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Election Recap

The election is over.  As everyone decompresses the habit of constant analysis flashes back to what happened over the long months of campaigning.  Like any process, it’s good to step back at the end and think about what went well, what went wrong, and how it all could have been better.

Dave Thune won re-election to the St Paul City Council in Ward 2 on the third IRV re-allocation by 806 votes, a 58/42 win.  It was by far his highest ever once all the sorting, counting, and math were finished the Monday afterward.  The great irony is that the strongest skeptic of the new IRV (or Ranked Choice) system wound up benefiting from it more than anyone else.  How did this all go down?

Watching the IRV Process Unfold

This summary of the election should never be taken as an attempt to take credit for the  victory.  I was part of a team that always started and ended with Dave.  I won’t name names because I didn’t get their permission.  When we finally got to a victory party at Mancini’s restaurant the entire Thuniverse was there, people who have been like an extended family to me since 1989.  Nothing could have happened without everyone pulling together.  The warm daze of summer when it all started to come together glowed from everyone as we recounted how we all got to this happy night.

Preparing the strategy for the campaign laid three strong realities in front of us. The first was Ward 2 itself, a diverse assembly of four distinct neighborhoods of similar size – Downtown, West Seventh, the West Side, and Summit Hill. Many of these communities are changing rapidly as young families move back into the city – making it hard to identify “likely voters”.  The last issue was the four opponents who paid their fee to run, making this an unusually crowded race.

Most of our strategy was the usual route taken for this diverse Ward, which is to print four pieces of literature that spoke directly to the issues important in each neighborhood.  This practice is not common in most campaigns, but is very powerful.  Distinct communities have very different concerns that should be addressed directly.  Failure to do so is always going to tend toward vanilla and plain pieces missing a strong connection.

Common concerns and values extend far beyond simply the neighborhood someone lives in, of course.  Identifying voters as they see themselves is critical to any campaign.  We relied heavily on targeted mailings to voters, speaking to many different issues such as crime, environment, taxes, human rights, historic preservation, and other issues.  That required us to identify these voters, the hard but essential part of any Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy.  Voter ID also meant that we knew who were our people, and who to call up, when the election rolled around.

These appeals to voters are important, but the personal connection is even more critical in a local election.  We tried two innovations to do just that.

Through the long summer months, when people were not interested in an election that seemed to be a long way off, we held “Ice Cream Socials” at the houses of supporters and invited the neighbors to see Dave in an informal setting.  Attendance was rarely great, but we did connect very directly with people.  I always joked that it opened Dave up to being labeled an “Ice Cream Socialist”, but they worked.  Parents could bring their kids and be entertained with balloon animals, making a connection with the new families that might be voting for the first time.

The other innovation was a bank of personal video endorsements on the website.  These became very popular, energizing supporters and speaking very directly to people on a gut level.  Dave’s supporters said things that the campaign would have had trouble articulating as well, and often made Dave blush.  They went a bit viral towards the end, circulating widely even outside of the Ward.  The only problem is that there are so many of them the site bogged down.

The new IRV (Ranked Choice) system presented its own challenges.  Three of the four opponents were strong – one on the left, one on the right, and one that seemed to be driven by personal dislike.  Because this was the first election conducted in such a way we were cautious, using the slogan “Make Dave your #1` choice”.  At least one of our challengers actively sought second-round votes, but we felt it would have been unseemly to have an incumbent make the same appeal.  Perhaps in the future this won’t seem so strange.

IRV itself seems to have two very distinct requirements.  One is that while identifying your own voters is critical in any election, IRV requires identifying your opponents as well.  That would make an appeal for a second round by direct mail much more effective and not risk upsetting your own supporters.  We didn’t do a good enough job of this.  Also, IRV clearly does favor upbeat and positive campaigns, which was even admitted by one candidate who strayed from a positive tone.  Good turnout in any election requires that people have something to vote for, not just against, and in IRV that second choice is no different than the first.

All in all, the crowded field did favor Dave as the incumbent because it was hard for any of the other four to stand out in the crowd in a diverse district.  I still think this is a flaw in IRV and I prefer a system with non-partisan primaries where the top two, regardless of party, get another two months to square off and make their case.

What’s next?  Dave will continue to work hard for our city for four years.  The neighborhoods will continue to improve themselves through the grassroots efforts that are simply part of our daily lives.  And Saint Paul will be a great place for all of us.

Thank you again to everyone who made this a great election, including our opponents who engaged the voters and got them thinking about what they want as we all move forward together.  I’ll see you around the Ward, especially as I go around and finish pulling up the lawnsigns (ug!).

22 thoughts on “Election Recap

  1. Good win. I have a question – when you print up all these pieces by neighborhood and issues don’t you worry that people will see conflicting messages if they get ahold of more than one of them?

