Modernity vs. Dumb Luck

Yesterday, I had a lovely chat with Ashley Kindergan, the political reporter for the Herald News. She gets my monthly blog update (for which you can subscribe in the upper right if interested) and discovered my facebook and myspace pages. Ashley wanted to talk to me about trends in modern campaigning and what effect they were having on local races, for inclusion of my comments in an article called Campaigns influenced by the Internet, appearing in today's paper:

"...local election battles are still waged using conventional means including lawn signs, pounding the flesh and direct mail. But the Internet is making inroads, and Republican blogger and Passaic County businessman George Ajjan has been one of the first to harness the newest trends.

In March 2006, Ajjan began writing a blog called The Aleppine Elephant, which offers everything from his opinion on the Middle East to blow-by-blow descriptions of political infighting in the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization.

Two months ago, he started a Facebook group called Save Passaic County and created a MySpace profile. Ajjan's YouTube channel features edited video clips of speeches by Passaic County's Republican freeholder candidates, Joseph Stinziano and Jerry Holt. Ajjan said he is trying to carve out a political niche on the Internet for local Republicans." (continued...)

I made several key points to Kindergan during our conversation:

  • The Boss needs a chauffeur to ride the learning curve
People in powerful positions are accustomed to being in total control and thus may feel intimidated by new technologies which may reveal otherwise. They decision of what to purchase may also be a source of confusion and frustration. For example, Kindergan said that Passaic County Republican Freeholder candidates Jerry Holt and Joe Stinziano "might set up a Web site if resources allow, but in the meantime they are happy for the free publicity that Ajjan's YouTube videos affords them."

This is why all candidates need to seek out advice on these matters. The reality is that a very modest investment will provide any candidate with all they could ever need and more. There is no excuse for a full-fledged campaign not to use the internet. This was one criticism I had of the recent rout led by Kevin O'Toole, Dave Russo, and Scott Rumana in the District 40 GOP Primary. They spent well into 6 figures, but chose not to build a website. Their opponents did have an effective online presence, however.

Also worthy of note, I did not know until Kindergan informed me yesterday that Victor Rabbat, who ran without a "line" and earned 6% district-wide, had a website. But I didn't know about it, and couldn't even find it while searching online. So it's not just checking a box. Candidates don't just have to be online, they have to be online right. A website does no good if nobody can find it!
  • More yard signs on Route 46!!!
Basically, the Democrats win local elections by dumb luck, not because they have implemented any more progressive techniques than the Republicans. As Kindergan notes:
"County-level candidates haven't embraced technology as readily. Democratic Freeholders Terry Duffy and Pasquale 'Pat' Lepore said voters still place the most importance on meeting candidates running for local office in person, and weren't as interested in blogs and campaign Web sites. But Lepore said he thinks that political view will change soon."
Since first getting involved about 4 years ago, I have been astonished at the lack of sophistication of campaigns here. There is no over-arching vision in either party, only frantic task-orientation, like who has more yard signs on the highways. Thus, the local GOP organizations have a huge opportunity to move the game onto a whole new playing field by taking advantage of the fact that internet penetration is very high in the suburbs, where even loyal registered Democrats are feeling the pinch of high property taxes that harm homeowners and offer them next to nothing in return.
  • "I took the initiative in creating the Internet..."

Let's face facts - if there was not always some worry about a no-good faction seeking the Chairmanship, we would be able to recruit new blood to the County Committee, especially those comfortable with technology. Kindergan quoted my vision for their role:

"It's really my belief that in the coming years, local elections, particularly, are going to be decided by which candidates and activists have a list of their neighbors' e-mail addresses and are able to send them a two-minute YouTube video."

The process is starting, and moving slow as Kindergan noted, but the important thing is that the technological infrastructure is already in place. As Holt said:

"During the (primary) campaign, I was copied on a lot of e-mails where people saw some of the items that George (Ajjan) had posted on YouTube."
  • GenNext GOP

Spearheading the implementation of new technologies is a perfect fit for young people, and a win-win. The youngsters can gain some political experience, get some nice letters of recommendation for their college applications, or perhaps earn course credit, while the GOP gains a modern approach and a "Farm Team" of future candidates and party leaders. Kindergan quoted one of my protégés, Dan Beckelman, who was a big help in my 2004 congressional race.

"Dan Beckelman is the kind of young, energetic political junkie of whom campaign managers dream. Beckelman, a senior at The College of New Jersey and treasurer of the TCNJ College Republicans, is running for Borough Council in Fair Lawn.

"I don't have a role model of someone who is doing really well with an Internet-based campaign. Most people feel that older people vote in local elections, so we should prioritize lawn signs as opposed to online."

I hope this article stirs the pot a bit. Keep your eyes open for another major initiative to be launched in the near future.