Separating the “governing” part of our day and the “campaigning” part of our day was the local pizza joint, “Frank & Angie’s.” While everyone grubbed on the delicious food—pepperoni with Canadian bacon pizza, pepperoni garlic bread, cannolis, and tiramisu—Professor Yawn elucidated the various cultural allusions in the restaurant. It is named for Frank Sinatra, and the menu includes references to Italian superstars, Sergio Leone, Mario Puzo, Bela Lugosi, and Mira Sorvino.
With well-fed stomachs and minds, we moved on to the second part of our day: the Campaign Bootcamp, sponsored by the Annette Strauss Institute’s New Politics Forum. Our introduction to the process was by Taylor Foody, the coordinator for the NPF…
…who introduced our two mentors: Matt Glazer and Luke Marchant. They introduced themselves, explained why the affiliated with the parties they did (Glazer is a “D”, and Marchant is an “R”), and issued our campaign marching orders: to run a successful “mock” campaign for US House.
Our training then began in earnest, with Rob Johnson and Cliff Walker—veterans of local, state, and national campaigns—who covered the recruitment of political candidates. After noting that running for offices has nothing in common with “West Wing” or “House of Cards,” they discussed the importance of running for offices for the right reasons (e.g., making your community a better place) and the importance of hiring competent campaign managers and financial advisors who, beyond being competent, should also have integrity.
Session Two was led by Taylor Holden, who is the Development Director for New Era Colorado, but who has Texas campaign experience. She was very energetic—she drank coffee during her presentation, we noted—even as she discussed fundraising and budgeting.
Campaigns cannot run unless there is sufficient money. Her points were simple:
Get to the point;
Don’t be afraid to ask for a specific dollar value;
Don’t avoid “awkward” silences; and
The importance of urgency was not lost on us, not with only fifty-two hours to meet our campaign team, learn about our campaigns, learn how to campaign, and develop a campaign plan. With that in mind, Ms. Foody allowed us to meet with our campaign groups. Christina and Isabela were placed in separate teams for separate Republican candidates, and Brian was on a team working for a Democratic candidate.
Our closing session—the keynote—was presented by Austin City Councilman Gregorio Casar, who discussed city politics and his campaign experience. Casar, who was elected at the age of 25 and is a New Politics Forum alumnus, offered an interesting presentation not only because of his advice (e.g. “rely on friends”) and personal story (e.g., the youngest person to ever serve on Austin’s City Council)…
…but also because of the interesting things going on in Austin’s politics. For example, most people know that Austin recently required Uber and Lyft to abide by the same regulations as taxis, but did you know that Austin also prohibited local employers from asking about criminal records on their applications? Even large corporations are now required to change their Austin applications to avoid any mention of a police record. This led to much debate among the students, a debate stopped by Mr. Marchant’s admonition that we are here to learn about campaigns, not to debate policy.
It was an interesting close to a day in which we learned about both policy and campaigning and much else, much to our delight and edification.
LEAP students woke up to nerves this morning, looking ahead to a day of preparation and presentations. After roughly forty-eight hours of learning the ins and outs of campaign management, fundraising, budgeting, and direct voter contact, we finally had the chance to present our path to victory for our fictional candidates to an esteemed panel of expert judges, most of who had been lecturing us this weekend on the same topics.
We worked for the beginning hours of the day to practice and make finishing touches to our presentations, with jitters pervading most group sessions.
In the early morning, we made some last-minute revisions to our projects, working in groups or, occasionally, alone.
By 10:30 we had to turn in our finished products and hope that everything would go well. After getting a group picture with the whole Campaign Bootcamp group, we split up into three different groups of three different rotations: presenting, a session on getting your foot in the door in the workplace, and a workshop over civic reflection and engagement in young people.
After the group photos, all of the groups were separated into three rooms, one of which was meant for civic reflection. Deborah Wise, the director of educational outreach for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life was there to guide the session and explained to us that civic engagement is how the community gets involved with politics.
