Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review: The Campaign Manager by Catherine Shaw

Before I launch into the book review I wanted to say that June 22nd was the fourth anniversary of this blog. It is a beyond strange thing that I have kept it up for this long. I am honoured by those who continue to visit and those who discover it and take something away from it. Thank you for reading.

There is no easy answer to how to run/win an election. Most people who are interested in the process are either supported by sophisticated networks of volunteers and activists, or blunder through the process. Political parties provide convenient banners to rally behind, but in local elections in most municipalities there are no parties and candidates must build campaigns on their own. Even with parties most candidates stand largely on their own as the parliamentary system decentralizes politics during elections.

I purchased The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections by Catherine Shaw for three reasons: one day I might be running a campaign; I want to better understand how to run campaigns; one day I want to run myself.

A useful guide for amateur pols.
There are tragically few resources on how to run an election. Most of the resources I have discovered are entirely inappropriate because they are entrenched in the American political system, or they are tragically out of date. Political campaigners are less likely to write books about their methods than become political consultants, I suppose.

Shaw focuses on small-scale elections where non-partisan or where party has limited influence. This creates a good parallel for the elections that are fought in Canada. In many contexts even though parties are not specifically involved voters can easily identify them or they have connections/endorsements from others. After reading the book I believe that this is a valuable resource for Canadians as well as Americans.

Shaw condenses many of the commonly accepted best practices in her book on Get Out the Vote (GOTV), voter identification, media relations, and provides dozens of practical samples for materials any campaign would need to produce such as call sheets, volunteer database or fund-raising forms.

As the title suggests this is a guide for campaign mangers and not candidates. Significant attention is given to identifying strong candidates and dealing with them. Elections/campaigns are deeply personal things and so it can be very challenging for candidates to separate their individual identities from the campaign they run and not view it as a personal referendum. Effective managers helps candidates win, but also help keep things in perspective.

Chapters in the book include information on precinct/poll analysis, building campaign teams, campaign brochures, volunteer organization, fundraising, lawn signs, targeting voters, dealing with media, candidates, issue-based campaigns, GOTV, and laying out the campaign plan. Shaw draws on her experience as a veteran politician in Oregon and her work on many campaigns for others.

The book can be quite dense and should be viewed as a guidebook or manual. It is not a particularly pleasurable read though Shaw sprinkles in anecdotes to reinforce her points. Still, the book is a resource and once read through will likely be used as a reference only.

During the last Ontario election and approaching the municipal elections I have recommended this book to friends and associates seeking office. It is a valuable starting point to help a prospective candidate to know what he/she needs to run for office. Even veterans of political campaigns may be missing the most obvious things when it comes to these matters. As a resource of combined materials The Campaign Manager is exceptional. While I believe there is ample room for a Canadian edition it is a great starting point for anyone looking to run. 

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