Making a Campaign a CauseNovember 5, 2011
Jon Huntsman is running for President of the United States. According to the majority of polls, not many people know that and of the people who do, not many are enthusiastic about it.
That’s unfortunate. Huntsman is smart and talented. He’s served multiple presidents, including President Obama as ambassador to China. He’s helped run his family’s massive chemical business and was a very successful and popular two-term governor of Utah. He’s proposed interesting solutions to the current problems we’re facing and has been willing to think about them creatively. A recent analysis by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver scored Huntsman as having the best chance to win next year. In today’s Republican Party, he is labeled a moderate, which I think is the word you use when reasonable sounds far too kind.
Huntsman has been a favorite of pundits and the press since before he announced his campaign. That along with his low poll numbers, focus on New Hampshire, and the involvement of John Weaver, makes him quite similar to John McCain in the 2000 race. McCain was more well-known nationally when he started that campaign, though, and his history as a war hero was one that gave him a well-deserved opening to the town halls and VFW posts of New Hampshire, a place where Democrats and independents can participate in the Republican primary.
What Huntsman lacks is a natural base of support. I’ve no doubt that he and his team are working around the clock to build that in New Hampshire, and periodically a poll will reflect some success. But he needs the focused enthusiasm and funds of people across the country to drive the campaign in New Hampshire. This hasn’t happened yet and time is running out.
It’s true that rising poll numbers and fundraising totals are the surest way to attract more attention and support, but to get there, you need the spark that only comes when people across the country see a campaign as a cause.
The Huntsman campaign must quickly galvanize the supporters they do have and expand that base online, all in an effort to achieve a big result in New Hampshire. Without it, the campaign will end there. Unfortunately, the campaign up to this point has had a sense of distance, as if it’s something to be watched and not part of. People need to feel like they’re part of a cause, a movement, that starts in New Hampshire. Here are some ways that could be accomplished.
10 Steps to a Better Campaign
Countdown to New Hampshire The campaign has not tried to hide that they’re staking everything on their showing in the New Hampshire primary on January 10. At the moment, that’s the only thing that matters, so the site, Facebook and Twitter should reflect it relentlessly. Everyone who supports Huntsman should feel like they’re working together toward a single, shared goal.
- A Countdown to New Hampshire clock in the header of the website
- Set and then track and promote a few core goals for the primary: phone calls, emails, donations, house visits, etc…
- Show a map of New Hampshire with every event the campaign has had there so far and prominently highlight the upcoming schedule
- Setup a travel blog written by someone ‘on the ground’ in New Hampshire, with updates and photos every single day
Help people participate who aren’t in New Hampshire. Sadly, the site completely fails in this area. If you click States, it asks you to choose one of three states (and shows an upcoming event of October 31). It gives the impression that if you don’t live in one of those states, the campaign cannot make use of your talents.
If you click Volunteer, you’re asked for your contact information and for a group that you identify with. It doesn’t mention or describe any ways you might volunteer or provide any stories of actual volunteers. One would assume it was just another avenue for fundraising at first glance.
There is only one consistent ask in the campaign materials: donate or forward this email or video to friends. That’s it. No one will be inspired by a cause that asks so little and offers no way to make an impact other than cash. Does the campaign understand that forwarded emails are probably the least respected form of online communication?
There is a large constituency of people, especially Republicans and independents, who voted for Obama, but are unsure of whether they will again. They like all of the personal characteristics of the President, his calm and cool approach, thoughtfulness and intelligence, and the fact that he is of a new generation. They wonder if there is someone who is like Obama personally, but has different policies and priorities. They may give Romney a chance, but Huntsman is who they’re looking for.
Admittedly, these are not necessarily Republican primary voters in many states outside of New Hampshire. But if a percentage of these people can be brought on board, they will become passionate advocates and fundraisers for the campaign which can help drive everything else.
Be much more social and casual on the candidate’s Twitter account. Reply to a few tweets a day. Post many more photos, perhaps using Instagram. Provide more of an inside look at what it’s like to run for president.
I’m personally not a fan of taking people to a Twylah page instead of directly to Twitter, but perhaps it has benefits that outweigh the negatives.
Small thing, but I think the @JonHuntsman Twitter account bio should mention the part about him running for president.
Increase the candidate’s interaction with people online through live streamed speeches, virtual town halls, or even something as simple as one hour of questions on Formspring.
Emphasize the candidate’s two years as ambassador to China online and in email. Yes, everyone was concerned that working for Obama would be a negative and maybe it has been. But it’s not with the army that you’re building online. Unlike Romney, Gingrich, and Cain, Huntsman had an actual job just a month before he started running. Not only is it the only foreign policy experience in the field, but it’s with the single most important country outside of our own.
Yes, speaking Mandarin is impressive, but too much emphasis on that alone belittles his real-world expertise.
People respect a candidate with thoughtful positions on a wide range of issues. When someone clicks Issues on the site, all they see are Jobs & the Economy and Foreign Policy. These are high-quality and thorough, but there needs to be much more on the environment, crime, health care, judiciary, etc…, even if the content can’t yet be as complete.
People who work in the software and internet industries are always looking for candidates who speak their language and can address their issues, such as visas, patents, net neutrality, and sales taxes for online retailers. Putting together a package of innovative, pro-growth ideas in these areas and announcing them in Silicon Valley or maybe in an online forum would be a good start.
Greatly improve the @Jon2012HQ Twitter account. This should be used to reach out to people across the country and help build a passionate community. It should be updated very often with behind-the-scenes details and photos. It should reply to people regularly and participate heavily in the online conversation (instead of one reply in the last month). Finally, it should be very limited in what it retweets. With all due respect to spokesman @Timodc, most people won’t know who he is and nothing in the username or photo makes it clear. There’s no reason that info can’t be tweeted as original.
Also, I don’t think the use of the #jonhuntsman and #gop2012 hashtags serve much purpose at all, based on the activity around them. Why clutter every tweet with them? And if you’re going to try to establish a campaign hashtag, shorter is almost always better, like #H2012, #JH2012 or #Huntsman.
The campaign videos have been decent, but uneven. Many simply tie together clips from political shows, which I understand is a common and presumably low-cost way to create an ad. I don’t know if the campaign realizes that when Huntsman himself is included in these as a clip from a news show, it manages to reduce him to the same level as the reporters and other candidates. He’s just one more in a stream of noise. Those elements are also odd in that Huntsman is talking to someone else, rather than the viewer, increasing the sense of disconnect.
Quirky, provocative ads are expected, but I would love to see a series of thoughtful, personal ones as well. Ones that show Huntsman close up, possibly in black & white, each addressing a different topic, but each with common branding and a tag line that unites them together. One idea I had puts the candidate on a stage in an empty town hall, reflecting a sense of history, the importance of a campaign and, of course, the unique role of New Hampshire. This would be a great opportunity to talk about the years in China in terms of democracy and free speech. There’s a big opening for Huntsman to be the one candidate who isn’t a cartoon.
I know just enough about presidential campaigns to be confident that the Huntsman campaign is understaffed, short of money, and exhausted. They’ve sacrificed a huge amount to get to where they are.
Primary voters have considered many alternatives to Romney so far. The campaign is showing signs of life and if people start to see it as a cause, and see a place for them in that cause, everything will change. I hope Huntsman has his moment next.