The Secret Campaign Journal Entries
Back in the late summer, the idea of writing a running campaign journal, patterned after the General Assembly journals written during session, seemed like a really interesting project.
One campaign journal entry was written, and another was started. The second entry, never published, focused on the more intricate strategy aspects. As interesting as it was to write, re-reading it raised some serious red flags.
The most obvious concern was the fact that an opponent, or an opponent's handlers, could read the details of my strategies and formulate an appropriate response. As the writer, I didn't see the trap until a supporter read a draft column and pointed it out.
The draft included the door-knocking strategy, the advertising approach, and the basic theme and design aspects. Now, since the race is over, here are the missing details.
After considering the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent, it was apparent that the campaign could be structured differently from the last go around. Four years ago, the opponent was an unknown, and had a very compelling tale of David vs. Goliath to tell.
This time, the opponent had a record and some history, both good and bad. One cannot serve as the mayor of a small town and not leave a wake; and this one was no exception. Also, the opponent had been a panelist on a political talk show, and had been fairly open with opinions, including some very juicy sound bites if the need arose.
The big change from four years ago was the fact that as the incumbent, I also had a record. Four years ago, there was no voting history as a state legislator, only a decent local government experience.
Voting records can be a valuable assist - or a terrible burden - to a campaign. I carefully combed through my four-year voting record. I had a college political science intern pick through several thousand votes, trying to select what the opponent might try to pick out as criticism. The list was quickly narrowed down to about 100 specific votes, and counterattacks for each were developed.
While one intern focused on the past votes, another focused on big policy issues ahead. She worked with me to conduct Internet research, examine model legislation, and review issue papers from around the country on universal healthcare, child welfare, and open government.
Armed with all of this careful research, the campaign settled on a theme and approach. We collectively decided that I didn't have to run away from my record, I could run on my record.
The website reflected the dominant message, Weldon Works. The double meaning is elegant, indicating that I work on issues important to voters, but also suggesting that - as a candidate - I might just "work" for a voter as well.
The decision was made to focus on local radio, so a significant commercial buy was placed with Vegas Radio WTRI. For a candidate running in southern Frederick and southeastern Washington County, placing ads on the air that play in Emmitsburg and Libertytown just didn't seem to make economic sense.
WTRI, once a powerful country station owned and operated by local legend Burt Thornton, has morphed into a very entertaining mix of classic pop hits and oldies. Station owner and morning DJ Buddy Rizer has been embraced by the Brunswick community, so this was almost a political no-brainer.
Similarly, the ad strategy leaned heavily on the Brunswick Citizen, our regional weekly paper. For the price of one decent-sized Frederick News Post ad, we were able to purchase a series of quarter- and half- page ads. The ads ran before the primary and the general.
Signs were planted all over the district, with the heaviest concentrations around Brunswick and Urbana. Well over 800 signs, ranging from yard signs up to 4x8' plywood signs. Unlike four years ago, there were a number of requests for signs. We were begging people to take signs last time, this time we had to hold back signs for the tent at The Great Frederick Fair and other special events.
Looking back several surprises strike me. The opponent focused most of his public statements on the Ehrlich Administration, criticizing cuts to higher education, land preservation, and environmental programs. He suggested that I was an ineffective incumbent because I supported these cuts.
Duh?! Every member of the House and Senate supported these cuts, mostly because the state was over $3 billion dollars in the red in 2003. This deficit had been created by a spending spree in the final five years of the Glendening Administration, jeopardizing not just these pet projects, but also the entire delivery of critical state services.
I never even had to defend those votes that I thought might be fodder for attack. Instead, while the opponent focused on his Ehrlich critique, I just laid out a case for re-election based on the votes that I thought would connect with the audience to whom we were speaking.
Another surprise was the lack of a one-on-one debate. I was very well prepared, having read, reread, and rehearsed for hours. Four years ago, my opponent asked for a debate almost immediately after the primary. I was sure the current opponent would, mostly because he had made clear to others (privately, of course) that he considered himself my intellectual superior.
Well, now the race is run, and the outcome is known. Ahead lies the 2007 General Assembly Session, and a weekly journal entry exposing the inside secrets and gory details of sausage-making in Annapolis.