Once in the room she separated us randomly into three different groups where we discussed the lack of civic engagement as well as solutions for it. The topics revolved around the age gap in voters, why people don’t go out to vote and the impact of the media. Once we had enough time to discuss the issues and possible solutions, all of the groups sat together as a whole and we went into a deep brain storming session. Everyone had their own opinions for targeting younger people to get involved in politics but the main ones were to target education, parents, and how politics are viewed. I shared my opinion about the lack of education over local politics in high schools and giving politics a “young face”. Others shared their opinions of targeting the parents and educating them in politics. Deborah Wise then separated us into groups of 2-3 to discuss plans to boost civic engagement for younger people in communities. Once we had time to discuss our plans in the small groups we went back to our whole group and discussed them with everyone. The group as a whole agreed that the reasons that young people do not participate in politics is because they believe their vote doesn’t matter, they are undereducated in regard to local government and they believe it is an old mans game and its out of their reach. Solutions for this were showing younger people that they CAN vote by setting an example and being civically engaged ourselves, local government having a bigger part in high school other than just federal government and targeting issues in politics that affect the 18-29 year olds.
The Civic Reflections section was a great session that provided a more hands-on learning environment that we really enjoyed. Everyone was vocal and loved sharing and hearing different opinion. It showed us that people could really come together to solve an issue.
Heading to the conference room to present between the two different sessions, each group was given just eight minutes for their presentation and an additional seven minutes to answer questions from the judges.
As a student, the presentation was intimidating because groups were given relatively little time to prepare and practice. Although daunting, presenting to our judges proved to be a useful learning tool and a valuable public speaking experience.
In addition, each group had the opportunity to observe various other groups present and learn from what they did well and ways they could improve. Stressed the whole weekend, the hard part did not end once the presentation was over, but instead the Q & A proved to be almost more strenuous, as the judges asked questions and probed for questions that could have been left out during the presentation. The group presentations may have been stressful, however; it was arguably the best hands on learning experience and preparation for a career within political campaigns.
Continuing with rotations we moved on to a presentation by Maegan Stephens, a communications lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. We learned about the major steps for getting our feet in the door in political campaigns. We started with an interesting and fun activity of searching for the person sitting next to us on the internet and finding anything that could affect their possibility of getting hired. It was a fun way to learn about tactics professionals use to search job candidates and tips for us to remember when posting on social media. Next, we signed up for a LinkedIn account. Our trainer gave us tips for developing our account such as customizing our URL, and developing a strategic headline and summary. She also gave us great tips for building our endorsements and recommendations on our profile. After developing our LinkedIn accounts we moved on to interview tips. We learned that Interviews would be a very important part of an employer’s decision. We learned great ways to answer commonly asked questions in a strategic way and ideas about our goals to have clear in our mind before an interview. Clear goals will help us build a story and may brand our name. Interview delivery tips are also of great importance. We should be able to deliver effectively even if we might be nervous during an interview. Lastly, we discussed networking and the importance of making connections in political careers. Sometimes networking may be hard, but we learned excellent tips on how to approach it and overcome challenges. Networking should be the next step for getting our foot in the door.
After our rotations and regrouping in the main conference room, we were able to give some feedback as a large group about what was good and what could improve for next year. Following the opinion piece, we finally received the judge’s decisions on the different categorical winners for the campaign plans and also the overall winner. Representing Sam Houston State University, Constance Gabel and her group Democratic Team 4 won the “Get Out the Vote”/voter contact category over the other teams efforts in the same area. Needless to say after much networking techniques, knowledge, and tools for campaigning presented to us, we left the New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp completely different students.
We did some brief site-seeing around campus…
…and then headed back to the hotel.
At this point, Jazmin Perez and Mitchell Sanchez had to leave, going back to Huntsville to begin work the next day. The rest of us, however, stayed on in Austin for another day to watch the House and Senate in their final day of the session.
To finish the day, we ate dinner at The Clay Pit, a wonderful Indian restaurant in the heart of Austin’s downtown. Most of us not ever having tried Indian, it was such a blessing to have a waitress that clearly walked us through the menu and gave suggestions that turned out to be delicious. We tried many different kinds of dishes including Naan, a pita bread type of dish, a seafood grill, Tikki Masala, a red sauce, Khuroos-E-Tursh, a chicken dish stuffed with cheese and spinach in a sweet, almond sauce, and Lamb Roganjosh, a lamb dish in an onion sauce that might have been the table favorite. We finished with a dessert of Chai Spice Crème Bru Lee, rice pudding, and vanilla pudding with a side of grated carrot pudding. Stuffed, we left the restaurant to take a late night stroll through some of the older parts of UT’s campus.
We spotted some art and some strategically placed greenery, but the evening and the whole weekend culminated standing between the UT Tower and the Capitol, feeling the immensity of the city and our civic purpose as college students in a time full of political apathy. We also ended the weekend a much closer group, better prepared to tackle future challenges and opportunities.