    • Jim, it’s like anything else in marketing – if you try to be too clever you’ll fail. You cannot say two different things to two different groups and not expect that word will get out that you were two-faced. Period. You can, however, emphasize different things between the pieces.
      For example, we talked a lot about the Schmidt Brewery redevelopment on West Seventh, but tended to talk a lot more about Pedro Park and developments in Lowertown for Downtown. On the website and in some later pieces we had the highlights of ALL the great projects going on around the Ward, but we tried to tell people about what we thought would matter most to them.
      Same for the issue pieces. Honestly, I can’t think of a potential conflict between them because we never even got close to having one. We kept it real and genuine all the time.

  2. Thanks Erik for this blog entry!

    I was at Mancinis, but never got a chance to say hello to you in person. I’m sure I’ll see you around.

    As to Jim Sauder’s question, I have seen all of the literature (and have lived in two of the distinct neighborhoods within the ward and very much involved still in both neighborhoods) and I wouldn’t say the message conflicted. I would say instead the message was just tailored more specifically to each distinct neighborhood, yet the basic messaging was the same. Hope that made sense.

    Also, I realize I might be in the minority here as a Dave Thune supporter, but I actually do like the IRV system. No, it’s not perfect and no system will ever be perfection. But it is true that it did end up working in Dave’s favor. He would have won in either system as it turns out.

    • Kris, I did miss you! Sorry about that. Was a big night, had so many people to thank. Makes me wonder who else I missed!
      There is a real irony here with IRV. I always said that if this is what the voters want, it’s what we will go with. It appears to have worked a lot better than I expected right out of the box, so whatever. 🙂

      • I got a ride to Mancinis with my parents. I think the moment I spotted you and had the opportunity to say “hello” was about the same time we had to head back to the parking lot. (Saw you, but you were immersed in a conversation and didn’t want to interrupt.) Well, hopefully I’ll still run into you in the future! I mean, I’m sure you’ll still be a regular at Madhatters (hopefully) even though the campaign work is over.

  3. This is a great insite into the campaign and I am very glad you wrote it. I was impressed by how you did not take credit along the way always saying “we”. I know a great mind like yours had a lot to do with it and the way you share credit to the team is admirable and far too uncommon.

    • [blush!] Thank you! But my role was pretty small overall. It takes a ton of work shared by many to make a campaign work. I would never take credit for what everyone else did.

      • Although a lot of people worked/volunteered on the campaign, that is very modest (and refreshing) of you! I will just say it since you’re too modest to admit it; you were a HUGE help to the campaign!

    • That particular twitter feed really reeks of the standard Republican line – but the candidate failed to get 10-12%, which is the Republican percentage of the voters in this Ward. So it was a dismal failure by any measure. But I’m certain that IRV accentuated that because the other negative messages also did poorly.

    • Oh my! She really is a negative person! I on the hand am so appreciative that Dave Thune supports dog parks. Not all people are rich enough (or middle class enough) to have a backyard. Not to mention, my dog loves meeting other dogs!

      I found this tweet of hers fascinating:
      “I’m deeply honored & encouraged to have won the endorsement of the St Paul Area Association of Realtors.” Promise not to let the city down!”

      Well gee, I wonder why! Could it be that sometimes realtors (not all, but some) are part of the group of vultures who take advantage of those facing foreclosure? (Ahem…conservatives who want to make a quick buck by “house flipping” without having any emotional response about the people facing homelessness.)

      • The St. Paul Association of Realtors® did NOT consult their members and their endorsement of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named came as a surprise to my wife who happens to be a Realtor®.
        There are no easy bucks for real estate agents working the “foreclosure market,” and ‘though there is some evidence of home investment buyers returning, house-flipping is not very common. The real estate agents that were house flippers are still sitting on or have lost to foreclosure some of the homes they had purchased for that purpose.
        I suspect even those vultures you refer to are having a tough time feeding right now… 😉

      • I think that most groups have these endorsements made by a central group that is “into it” and rarely poll their members. In this case, the Realtors that are most into local politics are usually landlords, and Dave has a reputation for not being … friendly to them. The Ward still has a lot of houses that have gone rental and relations between the rental world and homeowners is always a bit tense.

  4. Interesting recap. I was very curious to know how the ranked choice voting would go. Mathematically, the possibilities seemed mind-boggling to me. So glad you ended with a definitive majority despite the crowded general election ballot!

    • Thanks! It was gratifying to have a solid majority – the exact math has led to an interesting discussion on google+ about what to use as the demoninator, since the “official” 58/42 leaves off those who were dropped for lack of a second choice. But it was a good win all the same.

    • This was one of my first efforts with a video-heavy presentation – the very first being http://MediaHare.com , which is not as big. I think it worked, but I should have organized it better from the start. It got away from me pretty quickly as the size went nuts. I know what I would have done differently.

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