I’m the guy on a campaign who knows how to find or do anything. You need 30 American flags delivered to a high school gymnasium by 3 p.m.? I know a guy. You need a coffee shop in Faribault with excellent acoustics? I know just the place. You need 500 clipboards? Let me check my garage.
The candidates take all of the bows, however there is a team of really smart capable people in the background who help the candidates look good. Now is the brief time period when these folks can even be interviewed. So here is one of the rare sneak peaks.
1) So give us an idea of who you are and what one of your typical campaign days was like.
I’m the guy on a campaign who knows how to find or do anything. You need 30 American flags delivered to a high school gymnasium by 3 p.m.? I know a guy. You need a coffee shop in Faribault with excellent acoustics? I know just the place. You need 500 clipboards? Let me check my garage. On Team Franken it became a running joke. Talk to Dusty… he knows a guy.
For this campaign I was in charge of events, materials and logistics. I built the official campaign launch, the rally at Al’s old junior high, the state convention floor show, Founders Day with Al Gore, the State Fair. Basically, if you been to a Franken event I was probably involved.
I managed our data and designed our materials or ‘chum’. Chum is the stuff covered in logos that the campaigns give away. Bumper stickers, t-shirts, buttons. That kind of stuff. Candidates hire me for their campaigns because they know they get a utility player. I was one of the first staffers hired on Team Franken because I could wear many of the different hats needed to launch a campaign.
2) What are the most bizarre incidents that happened?
I’ve got a few. I bought a banjo in Thief River Falls. I petted a moose just outside of Roseau. I led 150 people playing kazoos down Hennepin Ave. in Downtown Minneapolis.
But the most bizarre event of the entire campaign happened this last year at the Minnesota State Fair. I was working the Franken Booth and saw Mitt Romney, who was here for the RNC, walking nearby. I ran up and asked for a picture and handed my iPhone to the woman walking next to him. Gov. Romney smiled and asked if I’d like to have Congresswoman Bachmann IN the picture rather than having her take it. Sorry, Michelle, it was an honest mistake.
The picture is going to be my Christmas card this year.
3) When and how do get the emotional payback for what you do? (Since we know the pay is great – sarcasm)
Working on a campaign is incredibly gratifying and if you’re doing your job everything becomes a reward. People just assume all politics are negative, but the silver linings never get reported.
I remember sitting at a DFL event in Winona just before an ice storm hit worried sick because I was driving a hybrid SUV that was larger than Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s Prius. It’s a good 2.5 hours in good weather and 4-5 hours in the snow. I own a Prius and know they can’t handle ice very well. So, I went up to Jack and we swapped numbers.
That is powerful stuff. Here we are, battling it out for the DFL endorsement, but at our core we know we’re all on the same team and at that moment we didn’t want anyone from our team in danger. That moment just stuck with me.
The payback comes in the places you’d least expect. For me it’s always been about making relationships. It’s about knowing every street in every town across this state. For me it was about making sure Jack got home safe to his family and knowing that he doing the same for me.
I have over 6,000 contacts in my phone, each representing a connection that was made. The pay isn’t great given the hours, but you could never put a dollar amount on my contact list. That is priceless.
4) What is one thing that happened in a recent campaign that you are most proud of?
Many people already know this about me, but to some this may come as a shock. I am an ex-Republican. I got my start back in 1995 working for Ed Schafer, then the republican Governor of North Dakota, currently serving as the Secretary of Agriculture in the Bush administration. I don’t hide from it. I was in my teens and didn’t have a true sense of my political leanings until I got to college.
But a few years back I went to work for Congressman Earl Pomeroy’s reelection campaign. Earl is a good Democrat and he knew I had worked for the GOP, but he gave me a shot and I worked my tail off for him.
I’m proud of the work I did for Earl and for every candidate since. I’m also grateful for the opportunity he gave me to prove myself. So as cliché as it sounds, I am most proud of the day I became a Democrat.
5) How do story arcs affect campaigns?
That is a tough one, but the simple answer is that a campaign without a relatable story arc is an unsuccessful campaign.
You need people to see themselves in a campaign and to relate to the candidate. You need them to get to know and be excited about the candidate. They are voting to send this person to represent them at some level of government and they want to make sure that he or she can relate to what is going on in their lives.
You are also competing with other campaigns, making the case that your candidate’s story is more compelling and relatable than theirs. At the end of the day, if enough people can relate to your candidate’s story then you succeed.
6) If there was one piece of advice that you would give to the DFL or new campaigns, what would that be?
Invest in technology and new media. Blogs, like this one, help spread our message and they need our support. Also YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Podcasts have proven themselves to be powerful organizing tools.
I talk to my grandparents and they regularly receive their political news from the Internet. You’ve got generations of activists discovering the power of online communities. We need to make sure our campaigns and party structures step up to meet the demand.
The most powerful argument we can make to an undecided voter is a face-to-face discussion of the issues. President-Elect Obama is already doing a great job of this with his Youtube chats.
New media allows a campaign to move beyond the soundbite. You can publish podcasts of complete speeches or have a candidate answer questions directly on Youtube. Making our message readily available to those who want to learn more about what we stand for is no easy task, but it must be done.
7) Cats or dogs?
I’m about to get on my soapbox.
Dogs. I have a pit bull named Zoey who we adopted through Midwest Animal Rescue this past spring. I was apprehensive about owning a pit bull at first, but then I read up on the breed.
Let me tell you that pit bulls aren’t dangerous. They are just like any other dog, but get a bad rap in the press because of idiots like Michael Vick who raise them to be aggressive and to fight.
I’m a huge pit bull advocate now. Actually, Several prominent DFLers own pit bulls. We understand the public misconception about our pets, but people who meet Zoey see a well-behaved dog that wouldn’t hurt a fly.
If your readers are looking to get a dog I suggest they go through a rescue shelter and consider fostering first. Midwest Animal Rescue has a wonderful foster program that I recommend very highly.
Sorry for the rant.
8) Favorite music, movie and hero?
I did the music for all of our events, so you can only imagine how big my iTunes is right now. Personally, I really like The Flaming Lips, The Beatles and The Barenaked Ladies. Al really got me into the Grateful Dead, so I’ve got American Beauty playing right now.
My favorite movie is Wag the Dog. I relate to Dennis Leary’s character.
My personal hero, and this is going to sound weird, is P.T. Barnum. This was a man who poked at people’s imaginations. He was not only a showman, but also a brilliant businessman. He’d convince you to pay your hard earned money to see a mermaid and then show you a monkey he’d glued to a fish. That is genius-level work there.
9) What do you do in the downtime between campaigns? Is there any downtime anymore?
The days of downtime are gone. You usually get a month or two off and then it’s back to the grind.
Even when I get downtime I’m busy doing wonky things like catching up on political psychology or plowing through some marketing books. I used to do a lot of reading but now I’m mostly down to cramming audiobooks in the car on the way to and from events.
But I’m not complaining. We get our free time elsewhere. Like the 4th of July. If you want to have fun on a campaign then you should volunteer the week of the 4th of July. You’ll do 10 parades, 4 barbeques and 2 or 3 fireworks displays a day for an entire week. It’s awesome!
10) If you had one wish for how politics could change, what would it be?
I think we’re already seeing it. I want to see people participating and owning the campaigns. Take my parents. They’d never phonebank but this year they spent hours calling folks to tell them about Al Franken and Barack Obama.
If you let people take ownership of a campaign they do remarkable things. And remarkable things are what we need right now.