We ended the evening exhausted and drove back to the hotel ready to tackle the last day of our weekend trip.
LEAP Center Students would like to thank Emily Einsohn, Drew Galloway, Luke Marchant, and Matt Glazer for leading such a great program!
Upon arrival this morning, boot campers were greeted with warm breakfast tacos, fruit, homemade granola, yogurt, and coffee to start the second day of NPF’s Campaign Bootcamp. It was a great start to a fourteen-hour day, filled with learning about all manner of campaign topics.
Chris Perkins & Polling
The first presentation of the day was centered on polling and how to use it to your advantage within a campaign. The speaker, Chris Perkins, partner at Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research and an expert on quantitative and qualitative analysis, presented helpful guidelines to think about when managing a real campaign.
One of his main points throughout the presentation was the importance of targeting: “targeting the right persuadable voters is key to victory, especially if you cannot afford to reach out to everyone.” His close created a seamless intro for the next session, how to craft a campaign message.
They gave us strategies for effective message delivery and great ways to build a campaign message. We learned the four key rules:
visualize the message,
tell the story,
and keep it short.
We were also reminded “it’s not what you say, but who you are.” A great way to promote a successful message is by frequency and repetition because it takes the human brain five or more repetitions before it recognizes an important message. After ten repetitions, the human brain has absorbed the message, which is especially applicable for voter contact via mail. All these great tips and strategies will be very useful when strategizing for our campaign presentations tomorrow afternoon.
Vincent Harris & Social Media
We were then introduced to “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet,” Vincent Harris. His presentation was filled to the brim with energy and strong delivery.
Harris, CEO of Harris Media, discussed the power of the digital media and the leverage this medium can bring to a party. Facebook, a large part of the digital media, plays a vital role, as do other smaller social media outlets. Currently working on Rand Paul’s bid for President, Harris believes digital media will be one of the deciding factors of the election. The direction and the ever-changing political climate have indicated that the Internet along with digital media will become king in political campaigns. The capabilities with rapid response will make it especially crucial in the end game parts of elections. Sticking to one or two messages makes getting the word out simple and effective, and it worked for us–as we remained engaged in the midst of a long Saturday.
Of course, crafting the message is part of the battle—implementing that message is another part.
“The great thing about the NPF, is that you learn so much, from so many people, in such a short time.”–Constance Gabel, LEAP Center VP
Matthew Brownfield, Colleen Loper, and Voter Targeting
This session focused on teaching us the essentials of targeting, voter contact and voter files, and how to get the most from knocking on doors. Essential information resources for the campaign manager, according to Brownfield and Loper, include the district’s electoral history district census data, and on-the-ground reports. Each mentor then went into specific tools that their party utilizes to narrow their voter targets as quickly and accurately as possible. Loper spoke about the main Democratic tools, which include the Voter Association Network (VAN), DCCC, DND, TDP, Blue Labs and the Analyst’s Institute for research. Brownfield admitted that the Republicans are lacking in this field by only having the GOP data center, but he still gave general research methods such as the state party databases, county party databases and voter files.
The two presenters then explained how important door-to-door campaigning is and how it is much more effective when trying to get out the vote (GOTV), but can be much more time consuming than phone calls. We learned that “knocking on doors” drives turnout and can be an effective method when trying to target moderate voters. Knocking on doors also insulates the campaigns from any change in opinion that the targeted voter might have had. Brownfield also mentioned that block walks during door-to-door campaigning can provide intelligence on the electoral situation of the opposing campaign. The two presenters agreed that the most appealing aspect of door-to-door campaigning is all of the positive media attention that can be earned. We learned that a good strategy when knocking on doors for a campaign is to have the candidate himself or herself knocking on doors as well. The presenters ended by mentioning that the candidate should always show that they are willing to put in work even in the smallest aspects of the campaign and that they can change a targeted voter’s mind easily, especially face-to-face.
Maegan Stephens and Communication
Finishing up the day of informative sessions, the energetic communication specialist, Maegan Stephens, focused on political pitches and presentations.
She began by engaging the students in a quick icebreaker, allowing them to move around and tune in.
