Business, Politics & Society

The Campaign Plan

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 8:10 min

Karl explains why you need a campaign plan, what it should include, and how to follow-through and evolve as the race progresses.

Play
David Axelrod and Karl Rove
Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging
Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.
Get All-Access

Preview

A lot of a campaign is going to depend upon the message, which David is so well versed in. But after you settle on what that message is and what the theme is, you then need to sit down and write out a plan. Now, a plan for a state rep race or a state Senate race may be a lot shorter and a lot more concise than a race for president. But you need to take the elements of the campaign and reduce them to writing and to numbers. And to spread them over a calendar so that you have a concrete idea of what it is that you're going to do and when you're going to do it and how much it's going to cost. Campaigns that plan tend to be campaigns that have a greater propensity to win, because it means that they've made conscious decisions about what's necessary to do, and when to do it, and to make certain that they have the resources in order to execute that plan. So it starts with a message and a theme, which David has talked about. And you need to take those ideas, what is it that you want to talk about, and plan them out when you're going to talk about them and how you're going to talk about them. The when is relatively easy. It requires some, you know, sort of thinking it through. How long do we want to spend talking about that issue? When do we want to introduce this facet of the candidate's background? When do we want to emphasize this particular theme? You can have a robust discussion about that and plan it out. But the how gets to be really problematic, because the how involves spending money. It's not just simply now, we're going to send our candidate out and talk about it this week. But we're going to have to back that up with whatever kind of media is available to you. Now, if you're running for governor or president, senator, maybe even a lot of congressional districts, that means that you're going to have the full range of communications available to you-- television, cable, radio, digital, mail. And again, you're going to need to, again, plan. What do we need? How much of that do we need in order to win? And then, it's an iterative process. Are we able to put that money together? You then need to think about volunteers and your ground game, which we're going to talk about later. But how do you go about mobilizing people who will then communicate with and focus on the target voters that you've agreed upon in order to persuade them and then get them out to vote? All of this needs to be done at the beginning of the campaign and agreed upon and committed to paper and then reduced to numbers. That is to say, you need to have a budget spread over time that shows, for each one of those activities, how much you're going to need to spend, what you're going to need to spend it on, and how it shows up across the budget. And then, carefully check it against the fundraisers. Do they think that amount of money can be raised by that amount of time? Over the years, I've seen, more often, that people fail in a campaign because they don't...


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.



Reviews

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

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.

Amazing! Couldn't stop. Didn't stop until finished the entire class in one sitting, on xmas day, even eating at the screen! A day well spent, and such a joy - and a sign of hope - to see two dignifiend, informed, competent professionals from opposite sides of the spectrum come together on this.

Thank you for providing this class. It is so refreshing to hear an adult discussion of politics that is focused on participation over ideology. Kudos to Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Rove. I pray our country follows their example.

This class is just amazing! Thank you so much.


Comments

Mia S.

"Similarly, during the summer and fall of 2004, I got regular reports that showed how we were doing in terms of battleground counties, battleground states, how many doors were being knocked on, how many phones were being rung against our target, how many volunteers were being recruited against our targets, and any time we showed up with serious shortfalls, everybody in the system knew, 'We've got to solve that.' So that's why a plan is so important, and that's why having mechanisms in place... led by a group, but also involving - today, technology makes it so easy to monitor so many of these things in a campaign. Fundraising - this is something that is constantly changing, sometimes for the good, but most times you've got to figure out - 'We're coming up a little short, what do we need to do to rejigger our schedule, our candidate's use of time, and other programs in order to make sure that we get caught up?' But you can't do that unless you have a plan and a mechanism to monitor it. To become the candidate in the general election, you've got to win the primary. So as you begin your planning, you've got to begin with planning for the primary. The good news about the primary is is that the primary is generally a much smaller universe of people - but whatever the case, the number of people who vote in the primary, you can look at the past and get a pretty good idea of who those people are, and you also generally tend to find - on voter lists - it's pretty easy to find people who voted in, say, two out of the last four, three out of the last five party primaries. And you can focus your efforts on them, that's why mail is particularly effective in primaries, because you know who most of the those people are. But particularly in states where you allow independents or where the primaries are determined by who shows up in the primary and there's no party registration, you can have big swings in the primary tunrout and you ought to be thinking about that as you prepare. But again, it's like running for the general election with a small electorate, and electorate that's generally more identifiable and reachable, more by digital and mail though some television is useful to buy. My view is, that when you run in the primary, don't listen to Richard Nixon: the idea that you could run to the right in the Republican primary and then move back to the center in the general election assumes nobody's paying attention, and if you're Democrat that you could run to the hard left in the primary and then crawl back to the center in the general election. That assumes, again, nobody's paying attention. Be who you are. Figure out what those parts of your message and you are important in the primary and show them, but don't do it in a way that is inauthentic and makes it sound like you're somebody different than you're going to appear in the general election."

