Saturday, December 13, 2014

University of Kentucky Post-Election Candidate Survey Excerpts

I don’t know about you dear readers, but in many ways now five weeks since election day, I am still trying to figure out what to make of my recent campaign. As a choice that controlled my life for the past two years, I knew I should take an opportunity to reflect now that it is over; and as I opened my mail today, that chance came my way, when I found a letter that started like this:

Dear 2014 candidate for public office:
My name is James K. Hertog. I'm an Associate Professor of 
Media Studies at the University of Kentucky
. My students and I are researching a set of critical issues for American political campaigns. We have developed a survey asking candidates like yourself about your personal and professional experiences campaigning for public office and your evaluation of the campaign process.

While the majority of the survey was multiple choice and other forms of putting check marks in boxes, there were a few essay answer opportunities and after I realized I was waxing eloquent and investing well over a 1000 words talking about the campaign, I decided I could turn this into a chance to check back in w you, campaign followers, and tell you how it looks from this end. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you saw the campaign from a different angle.
What made this social media platform the most effective for your campaign?
As a poor campaign we depended heavily on grassroots word of mouth and the tribal drums these days are the heartbeat of Facebook, or something like that. Using Twitter to drive my Facebook, I could build a message on the campaign blog that passed through several platforms: survey reply-->blog post-->website update-->twitter post-->Facebook personal page-->Facebook campaign page & shares-->campaign email. Since I had no staff, multi-purposing every task was critical. Further since we could share easily info w like-minded activists and organizations (NORML, PDA & DFA, for example), social media served as a primary communications line in the campaign as well, more often than email.
Please use the following text field if you would like to expand on your answers to the previous questions about campaign communications, to illustrate them with experiences from your campaign, or to identify additional communication methods you employed.
Social media is the chance for poor campaigns to achieve larger results. The plutocrats who run this country are doing all they can to maintain their powers but our social media can equal their mass media if the current trends continue. I work to make this so, before they consume us all. Of note, one of my platform issues, cannabis reform, has become my personal central issue and I am now the executive director of Safer Arizona, the state's leading cannabis PAC.
If you would like to expand upon your answers, to provide examples from your campaign experience, or to identify additional critiques of news coverage you think should be included in this study please use the text box below.

Despite creating a credible sized campaign which received endorsements from prominent national and statewide organizations, the media consistently ignored press releases and repeated requests for coverage. In my hometown of Kingman, AZ the local paper made clear they would not cover Democratic events and a radio station owner cursed out the state party rep once over her sending him a press release. The two times I was discussed in national news once was to insult the color scheme of my website (, or to comment on how hard it was for liberal candidates to ge coverage. Lastly, despite years of steady, rational, professional work on cannabis reform, when the press got a hold of my cannabis advocacy they marginalized me as far as they possibly could. Check the bias in this from AZ most celebrated "Liberal" press:

Please describe the nature of talk radio coverage your campaign received.
I was the liberal thrown to the right wing talk radio listeners for a couple of radio stations in the state. In particular, a gun oriented talk show had me on twice, for four full hours, debating gun policy. Another couple of general right wing shows had me on. I was also on internet radio to a lesser degree and can't clearly identify any impact it might've had beyond a momentary blip.
Please describe the nature of social media coverage your campaign received.
My twitter following grew by a couple 100 and my FB following by over a 1000 during this cycle. Since I am a leader in the state's leading cannabis PAC and the Democratic party and other activist groups I got to cross-pollinate and get the members of the different communities working together on Facebook and then in-person. I am still using the same principles and hoping to expand ever further.
All in all, what level of knowledge would you say voters had about your candidacy?
•             Voters were only slightly informed about my relevant qualifications and/or positions (closest answer of choices available)
Please use this space if you would like to add any comments regarding what influenced voter knowledge concerning your candidacy.
$$$--media told me early on if I had money they would follow my efforts and then ignored my every effort to earn their attention.
For you, personally, would you say that the experience of running for public office was:
Very Positive
What did you find most personally rewarding about running for office?
The personal relationships and connections created such deep and interesting experiences. My congressional district is larger than most states and required much time on the road, being an extremely poor campaign we depended on the kindness of supporters and stayed in dozens of places from mansion guest suites to trailer couches and slept on the floor more than once. The people I met and who supported me were as varied as their houses and we had extraordinary adventures. I also developed a statewide circle of pet supporters as well and being greeted w a wagging tail when you are road weary and far from home is very comforting.
What did you find most difficult or upsetting about running for office?
The tug of war between time spent was the greatest conflict I faced. In the field or time spent fundraising? Home town or on the road? Cannabis reform or appeal to moderate dems? All decisions made opponents for me and over the course of the election often both sides of a coin caused me conflicts. As an entertainer prior to going into politics, we often joked that my performances were too sacred for the profane and too profane for the sacred and it often felt that way. I was very focused on a populist workingman uprising message for example, I wore construction worker clothes in the same way western styled politicians in AZ will adopt cowboy garb. I was a plumber until 35 so I felt it was credible for me to represent the working poor; but I received continuous backlash from traditionalists who felt a candidate should appear elevated. One of my lines about my clothes was "I didn't come here to play dress up" and another was "We have got to stop looking for new leaders who replicate the imagery of our oppressors." While it helped me w the general public and was actually a strategy crafted by me and state party leadership, local leaders who saw themselves as party insiders fought me on this relentlessly. I guess that was the ultimate difficulty: the gap between the support I could get at different levels, but not all levels of the party.
What would you say were your campaign's most significant accomplishments? Please do not limit your answer to electoral success.
The biggest accomplishment was the road schedule. We traveled over a 1000 miles a week most of the past two years, well over 100,000 miles in the cycle. It took 9 different vehicles to accomplish this including 7 straight weeks of various rental cars. This required developing a network of supporters and donors beyond the hobby campaign of the typical outmatched place-marker underdog. Any month's thank you list would include over 100 people I had had personal and important moments with, the scope of the experience is still staggering. In the process we developed the respect of a couple of national groups, DFA, PDA & Blue America, and PDA's national endorsement. Statewide we gained the support and gratitude of state party leadership and grew to be welcomed among party leaders and my fellow candidates as well. As one writer (with only 3 guest columns out of 101 blog posts) and illustrator, I maintained a website and blog for two years straight with all original content and artwork. As for constituent services or "case work," I took great joy in helping about a 12 people who came to me for help the way they would've gone to the congressman's office. I learned several referral networks and frequently felt fulfilled the way I had when I had run the help desk at a homeless while in grad school. Lastly I want to note that the greatest accomplishment of the campaign was the fact we could accomplish so much on so little funding. My wife ran our accounting and our family went from a $70,000 a year budget to food stamps and yet we still created a full scale congressional campaign out of thin air and about $36,000. I spent hardly 3 hours a week on average raising money and yet we were everywhere. That is why the road schedule was so impressive.
If you wish to provide additional recommendations or comments concerning how to improve electoral campaigns please type them here.
As a congressional candidate I signed a pledge to support a Constitutional amendment to end corporate sponsorship and another to call for federally funding of elections.

--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of arizona

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