Throughout this session, Ms. Stephens covered the content, delivery, slide deck, and questions and answers section of a successful presentation as well as the tools to create a political pitch. More specifically, she discussed the three parts of the content: the introduction, strategy, and the conclusion. She also emphasized the importance of delivering a presentation, being conscious of the presenter’s non-verbal and vocal communication. With her help we gained knowledge and confidence beneficial to our upcoming presentations.
Luke Marchant, Matt Glazer, Drew Gallaway, Coda
Luke Merchant and Matt Glazer, boot camp mentors, wrapped up the day with last-minute details and Q&A regarding the project and presentation…
…followed by a brief overview of tomorrow’s agenda by Drew Galloway who, prior to working for the Annette Strauss Institute, worked for the White House.
While listening and learning occupied students through most of the day, the evening hours were spent creating mock campaigns…
…from real data and hypothetical candidates from House District 117 in San Antonio.
We once again practiced the “working dinner” concept and vigorously tried to get as much as possible done in our teams, with the help of our mentors, Mr. Merchant, Mr. Glazer, Ms. Holden, and Ms. Moore.
Balancing different topics such as budgeting and polling, LEAP Center students tried to recall as much as possible from the previous sessions to create campaigns that would make the mentors proud.
Finally, with work still left to do, we left the campus for the hotel around 10:00pm, for an evening of blogging, research, and presentation practice. Hopefully, some sleep will follow this evening while we look forward to a packed day of presentations tomorrow.
Our third day in Austin was the busiest. We began the day at 8:30am and got back to the hotel a little before 11:00pm, spending the whole day in “Campaign Bootcamp.” Fortunately, the day flew by, filled with learning, hands-on activities, and group interaction—much like people involved in real campaigns. With so much to learn over such a long day, we each had our own favorites and lessons we took away.
Jake Rivera: One of the great things about the NPF Bootcamp is that all the speakers have specialties which they share with students over the course of the weekend, providing students with a comprehensive look at campaign work. Today was our busiest day, with about 11 hours of presentations followed by three hours of teamwork. Our primary mentor, Parag Mehta, taught us the importance of taking care of campaign volunteers.
On the other end of warm and fuzzy, Michael Beach taught us the importance of enhancing communications technology. Beach’s style, which is reserved, may be a little less captivating to some of the students, but the substance of what he said was enormously important and, to me, very interesting.
In reflecting on his concepts, it’s easy to see why his consulting firm is successful. Rounding out the day were seminars on fundraising, earned and paid media, social media, voter contact, and political pitches.
One of the things that dawns on you as you move through a program like this is that, in addition to learning the content of the seminars, you are also acquiring skills, especially in the hands-on section. Fundraising is about communication skills and persuasion; working with volunteers is about organization and management; polling is about research and statistics; and cutting across all of these topics is the skill of teamwork.
Of course, we had some of these skills and, in fact, the four of us—me, Joycelyn, Makeebba, and Lupe—came here as a team. Ironically, by working with other teams in Austin, we’ll return to SHSU as an even more effective team.
Lupe Cuellar: There were so many fascinating topics and captivating presenters today that deciding on a favorite could be difficult. For me, however, Ms. Liz Chadderdon stood out as a favorite. Her topic was “messaging” and her style was energetic, engaging, and heavy on opinions. She was passionate about her topic, and it came through as she detailed specific strategies for communicating directly to voters (go for mail!).
My team, which consists of one high school and several college students, has diverse political beliefs. We’ve turned this diversity into a strength, however, incorporating multiple ideas and strategies into a cohesive strategy. I’m hoping it will carry us to victory on mock-election day, tomorrow.
Makeebba Deterville: We had seven speakers today over about eleven hours. It made for a long day, but it also made for a wonderful learning opportunity. Whether it was Parag Mehta discussing campaign volunteers…
…or Michael Beach discussing communications, we got inside the machinery of a successful campaign. The most interesting to me, however, was Liz Chadderdon, who spoke about crafting a campaign message that motivated sufficient voters to win a campaign. She has a unique style, sometimes cursing, occasionally screaming, and always passionate.
At the end of the evening, we broke into our groups and worked on our own campaigns. Although we spent three hours working in a group, it’s not enough time to put together a winning campaign, so I’ll need to turn from the blog and focus on the final touches of our campaign.