Mia S.

"All of this needs to be done at the beginning of the campaign, and agreed upon and committed to paper, and then reduced to numbers - that is to say, you need to have a budget spread over time that shows, for each one of those activities, how much you're going to need to spend, what you're going to need to spend it on, and how it shows up across the budget. And then, carefully check it against the fundraisers. Do they think that amount of money can be raised by that amount of time? Over the years, I've seen - more often - that people fail in a campaign because they don't have a plan, than that they do have a plan and don't execute it. There's a discipline about putting this all down, putting the working assumptions about who is it that's going to vote for us? Who's not going to vote for us? Where are we going to get our votes? What's our message going to be? What are the strengths of our candidate? What are we going to try to make the race about? Answering those questions and all the other things that go into a campaign and committing them to paper is an exercise that causes campaigns to be better simply by doing that. If you don't do it, however, you're going to bounce around and be driven more by the moment. I love to run against people who don't seemingly have a good idea of what they're trying to do, and when they're going to do it. I like being on the offense, and by having a plan you're more likely to be on the offense. Look, you can't plan 12 months in advance or 16 months in advance or nine months in advance of a campaign what's going to be happening in the final stages of that campaign. But you can have some working assumptions, and then modify those working assumptions as you go along by saying, 'We're going to have a process and a group of people who are going to examine what we're doing and decide whether we ought to keep doing it or change. 2004, in the reelection campaign, we knew that we had to solve a couple of problems from the 2000 election. One is, we had lost the registration battle in 2000; that is to say, in critical battleground states, the Democrats did a better job of managing registration than we did. And second of all, we needed to do a better job on Get Out the Vote efforts. So in our plan, we built targets for what we wanted the registration pictures to look like in big states, and we also then mapped out our program for identifying supporters and doing the things necessary to get them to the polls - calling them on the phone, knocking on the doors, sending them mail pieces. And we could the monitor them; we had, literally, a set of numbers - every Monday morning for almost a year and a half I would get a document that showed me how we were doing in every battleground county in every battleground state on registration. So when we began to show shortfalls, we could redirect resources to those states."

Mia S.

