From David Axelrod and Karl Rove's MasterClass

Starting a Campaign

Karl and David lay out what a campaign team needs to consider at the start of a race. Learn why you need to take stock of the electorate--and your candidate--to develop a theory of why you can win.

Topics include: Taking Inventory


Karl and David lay out what a campaign team needs to consider at the start of a race. Learn why you need to take stock of the electorate--and your candidate--to develop a theory of why you can win.

Topics include: Taking Inventory

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging

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Key starting point in developing your strategy is to figure out who is going to vote for you, and conversely, who isn't going to vote for you. Most campaigns-- poorly run campaigns-- sort of assume, well, we want to get everybody's vote. Well, there are some people who are never going to vote for you. Look, David, I hate to tell you, he's not going to vote for a Republican. I'm not going to vote for a Democrat. We're likely to vote every election. So it's useless for a Republican to try and get David to switch parties. And it is probably useless for a Democrat to say, "Let me remind you, David, to turn out to vote." Similarly for me. - Think of two circles that overlap. So you have candidate A, candidate B. The vast majority of the circle is the base of both campaigns-- so A and B, voters who are going to vote for A, the voters who are going to vote for B. But in that interlocking space are some voters who are up for grabs, weak voters on one side or the other, up-for-grabs voters who are pure undecideds. And you're going to focus much of your attention on those voters. That's how you make campaigns more efficient. - Yeah. So the question to start out with is, who's going to vote for me, and where are those votes going to come from? Historical data will help you. Going to have to campaign everywhere. Going to have to demonstrate that you're trying to get support from every community. But when you've got limited resources, where are you going to focus those resources to get the people who are up for grabs in the election? - If you're a campaign you have to present a coherent argument so that you control the sort of choice that people have in their heads on Election Day. These are battles of definition. And you're trying to define what the choice is all about. And that's a process that begins at the beginning of the campaign. And if it's a good campaign, you're not going to vary much from that fundamental judgment about what the choice is that you want voters to focus on. Because if they focus on your opponent's view of what the choice is all about, likely, you're not going to win that election. - You know, Curly, the great philosopher in "City Slickers," talked about one thing. And I think David has touched on that one thing. In a campaign, if you had to pick one thing that was critical to its success, it was whether or not the candidate had an idea about why they were running that made sense and seemed relevant to the voters. Because at the end of the day, it's that message expressed in all the ways that we can express a message in a campaign-- from the candidate's remarks to social media to ads to you name it-- that ultimately is what's important to voters. Why are you running? And do you seem to have-- does that seem to be real? And is it important and relevant to me? And then I can judge it against whatever's being offered as the reason of your opponent and make a decision. But that one thing is, why are you running? And a c...

What it takes to win elections

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have a love/hate relationship with politics, and I think both Bush and Obama will be remembered as corrupt criminals and disastrous presidents, but I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from learning from these two consummate professionals in the field of campaign management--which transcends the candidates. Thank you, David and Karl.

As much on organization and discipline as on strategy and tactics. Excellent and practical. Also hopeful, which was surprising.

I am a political junkie. Even with my daily consumption of news and politics, this was great. I have a greater respect for both Rove and Axlerod.

It was great to hear the inside story of how politic are run in the United States. At times it was chalanging to hear what they had to say, but I am glad I did and I learned from it.


Carole C.

I'm curious how, as a politician in any race with primaries, you make the transition from a campaign geared to win voters of your political ideology to the general election when you are trying to persuade voters to jump from their party to yours. As an example, in the current presidential election cycle, there are currently 9 candidates. To win the democratic primary, you're going to have to be a stand out democrat, which will look very different from the candidate who will be able to beat Trump in the general election. How does a candidate make that transition while maintaining his or her narrative? Hopefully, there's more on this issue in later classes!

Geoffrey J.

It's a hugely wonderful surprise to see two people, from opposing parties, collaborate so well to give this course

Ron H.

When I was making a decision to run for office, I asked myself a few questions. First one was why me, why should I do this? Honestly, that was the easiest question for me to answer where I live in the US and it was, "why not?" Our Democracy is supposed to be representative and I felt that I could do the job if I had won. The second question was, "What if I win, what would I want to accomplish?" This was a tougher question to answer and even though I have a strong sense of my values, I wanted to actually get something accomplished. During the seminars, I got to ask an individual who was in elected office, in the minority Party and I asked her, "So you are in the minority, how do you accomplish anything at all?" She told me a story of a bill she had written and took to committee in order to provide help to women who had faced domestic abuse. Her bill died in committee and never made it to the floor. A few weeks later, a new bill was brought to the committee aiming to assist women who were facing domestic abuse. She told me she ran that bill through a word search and found out that the only change to the bill was who happened to be sponsoring the bill. They both served on the same committee and she had a choice to vote to let the bill proceed or not. She voted it to the floor where it passed, knowing that even though she would get zero credit for the bill, it would help these women. That told me, that yes even if I would be elected and in the minority, I could affect change. That was a defining moment for me regarding my run for office.

Journey M.

I believe that whoever your speaking to, wether it be in voting or in anything else, they have to believe it as well and they only believe it when you say it with conviction. Brilliantly said the message that you speak, Does it seem Real.

Donald Trump's message is "Make America Great Again". Whether we like the president or not you can see that he sticks to this message and frames his responses in this context. He does not allow his naysayers to distract him from this. Do not change your message or you will lose your audience and people will not know what you stand for. Keeping the message clear and sharp makes it easy to frame every answer around this. Be consistent with your message over time you will persuade some of the undecided people to vote for you because they have heard your message repeatedly throughout the campaign, in a variety of mediums.

Chris D.

For what it's worth I think Karl and David are right, Americans on principle want candidates who believe in something beyond themselves. 2018 was unique for local and statewide candidates because it seemed so heavily focused on the national spotlight. What limited funds and volunteers were so heavily concentrated towards Congress and statewides; many downballot races suffered due to the fight for Washington and governor mansions. How a candidate running for State Rep. or Judge differentiates themselves from their slate can make or break the campaign in the scramble for volunteers or donations.

Al M.

I do wonder how many politicians actually want to do something instead of be something. I don't think it's unbelievable for a candidate to want to do good. That being said, how many actually are driven by duty and how many are driven by ego?

Jonathan W.

I think so far an idealized version of what is supposed to take place is being represented, except perhaps when Karl and David describe the immovable middle on both sides. I have yet to hear anything about money and politics which seems to be the only thing that matters in US politics, especially after the Citizens United decision. I think the word lobbyist was not even mentioned in last classes' handout. Again, this is how it is supposed to be, not necessarily how it is—but maybe that is asking too much.

Sheila G.

One comment that resonated with me very much was Karl Rove's: you need to be a candidate who wants to DO something vs a candidate who wants to BE something. I've seen this as a dynamic myself - there are individuals who want to be there because what they want is the status /position and ultimately one cannot tell what they stand for,or when they do speak , it invariably sounds hollow and not truly meant

Alex H.

Having worked on several campaigns myself, the arc of the narrative as they've described is so important. Even at the most local, municipal level, what you want to say and how to make it relevant to your campaign is something that's frequently overlooked. The arc of the narrative really does serve as the vehicle for why the candidate is running, and so even if the candidate has a compelling reason for running, you can't overlook the strategy on communicating it.