Joycelyn Ovalle: The New Politics Forum campaign bootcamp is all about learning—from the importance of volunteers, to crafting a message, to targeting voters, to polling…
…and there is no doubt that by the end of the day our brains were full of significant strategies and knowledge. But the Bootcamp is designed to go beyond filling your head with knowledge; the NPF staff also asks us to put those ideas into action, to apply our knowledge. Accordingly, we followed our many seminars with a three-hour session of teamwork, assisted by our mentors: Luke Marchant, Parag Mehta, and Pasha Moore.
They helped us crunch numbers, finesse strategies, craft messages, target specific demographics, and improve our campaign skills.
The venue for this event was the Belo Center for New Media on the University of Texas’s campus. It’s a large venue, giving campaign groups to move around and settle in different areas. But many of the groups interacted or were sufficiently close such that the conversations trespassed group boundaries. This allowed me to observe how the groups worked together, how they listed to one another and strategized. The teamwork was impressive. If congress could work like that, we would all be very fortunate!
Overall, the day was intense and rewarding, allowing us to learn, apply, observe, and reflect—education at its finest!
May 31–Our Austin agenda is packed, and Friday morning was no different. We visited the Bob Bullock State History Museum, which covers hundreds of years of Texas history—from Spanish explorers to Apollo 13 landing on the moon and reporting back to Houston. With so many interesting facts about the state, it was impossible to learn about all the exhibits and artifacts. But we each had our favorite, lingering over important documents, old fashion tools, jewelry, many weapons, and large-scale displays.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the exhibits to our group was the “Goddess of Liberty.” The exhibit allows you to get close to a full-sized replica of her, and her features were over-large and unflattering.
The reason, according to the Museum, was so that the facial features would be noticeable from 310 feet away, which is the height of the Capitol Building. Rumor has it that she was placed atop the capitol building to make it just a bit taller than the US Capitol. My favorite exhibit, however, was Lone Star flag, which included a quote from Sam Houston, who noted that the flag is a “symbol of heritage that marks who we are as a people, who the land has made us, and who we will become…” It was a fitting quote for our group from SHSU, the University which marks us as a group and will influence who we will become.
After feeding our brain with knowledge of Texas history, we were also introduced to new spices, flavors, and foods. For lunch, we tried the Noble Sandwich, where a long line for the food attested to the popularity of the restaurant. The line also gave us the opportunity to discuss the menu options, which culminated with Jake deciding on the Noble Pig Sandwich (pulled pork, bacon, spiced ham, and provolone) and the ladies sticking together and ordering the delicious Turkey Chop (red onion, cucumber, fresh herbs, and lemon coriander vinaigrette. Professor Yawn opted for the Smoked Duck Pastrami, which consisted of duck, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing.
We also expanded our palates by trying a double fudge cookie, a coconut cookie, a maple and pecan cookie, and an exotic chocolate bacon tart!
We ended the night with a visit to Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. We greatly enjoyed a lively conversation, as well as desserts, coffee, and tea. Lupe and Jake finished off a piece of Peanut Butter Fudge cake and a double chocolate brownie, while Joyce and Makeebba shard a Vegan Lemon Blueberry cupcake, and we all enjoyed ginger cookies, a specialty of the bakery.
In between lunch and our late night snack, we spent a full day at the New Politics Forum’s “Campaign Bootcamp.” We met students from all over Texas, students from the University of Texas, Texas State, Texas A&M, Rice, and University of Houston. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we were eager to learn from veteran campaign staff, who serve as presenters and mentors on topics such as fundraising, campaign management, volunteer recruitment, message shaping, crisis control, getting out the vote, and social media. Emily Einsohn, the Coordinator of the New Politics Forum, offered introductions, and she helped establish a welcoming environment, allowing us to focus on the substantive topics.
Our first presenter, Parag Mehta, was the Outreach Coordinator for the Barack Obama Presidential Transition Team, and he led off with a poem for an introduction. It was a nice icebreaker.
Dr. Regina Lawrence, the Director of the Annette Strauss Institute began with a discussion of statistics, helping us know how to target vote totals.
We also heard from Luke Marchant, the Republican mentor, and Parag Mehta, the Democratic mentor—both have worked for high-level elected officials.
At least one of us found the campaign management seminar, led by Rob Johnson and Ed Espinoza, to be the most informative. It was a great overview of the process, and appropriate for our first day.
We also broke into our groups and were given a hint of our hypothetical scenarios, in which we work to ensure victory for our hypothetical candidate. One of the nice—and fun—aspects of the campaign is that the scenarios bring together Democrats, Republicans and Independents together to work on the same team. We’ll see how that goes!