Home / The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections

The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections

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The political season is already underway, in case anybody has missed the news.  The national election campaigns are getting plenty of attention.   A variety of newly minted political blogs has amplified the effect, and video wars are underway on YouTube.  In this political frenzy, the science of running and winning local elections is often overlooked.  Local elections are the real grass-roots at work, where the proverbial rubber-meets-the-road.

Catherine Shaw's The Campaign Manager (third edition) is a detailed handbook that provides managers of local campaigns, no matter what their level of experience and sophistication, a strategic, A-to-Z roadmap to victory in the polls.  Just check out the book's (exclusive) five-star rating in this category on Amazon. Shaw, mayor of Ashland, Oregon for three consecutive terms (12 years) and former chief-of-staff for Oregon State Representative Dr. Alan Bates, just may be the country's leading authority on the subject.  She has managed and won countless local elections including bond and levy issues, as well as the campaigns of local elected officials.  Based on her work and scholarship, Shaw has been an invited lecturer at Yale, the University of California and Southern Oregon University.

One reason Shaw's approach is so popular with readers, academics and political consultants on-the-ground, is her data-driven approach that parses successful campaign management into its logical building blocks.  The Campaign Manager then details the particulars involved in each phase of the campaign, from the early "fatal-flaw" analysis, through constituting a "war-room," to conducting the day-to-day activities of the campaign.  Nothing is overlooked.  Her chapters on precinct analysis and targeting are key contributions to the literature, and her GOTV methods are being employed with great success across the country.

Shaw begins her tome with a section on how to use the book, including the ten commandments of campaigning juxtaposed against the cardinal sins of campaign management.  She parses the campaign team and addresses volunteer recruitment in the second section.  Turning her attention to the campaign brochure, Shaw speaks to theme and message development; polling; slogans; logo, and the all-important Voter's Pamphlet.  There is, of course, an extended section on fund-raising that includes tips, techniques and tracking mechanisms.  Lawn signs can play a very visible role in local elections, even though there are cycles when none will be used.  Shaw makes sense of it all and provides a management model and checklist.  The Campaign Manager also devotes considerable attention to "The Candidate."  Shaw knows how to "package" and "position" her candidates, and she shares those insights freely.

For political trench warriors, this book is a bible of sorts.  It covers issue- and candidate-based campaigns. As former Oregon Secretary of State, Phil Keisling put it in a cover note: "This is arguably the most comprehensive, insightful, and useful compendium of local campaign wisdom ever assembled."  NPR's political correspondent, Mara Liasson is also a fan.  It's easy to see why.  Shaw's perspective is focused, and she offers readers a wealth of useful examples, tables and illustrations as real-world touchstones. But for this reviewer, the principal strength of this work is its success in reducing the mystery of politics to a science.  Shaw has learned her trade well, and has practiced it successfully for decades.  As a result, her book is replete with the kind of insight, wit and sage advice anyone brave or crazy enough to take on a political campaign will certainly need. 

If you've got a school bond to pass, get this book.  If you're tired of your local state representative or senator, get this book and show it to others of like mind. You may just end up with a candidate.  And you'll certainly end up with a plan. If your Uncle Homer is always complaining about the usual suspects, get this book and give him a copy with the admonition that he better give it a rest unless he wants to run himself.  Just be ready to have a politician in the family or among your network of friends.  Yes, this book is that good.

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