to swallow my pride and assume that no, I'm not an especially great candidate plagued by an unavailability of useful promotional tools.

That leaves the third possibility. Perhaps a 300-piece mailing, a 265-call GOTV phone effort, and a 500-piece lit drop are just drops in the bucket which can't be expected to have a significant effect (although when the full results are in, you can bet I'll be analyzing precincts to see if the targeted areas produced better results than background).

There's a fourth possibility, of course: Perhaps the quality of our party's approach this year has depressed LP primary turnout in general, while my "dissident" status in the party alienated LP regulars, sticking me with a double whammy at the polls that negated my efforts. That's not a conclusion which sufficient data is available to support or disprove yet. I'm only bringing it out to show that I'm aware of the possibility, not to argue for its likelihood.

Where do we go from here?

Short answer: I'm not sure yet.

Longer answer: I'm going to take a few days to assess the results in more detail.

I'm going to find out if I did better in the areas I targeted than I did in the general vote. If so, then I'll know that I need to do more of what I've been doing. If not, then I'll know that I need to do different things than I've been doing.

Once I've figured that out, then I'll lay out a general election campaign plan and ask my supporters and contributors to support and contribute to it.

Speaking of which, I've saved the most important part for last: I want to thank each of you who wrote a check, helped distribute literature, sent me a note of encouragement, or in any other way made the first part of this campaign a rewarding and enjoyable experience for me as a candidate. Most particularly, I want to thank my campaign treasurer, Paula Benski, who has kept the numbers straight and put up with yard signs being stacked on her back porch after a mis-delivery.

I also want to apologize once again to each of you for not bringing you the results I had hoped for and, frankly, expected. All the foregoing analysis notwithstanding, it still comes back to the candidate. I'm the guy who's out on the hustings and making the decisions, and if I'm not doing well, the blame has to finally rest with me.

Yours in liberty,
Tom Knapp
Libertarian for US Representative

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