Post-primary analysis

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Now that we're a few days out from the primary election win, I thought I would share some reflections and analysis of the election.  Some of these may be obvious, especially to political veterans, but it's helpful for me to put them out there and see what other comments and analysis comes up.

On the election day results themselves:

  1. Name recognition REALLY matters.Many of the voters who I've talked to before, on and after election day have invested minimal amounts of time really getting to know the candidates.  It's important that your name stand out to them in some way that will distinguish you from all the rest.  As I noted on election day, for better or worse I definitely got some votes by just being present in front of polling places and introducing myself to voters. Despite some heroic campaigning efforts by Jim Hair, I think it's safe to say that Sally Hutton's name was more widely known in Richmond, and her use of yard signs and a postal mailing helped to cement that.  Fellow Council candidate Al Glover saw this effect in a different way; he used few or no yard signs that I'm aware of and didn't participate in many of the public appearance opportunities available during the primary season, but was still the top vote getter on the Democratic side.  We can speculate that this was largely in part to voter familiarity with his name from his past term on Council, and his long-time presence in the community.
  2. Voter turnout REALLY matters.With just over 14% of registered voters showing up at the polls this time around, we have to be careful to make a distinction between "the will of the Richmond community" and "the will of the voters who happened to show up on election day," but in the end, the latter is what matters for getting elected.  In this particular case, candidates in my race won or lost based on the the participation of just a handful of households; I missed first place in my race by just 64 votes.  And yet, I'm still amazed that voters don't always realize the power they have to shape the future of the community.
  3. The primary election process is confusing and uninteresting to most voters.Even for the most engaged and involved political supporters, in my campaign and others, there was still a lot of unclearness about just how the primary process works and why it matters. I dare say for the average Richmond voter, they may not have even been aware what Council seats were up for election or who was on the ballot to fill those seats until they got into the polling place.  Plenty of folks expressed consternation at having to choose a political party ballot instead of just voting for the candidates they like the most, and wondered where all the third party candidates were.  Some still aren't quite sure what City Council does, and how it relates to the work of the Mayor, the County, etc.  I think the end result is that cost-benefit ratio for most voters feels high enough that they may or may not bother to participate.  Candidates and community leaders need to work to change that dynamic.
  4. A win is a win, and the general election is a whole new contest.There's a lot to learn from the primary results, but the general election campaign is a new playing field, and all candidates need to calibrate their efforts to that fact.

On the campaign process so far:

  1. Campaigning is fun and stimulating! 

    As I've noted elsewhere, running for office has been a really incredible way of getting to know even more about my community, the interests and needs of my fellow citizens, and the conversations that people want to have about the future.  It's unfortunate that there are so few places left in our public life where it's culturally acceptable (let alone encouraged) to share deeply about what we think the community needs are and how we should meet them. So, I'm glad for this new arena in my own life where I get to engage in more of those conversations, and to bring my time and talents to bear for the betterment of Richmond.

  2. Imitation may be flattery, but it's also a strategy.A friend warned me at the beginning of the primary season that by putting so much information out there so early in the campaign - about my views on local issues, catch-phrases for my campaign like "Moving Richmond Forward," etc. - I would be vulnerable to other candidates "copy and pasting" that material for their own use.  I was skeptical that this would happen, but he was right, and I'm almost surprised at the degree to which other candidates don't mind re-using metaphors, stories, images and turns of phrase for their own campaigns.   I'm flattered by it, and at some level it means there is some consensus about the issues facing Richmond now, but it also means we can all end up sounding alike to voters, and we have to work harder to distinguish ourselves.  I'm not sure I would do anything differently - in fact, I still prefer to raise the level of transparency and information sharing instead of reducing it - but it's certainly a phenomenon to note for the future.
  3. Some people are in it to win it, and some people are in it to do good.There's a definite difference in tone between a candidate who wants to be elected because they think there's an unmet community need that they can help meet or address, and a candidate who wants to be elected because they want to win an election.  Based on the comments I've gotten from voters and people who have attended public events, those motivations are usually pretty transparent when a candidate opens their mouth, and voters much prefer the former to the latter in the candidates they support (but it doesn't always mean that those candidates win).  More on this dynamic in a separate post soon.
  4. Primary campaigning is about delicately balancing authenticity and specifics against vagueness and homogeneity. You have to stand out, but not too much.  You have to get specific about how you're going to help the community, but not so specific that you become a one issue candidate.  You have to be yourself, but you also have to be impressive.  You have to sound like you want it without sounding like you want it too bad.  You have to make your points quickly and succinctly before eyes glaze over, but without sounding generic or uninformed.  You have to show disdain for the messiness of the political game while also embracing it fully.

    I actually LOVE these challenges and it's been an enjoyable process, but it's also probably the least ideal scenario in which to have serious, complex conversations about the future of the community.  Ah, politics.  (Are you picking up on my disdain while also seeing the embracing going on?  Good.)

Those are my thoughts and analysis at this point.  If you have other observations or analysis to share, feel free to post it in the comments below or contact me directly.

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