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5 Tips for How to Run a Political Campaign from California’s June 3 primary

By on June 5, 2014
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Here are five tips for how to run a political campaign, based on the outcome of the June 3rd primary in California.

1. Print media is dead.

Dan Schnur, a non-partisan candidate for Secretary of State, has spent the past two decades serving as the “go-to quote machine” for California political reporters.  Any time a lazy Capitol reporter has needed an appeal to authority, he or she has called up Schnur for his political analysis. Schnur was quoted so often that Zocalo’s Joe Mathews dubbed him the media’s candidate.

And all the media’s stumping for Schnur delivered a fourth place finish — behind indicted State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. You’re better off running guns than returning a reporter’s call.

2. Newspaper editorials are worth a 4-word ballot statement.

In the race for state controller, California’s newspapers endorsed either Republican Ashley Swearengin, Democrat Betty Yee, or a combination of the two. A late entrant into the race, Swearengin didn’t spend much money in the primary, but received glowing endorsements from a half dozen newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee. Her campaign also didn’t buy a ballot statement. Swearengin received a quarter of all votes cast in the race.

Contrast that with fellow Republican David Evans. No media outlets gave Evans the time of day — let alone an editorial endorsement. But, he plopped down $100 on a four word ballot statement, “Most qualified for Controller.” Evans has now overtaken Democrat John Perez, who until a month ago was the Speaker of the State Assembly. Much can be inferred from that outcome, but the clear lesson is that the average Republican voter doesn’t bother reading the LA Times editorial pages before casting a ballot. (For more evidence of the value of newspaper endorsements, see the race for Secretary of State, where three newspapers endorsed Schnur’s 4th place finish.)

3. Slates are priceless, especially in low-turnout races.

In the 74th Assembly District, Huntington Beach City Councilman Matt Harper raised a few thousand bucks and spent it all on slates. He came in second place. Board of Equalization member Betty Yee adopted a similar strategy in her race against Perez, who spent millions on TV ads. Betty Yee was significantly outspent but is running neck-and-neck with Perez. Credit her campaign consultants for a low-budget, “buy slates first” strategy. (See also: 2006 Controller’s race)

4. Never use SurveyUSA for polling in California.

A week before the election, SurveyUSA released polling numbers in the race for San Diego Assessor/Clerk Recorder that had the race “effectively tied.” The UT San Diego headline read: “Poll: Dronenburg, Guinn tied for assessor,” based on a poll conducted May 27-29 by SurveyUSA for U-T San Diego and 10News.

Democrat Susan Guinn is effectively tied with Republican county Assessor/Recorder/Clerk Ernie Dronenburg as his challenge of same-sex marriage last year is heavily influencing voter opinion, according to a poll that also found nearly half of respondents undecided just days before the election.

SurveyUSA founder and editor Jay Leve said the results suggest Dronenburg and Guinn may each wind up with around 40 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary election, which would force the race into a November runoff.

The poll found Dronenburg’s decision to join a last-ditch move to block the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples throughout the state following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a state ban on those marraiges was having an impact on the race.

What was the outcome? A Dronenburg landslide.


The San Diego Assessor’s race wasn’t the only bad poll by SurveyUSA. It bungled the statewide voter turnout in record fashion. (See Paul Mitchell’s post at the Political Data website for more.)

5. Don’t ignore minor candidates in polling or campaign strategy.

Minor candidates, who are often left out of debates, also get left out of polling. Who really cares about the Peace and Freedom party, right?  But, top candidates that ignore minor candidates do so at their own peril.

Take the race for state controller. Evans was the most obvious example of an ignored candidate. Even the other “minor” candidates had a significant effect on the outcome. The Green Party’s Laura Wells and Democrat Tammy Blair accounted for more than 10 percent of the vote. I bet both Betty Yee and John Perez wish there wasn’t that third Democrat in the race.



About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for,, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.


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