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Steroids, Cows and Iowa: Update your Campaign Strategy

Lessons from the Iowa Caucus, the mad cow and Bush's new war on steroids have inspired me to ramp up the volume on my rant that the advocacy movement need to update our basic advocacy architecture and campaign strategies to adopt to a much more dynamic political landscape. We are fighting campaigns from 20 years ago. We are directed by "strategists, funders and leadership" that were part of the great policy successes of the second wave of conservation (1960s- 1980s). They come from an era of advocacy when there was relative parity in electoral power and organizational growth correlated with increases the ability to project political power. The tempo was more predictable and the agenda was more controllable.

Those days are gone.

1. Momentum matters.
Kerry seemed to pile up an amazing amount of good will with a few amazing stories that broke at exactly the right time. I was moved by the appearance of the Republican Sheriff from LA - Jim Rassman, Rassman was pulled out of the waters of a river in Vietnam under heavy fire by John Kerry. The story was not predictable and it framed Kerry perfectly. It highlighted his service to the country and reinforced his ads. It also grabbed him when he was tired from campaigning and on an emotional roller coaster that a campaign entails. Kerry's genuine display of emotion shattered his negatives (viwes that he was a stodgy, distant and aloof). It was beautiful and totally unpredictable.

2. Internet Tools matter most to complement Momentum.
Every campaign website now has decentralized tools (Dean, Kerry and Bush) making it easy for local volunteers to "run with the ball". Anyone who joined Kerry or Edwards camps in the final days could instantly self organize. They had all the content and tools at their fingertips. They could instantly start sending email, postcards, print labels, sign up sheets and posters. The volunteers could download the talking points, fact sheets and opposition research to defend their new candidate (in 1988 you would have needed a huge organization to win but no longer). Kerry was also able to raise $365,000 on the bump.

3. Message and content matter.
You need to know what you are good at and know what your core strengths are. Kerry was flying a helicopter (looks good and in charge) Dean was getting insider endorsements (how does Carter excite Dean's base or reinforce the outsider message?)

4. TV and Media Matter.
The rise of Edwards with paper endorsements and the bloody air wars totally affected the results. When the smartest campaigners in the country that have endless budgets for ads, door knockers and grassroots face time they still invest heavily in a smart communications campaign. Spend more time on cultivating smart communication plan and less time on reports.

The Mad Cow (merits an entire rant)

1. Life is unpredictable but not really. Adopt.
Four years after starting GMT, I have seen countless real world events come to dominate the media landscape. These events result in major shifts policy debate, public opinion and environmental laws. These trigger events are often to difficult to predict. Our current cycle of "idea- proposals- grant cycles - building campaign- launching campaign -rinse -repeat" will not work. Events and opportunities to move policy are short. These event driven campaigns are difficult to squeeze thru the step-by-step membership and fundraising approach and almost impossible to predict for individual groups on a 12 month budgeting process.

2. The environmental movement was not prepared to take advantage of some of the major stories of 2003 (events like Mad cow, the Northeast blackout, California wildfires, Propane tanker fire in NYC harbor and the random governmental dismantling of air or water protections).

Bush's Steroid War (I like to call it the army doesn't like aggressive and uncontrollable recruits initiative or the protect our meathead constituency so they can reproduce a new generation of GOP plan )
1. They are in charge.
There is no single way that funders or organizers can accurately predict the events that will set the agenda in 2004. The advocacy movement does "not control" any of the great soapbox leavers in the one party America. Therefore, it is important to begin to reorganize capacity to support groups that will end up on the “front line” trying to manage the response to trigger event. If we can not control the agenda, we can at least begin to better inject messages into the public debate during the moments when no one is in control.

2. The policy agenda and the terms of the debate (to the extent possible) are going to be carefully controlled by the current administration.
Tighter regulation of pollution, tougher enforcement of the law and protection of clean air, clean water, public right to know and green space are not on the agenda. Steroids are.