President Lyndon Johnson liked to tell his campaign staff, “If we do EVERYTHING” we’ll win!
Given his penchant for stealing elections and buying votes, I’d propose a slight modification to that catch phrase: “If you do everything legal, you’ll win!”
I’ll get back to that, but first here’s some background on why in the world I’m quoting LBJ…
Right now I’m reading (on audio book) Robert Caro’s fascinating biographical series on LBJ. Most books written about him amount to little more than fan-fiction but Caro’s is a seminal work.
I got turned onto the book by a friend who was writing about real election stealing stories, in the aftermath of the 2016. The series is one I highly recommend, both because of the campaign insights and as a fantastic survey of 20th century politics in America. Ironically, it takes only marginally less time to read the books than it did for the history to transpire…but it’s very worth it!
Campaigns are difficult
Anybody who’s been through one bears the metaphorical, and sometimes literal scars (yard sign stakes can stab y’all!). But no race is over before it’s over.
This week I talked to two men who have both held office. Former Member of Congress Jim Ryun and Tom Lucero. Each told me a story that hammered home this lesson from LBJ (and the stories are coming out in the next two weeks on the How to Run for Office Podcast!)
When he ran for State Representative in 2016, Tom had a wealth of experience as both an elected official and political consultant. He put together an incredible campaign plan and detailed, weekly goals for all the key performance indicators he needed to hit.
Throughout the campaign, he hit every one. EVERY ONE!! Nearly every day of block walking got to end early because they got the doors done and fundraising calls made with daylight to spare.
The problem was that because of the crazy turnout in 2016, his metrics shot too low. As a result, stopping as soon as he hit his metrics meant that he was running behind…he just didn’t know it yet.
When election day came, Tom lost by just a couple hundred votes. A margin that he is confident he would have overcome if those extra delight hours had been put to good use.
He didn’t do everything…and he lost.
Running a race was a familiar thing to Jim Ryun. He was the first high-schooler to break the 4 minute mile, was a three-time Olympian and ESPN named him the best high school athlete of all time (beating Tiger Woods and LeBron James!). Jim knew how to run a race.
When he ran for Congress in 1996, Jim worked hard. They knocked doors, raised money and used every tool available to them. But with a week to go, polling showed them 7 points down in an election dominated by Bill Clinton’s re-election. How could they overcome 7% in 7 days?!
By doing everything!
Jim recalled that his high-school coach told him that more races are lost at the finish line than anywhere else on the track. The leader too often lets up at the end and fails to see an opponent surging. As a result, Jim never stopped giving 100% until he was 10 yards past the finish line.
When it came to politics, Jim was no different. He wasn’t a stranger to being down with the finish line in clear view. So he focused past the line and pushed forward with everything he had.
He did everything. And he won!
If you do EVERYTHING *legal* you’ll win.
Ever since I lost my first campaign by 12 votes, my goal is to do just that: everything. When I walk into a watch party, I want to be sweaty, tired and sunburned. If you want to win, that should be your goal as well.
Elections matter and they have very real consequences. We’re in this crazy world of politics because we care about those consequences and if you’re putting your name on the ballot, you understand them well.
If we actually believe that these things are important, then we need to do everything. Work harder, fight smarter, stay later.
When you win, it’ll be worth it!