"A lot of a campaign is going to depend upon the message, which David is so well-versed in. But after you settle on what that message is and what the theme is, you then need to sit down and write out a plan. Now, a plan for a state rep race or a state senate race may be a lot shorter and a lot more concise than a race for president, but you need to take the elements of the campaign and reduce them to writing and to numbers, and to spread them over a calendar so that you have a concrete idea of what it is that you're going to do and when you're going to do it, and how much it's going to cost. Campaigns that plan tend to be campaigns that have a greater propensity to win, because it means that they've made conscious decisions about what's necessary to do, and when to do it, and to make certain that they have the resources in order to execute that plan. So it starts with a message and a theme, which David has talked about. And you need to take those ideas - what is it that you want to talk about? And plan them out - when you're going to talk about them, and how you're going to talk about them. The when is relatively easy - it requires some sort of thinking it through; how long do we want to spend talking about that issue, when do we want to introduce this facet of the candidate's background? When do we want to emphasize this particular thing?' You can have a robust discussion about that and plan it out. But the how gets to be really problematic, because the how involves spending money; it's not just simply, 'Now, we're going to send out candidate and talk about it this week,' but we're going to have to back that up with whatever kind of media is available to you. Now, if you're running for governor or president, senator, maybe even a lot of congressional districts - that means that you're going to have the full range of communications available to you: television, cable, radio, digital, mail, and again, you're going to need to again plan, 'What do we need? How much of that do we need in order to win?' And then, it's an iterative process: 'Are we able to put that money together?' You then need to think about volunteers and your ground game, which we're going to talk about later, but how do you go about mobilizing people who will then communicate with and focus on the target voters that you've agreed upon in order to persuade them and then get them out to vote?"

Ron H.

When I ran in a Primary race and won, it was because of a huge amount of data and ground work. I took the voter file and broke it down, identifying my target list to Party 4/4 voters (Voters who voted in the last 2 generals and last two primaries). Then I identified those precincts that were extremely competitive based upon simple party registration. I made sure that we knocked on as many of those doors as we could, and personally knocked on about 4000 doors. The other candidates approached the primary a bit differently. The person who finished second, made no effort at all other than showing up to a couple of small debates. The individual who finished 3rd, just made horrendous mistakes with his messaging in my opinion and he happened to be the best funded candidate. There were some very specific problems going on at the time and he failed to address these in any way and it was critical in my view to Party voters. (My State has closed Primaries). When you run for office, you get a lot of mail the minute you file with the Secretary of State. I received nearly 100 POV surveys from every special interest lobby you could imagine. I happened to make a very bad mistake by answering all of these, even those that I knew would never in a million years endorse me for my point of view. If you run for office, you really need to be tactical in the surveys that you respond to, you don't want to give any opposing view lobby your own words to use against you. These surveys typically are an easier way for lobby groups to identify whether or not they will contribute to you or your opponent if you are accepting PAC money. I did not accept money, but as these groups represented large blocks of voters, I responded. Another mistake I made was that during a campaign event (Meet the Candidates forum type thing) I made the mistake of not knowing just who I was speaking to and wound up telling a Utility lobbyist that I thought that one potential solution to a budget deficit was to place a tax on exported power, thus getting people of other States to fund the closing of the deficit. The next campaign finance reporting date, when I took a look at my General Election opponents, I wasn't all that surprised when every single Utility donated large sums of cash to their campaigns. (I had never run for any kind of political office prior and had zero staff as suggested by this course, a serious mistake on my part).

Karen B.

What an incredible rich tool this document is... thank you so much for sharing. https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/Afgh-campaign-planning-manual-ENG.pdf

Richard C.

"Be who you are" in the primary, and don't think you can move somewhere else in the general election. Words to live by.

Thomas L.

You can see the focus and consistency in KR's approach. Each layer of what he recommends supports the other layers he's spoken about. I think he's mentioned how important it is to be authentic in at least half of his statements so far. Then you take that authenticity and morph that into an actionable plan with data and numbers, make sure you can financially support your goals, and get to work!

Sue B.

In the Primary you are running against someone who shares more of your ideas than in the general where the distinctions are clearer. Different strategies for each. In the primary you are pretty much putting your resume out to the party voters to show how you will be better at presenting the party platform than anyone else is. In the general you are selling yourself and also how your ideas are superior to those of the opposing party. I agree that a template or outline would be helpful with space for distinctions between types of campaigns.

Christopher F.

This course is enjoyable and interesting, but would be so much more useful if it included even high-level templates and outlines of things such as campaign plans!

Isaiah P.

Absolutely. I agree with the notion that you shouldn't campaign hard right or hard left in the primaries then transition to the center in the general. The people and media will definitely catch on and its unauthentic.