Representative Strama was invited by the Austin Kos group to speak at the Bloggers' Caucus, which was attended by numerous candidates for office at various levels of government in Texas. Following is the story Mark told of how he used technology to achieve his election victory with less funding than his opponent's. (Editor's note: If in the Texas House election of 2004 there was an equivalent of the arrogance of U.S. congressman Tom DeLay, it was the outrageous arrogance of Strama's opponent, Republican Jack Stick.)
Mark developed a plan to win that required a voter turnout of at least 60,000 in his district, which had been gerrymandered to dramatically favor Republicans. Mark's presentation at the Bloggers' Caucus, transcribed below, describes his electoral success, which was attained through a turnout of more than 65,000 voters and a margin of more than 550 votes in Mark's favor.
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Collecting emails to communicate directly with voters
Every time you go door-knocking in District 50, you are not just trying to sell them on you, you are not just trying to get them to commit to voting for you, you are not just trying to ask them for money. You want their email address and permission to email them.
And you have to be able to explain to people what the value proposition is. What are they going to get by being on your team? In my case, as a candidate in a down-ballot race, it was a fairly easy case to make, because it is very difficult for them to get news about down-ballot races. And I was able to fill that void for them.
And secondly, part of my whole story line in my campaign--and I think it would be the story line of a lot of folks in this room--is that I am running against big special interests that are going to spend a lot more money than me in the last two weeks of the campaign, and the only way I have to refute whatever they say about me is to be able to communicate instantaneously, inexpensively, and interactively.
And people responded to that. I collected thousands of email addresses in my district. And when I got outspent by $250,000 [not a typo] in the last two weeks of my campaign, I truly believe the ability to communicate instantly with people and tell my side of the story made a huge difference.
Second thing about technology--and this is one of the differences between blogging and email. Blogging, people have to come to you to get the story. And a lot of people do, and I think the coolest thing about the blogging community is the network. All I have to do is stumble across one of the good blogs, and I will find my way to all of them because everyone connects to each other. That said, I still have to go look for the information. And when I have somebody's email address, I deliver it to their inbox, and that makes a big difference.
Then once you have their permission, attention, and their trust, you have to take advantage of the interactivity of this medium. You have to give them something that they can do when you read their email, and it cannot always be "Give me money." [Huge crowd laughter]
Allowing people to forward the message
But there are amazing things that they can do for you. They can, with two or three clicks, forward your message to 10 people who aren't on your email list. That's an incredible power right there. That's amazing, and you will be amazed. You know, those of you haven't read a book called The Tipping Point, you may want to get it. You will find when you go out for email addresses, get them everywhere you go, but make sure you get the email addresses of the president of every homeowners association, the president of every Rotary Club, the president of every Lions Club. Make sure that you are connecting to the connecters in the community that you are trying to persuade, and ask them to post your emails to everyone on their Listserv because they have permission to talk to people that you don't. And that can make your investment in email messaging even that much more leveraged.
Ask them to take action
Secondly, things that you can do with people that will respond to your emails: Besides asking them to forward your message out, ask them to come back to your website to take some initiative for you, sign a petition. One of the great things to do from a fundraising perspective is to ask people not to give you money but to raise money for you.
Personal fundraising page
And we created a really cool technology tool that enabled each visitor to my site to have their own personal fundraising webpage. That greeted them when they came on board and told them how much money had been given by people to whom they had sent an email asking for a donation. It enabled them to click on a button to get an email delivered to their own inbox that they could forward, and that email had a link that enabled us to track back [so that] anyone that clicked on that link to make a donation was credited to the source of the invitation to donate. And that way, when the source went back to their own personal fundraising page, they could see who had given. And they could track their totals, and they could thank the people that had donated at their request.
That is a powerful, powerful tool. It is a commercial tool. We developed it for about $1,000 because I was able to get a college student, for basically free pizza, to develop a technology that we were quoted a price for $25,000 from commercial vendors. And I am telling you, that was an incredibly powerful way for us to get people doing the hard work for us. And people want to do it. You know, if you take the high stakes out of the fundraising game and make so $10 and $20 donations matter, it is really empowering to people, and they don't hate the fundraising game as much as most politicians hate it when it is the $2,000 game, the high-stakes game where quid pro quo relationships evolve.
Integrate technology into field program.
The third thing we did with our technology--and this will be the last thing, so we can get to the next speaker--was we completely integrated it with our field program. For every data field, for every person in our database, we wanted to have an email address--we couldn't do that. But for every email address, we could track it back to a voter certificate.
And we could track whether that voter had voted yet. And we could track whether we had knocked on that voter's door or not. And that is really important.
When we had, for example . . . When we had the challenge of deploying volunteers to 42 polling places on election day in the primaries . . . I didn't have a primary opponent, and I used the primaries as my opportunity to introduce myself to the voters. So we wanted to have volunteers at every polling place, greeting people as they came out instead of as they went in, saying, "He wasn't on the ballot this time, but you need to know about Mark Strama."
Deploying those volunteers to even just 42 polling places can be a huge logistical challenge for our fieldworker, and I didn't have a huge campaign staff at that time. So we created an online tool. We sent an email to everybody who had expressed an interest in volunteering for the campaign. They clicked on the link in the email, and they came to a page that had a webpage that had a drop-down menu of all 42 polling places. They could click on any one of the polling places--it popped up a map of where that polling place was, and a list of the hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. that still needed to be filled by a volunteer at that polling place.
So they could then check the boxes of the hours they were willing to fill at the polling place that was most convenient to them, fill out their information.
On the back end, we got a spreadsheet that showed us exactly who was going to be where when. And we didn't have to lift a finger. That was an extraordinary time-saver for our field efforts. And it's the kind of thing that if you can find the right technologist to create those functionalities--and they are not hard to create, but they are not trivial--if you can find the right technologist, you can save a fortune on your field organizing and maximize your productivity, so that your field organizers are persuading voters rather than managing logistics.
With that, I will turn it over to the next speaker, and I appreciate you having me here today.
For a Word document copy of this transcript please email austinkos at gmail.com.
I am preparing a letter to the technology strategy and implementation teams for both the DNC and the DFA. Any suggestions or comments on this would be very welcome.
(On an aside I note that the very first communication regarding the new DNC site was an appeal for money through the purchase of Dembonds, rather than an appeal to get involved or get other people involved. I bought a Dembond and asked 30 friends to buy Dembonds. How much more effective would it have been have a system where the first contact is not an appeal for money but an invitation to join the cause and receive information?)
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