The keys to a successful writing campaign

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Well-known candidates with lots of money to spend and a game plan to get their voters to the polls have won high-profile races despite a line on the ballot being turned down.

Successful written campaigns for elections are rare. But sometimes candidates find a way to win, and election experts say there is a formula for success.

Keys include name recognition, fundraising ability, concerted voter education campaigns, and strong voter participation efforts.

Lisa Murkowski used these strategies to retain his seat in the US Senate in Alaska in 2010. Mike Duggan did the same when he won the Detroit mayoral race in 2013.

Here in Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown, who is leading a written campaign against Democratic candidate India Walton, has at least some of these advantages going for him. As holder of four mandates, he enjoys a reputation and has has raised $ 851,000 in campaign funds since losing the June 22 primary to India Walton. It remains to be seen, however, how effective his campaign will be in educating his supporters on how to write and get them to vote.


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Murkowski was ready to step down after losing a primary for her Senate seat to Tea Party upstart Joe Miller in 2010. She didn’t just lose the vote. It had lost the support of the local and national Republican machines. She decided to continue writing after receiving encouragement from supporters, discussions with her family and a raffle, according to Anchorage Daily News.

Cathy Allen, a strategist who has worked on campaigns across the country for politicians from both major parties, was part of Murkowski’s efforts in 2010. She said that Murkowski’s name recognition – her family is in the politics of the Alaska for decades – and its ability to raise funds quickly were the keys to its victory.

Murkowski spent nearly $ 4.7 million in the election cycle, overtaking Miller and Democratic opponent Scott McAdams by more than $ 3 million, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit organization that tracks money in Congress. Murkowski won the general election with 39% of the vote in the three-way race, becoming the first U.S. Senator to win as a written candidate since Strom Thurmond’s 1954 victory in South Carolina.

In Detroit, Duggan garnered 52% of the vote in 2013 as a written candidate whose closest competitor garnered 30%. He went to win the legislative elections and is currently running for a third term.

Duggan raised over $ 5.4 million in his first candidacy, including his campaign committee and the independent spending committees – often referred to as super PACs – that backed him up. It was much more than his main opponent Benny Napoleon, according to a database compiled by a Michigan media consortium.

Allen said Brown will need to have a similar spending advantage if he hopes to win in November. Brown has raised more money than Watson since the primary, but not by an overwhelming margin – $ 851,000 to $ 617,000.

“It costs money to run a writing campaign,” Allen said. “It probably costs double what he would have paid if [Brown] … Had been the successor to the primary and he had a decent Republican candidate.


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Another key to victory is voter education.

Murkowski sent a series of letters detailing where to mark his name and how to spell it. So done Charlie wilson, who won a seat in the Ohio Congress in 2006 in a written campaign that won him 66% of the vote.

Jacob Neiheisel, professor of political science at the University of Buffalo, recalls working on Wilson’s writing campaign. He said former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Wilson ally who was elected to the post in the same election cycle, appeared on a mail urging voters to write on Wilson’s behalf, with an illustration showing them how do it.

Neiheisel and Allen both stressed how important this type of educational material will be if Brown hopes to win.

“It’s a strange thing that we are asking people to do,” said Neiheisel. “It’s a multiple choice exam for democracy in some ways, and that’s not how we’re used to leveling our preferences. It’s an additional hurdle which I think is an equalizer in the race.

The Brown campaign says it has already purchased 70,000 rubber stamps to distribute to voters.

Another important element is the intelligent use of data for targeted advertising, a science that becomes more precise with each election cycle, especially in social media.

Brown will also likely target voters who were not eligible to vote in the primaries, said Trey Hood, professor of political science at the University of Georgia.

“I would definitely target Republicans and Independents in this campaign,” he said.


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Perhaps most importantly, make numerous appearances in the campaign and generate media coverage. During his campaign, Murkowski granted all the interviews offered to him on local and national television, regardless of the time difference. She also roamed the state relentlessly, sometimes barely sleeping, according to Anchorage Daily News.

Brown and Walton both walked out in front of voters, organizing rallies, holding press conferences and knocking on doors. Both have campaign websites and are active on Twitter and Facebook.

Neiheisel said in-person appearances are the most effective way for candidates to connect with voters, which is especially important to Brown as his campaign aims to educate voters on the writing process.

The handwriting factor adds an element of uncertainty to the race, Neiheisel said, with potential legal challenges to both campaigns likely to unfold long after election night.

“He’s got all of these big macro factors moving in his direction, and I would be totally fine to say he’s at an advantage, except he’s running a writing campaign,” he said.



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