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Direct Mail: How Conservatives Beat the “Old Guard Elitist” in Fauquier County, VA

You may not have felt the earthquake that happened in Fauquier County, Virginia this weekend, but I assure you there was one.

Conservative-backed candidate for chairman of our county’s GOP committee, retired U.S. Army Major General Gregory A. Schumacher, defeated the Old Guard candidate. General Schumacher is the first chairman of our Schumacher Faquier Countycounty’s GOP committee backed by us grassroots, Tea Party-type conservatives.

Let me share with you what happened in the hopes that it provides encouragement.

The Fauquier GOP committee has been ruled with an iron hand by the Old Guard Elites, doing its best to exclude conservatives from official committee membership. This Committee had been led for decades by a small group of individuals who had become complacent, exclusive and bereft of new ideas.

Ever since I read the Green and Gerber book “Get Out the Vote”, I have been keenly aware of the different methods of voter contact and the studied effectiveness of each. Most studies agree that door knocking or “front porch campaigning” is the most effective, followed by phone calling, and then direct mail and emailing. However, there are varying challenges to each of the methods and they always evolve around data availability, time, money and manpower.

Since a limited number of precinct and at-large seats were made available by the existing Committee that established the rules, we had races for most of the 20 precincts and the 21 available at-large slots as well as electing a new Chairman. The form of election process was a canvass, sometimes called a firehouse primary, that required voters to come to a single location on a Saturday between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM to cast their ballots.

Once we determined our campaign message, we had to decide how we could utilize our resources to win our election. Fauquier County has a large, mostly rural demographic that, with limited manpower and a short election cycle, is difficult to cover with a door knocking campaign. So, having what would be described as one of the better available voter data-base systems, our initial strategy was to have each candidate for precinct or at-large call known Republican voters in his or her precinct to campaign for themselves and our candidate for Chairman. At-large candidates were given access to their precincts and more if their time allowed.

Although phone campaigns had worked well for us in the past in surging against the establishment control, things have changed drastically since we ran our last campaign two years ago. We learned quickly that even the best data-based systems are only as good as the last time the data was updated, and even the best voter data will have only a percentage of the phone numbers, many of which are not current.

Further complicating our phone campaign is what can only be called the over-saturation of phone marketing that has occurred over the last couple of years. Couple this with the growing use of cell phones rather than land lines and the propensity to let the land line call “go to voice mail.” precluding personal contact, and you now have the makings of a very poor return on a phone-only campaign. 

Through this process we arrived at what turned out to be a winning strategy. We knew the vast majority of addresses in our data-base system were correct because they come from the State Board of Elections. With this certainty, we only had to ensure our letters would be read. We employed two techniques that insured a maximum open rate. Some of us utilized the old-fashioned hand-addressed envelopes while others, with a bit of research, found a program that can utilize the individual’s handwriting to print envelops.

Our strategy became a campaign of as many as twenty individuals writing their own letter or collaborating with others in the precinct where they were running, marketing themselves on a personal level and then including a tri-fold campaign flyer from our candidate for Chairman.

We then followed up with phone calls after the letters had been delivered.

Our candidate for Chairman also used direct mail with a large glossy postcard directed at over 5,000 Fauquier Republican primary voters.

The results? We increased our voter turnout from our last reconstitution election by almost 20%, we won the Chairmanship and even more revealing, we won 88% of the contested seats on election day!

Bottom line: Our personalized, direct mail campaign was a smashing success!!

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