30 May Election 2014 – Engaging The Candidates
This post appeared in CQ Roll Call’s Connectivity blog.
Primary season for the 2014 midterm election is almost halfway over. As the summer starts to heat up, so do general election campaigns. For those in the advocacy space, that means there is a whole universe of candidates to start engaging now.
Advocacy efforts often target those who are in office. But the months leading up to an election offer the perfect time to get your issues in front of the candidates vying for those seats. Now is the time to start motivating advocates to reach out to the candidates.
While candidates are not able to change policy right now – and if they lose may never be able to – it’s still important to begin engaging them in the early stages of the campaign season. An election cycle is a learning experience for many politicians. It’s the time of the year when they’re interacting with and listening to their constituents. Looming election days often sharpen the politician’s awareness of what constituents are concerned about.
One need only look to the stump speeches politicians deliver every day to see the impact of getting your issues in front of them. During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney often spoke about the people whom he had met on the campaign trail and the stories of their real-life problems. By encouraging your stakeholders to engage with candidates, you can infuse your issue into the discussion.
Influencing candidates offers many benefits to your advocates and organization. First, by helping a candidate understand the importance of your issue, it is more likely he or she will begin to interject it into the campaign discussion. This increases the possibility of your issue getting more airtime. And if an opponent starts talking about your issue, it will often force the incumbent to also discuss it, too, and take a stance on the matter. If a candidate you’ve influenced is victorious in November, you have already laid the important groundwork to have engagement with the new officeholder.
Organizations can help their advocates connect with the candidates in many ways. Like advocacy campaigns targeted at office holders, you can and should encourage your stakeholders to email the candidates. Since President Barack Obama turned the political landscape upside down by using social media, more candidates are keeping robust accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. Encourage your stakeholders to engage candidates in their districts by tweeting at them or posting on their Facebook pages.
It can also be easier to arrange face-to-face meetings with those running for office. A candidate will try to get as much interaction with likely voters as possible, so setting up meetings allows the candidate and your organization to both achieve their goals. You can use the opportunity to help brief a candidate on issues of importance by providing a candidate guide on your issue area, positioning yourself as a resource for issues affecting your industry or cause.
Encourage advocates to schedule meetings with candidates at their campaign offices. Ask the candidate’s campaign for a schedule so that advocates can attend voter meetings at local restaurants, schools and community organizations. Campaign season is also a great time to invite candidates to your organization’s headquarters or where you have a large presence. By hosting a meet and greet, your stakeholders have the ability to interact with the candidate and explain their concerns. It’s also a value-add for your members, allowing them easy access to those running for office.
If you want to help drive your agenda with candidates, consider conducting polling or focus groups on your issue area in key districts or states and ask voters how important the issue is to their Election Day decisions. Sharing this information with candidates could put your issue at the top of their agenda and make it a key talking point on the stump.
Waiting until the election is over is too late to start talking about your issue with new candidates. By engaging your stakeholders and mobilizing them around the election, your issues can become an important part of the campaign discussion and give you a head start with new office holders.
Pam Fielding is the President of 720 Strategies.