|Shannon might be ready though, you should have seen her working her suit!|
I learned how to become a successful candidate. How to choose the right issues to run on. I learned how to study demographics, know my target audiences, know my constituents and most importantly, the best strategies to use, to connect with them as effectively as possible.
I also learned some things that are a little disillusioning about the political process. I've always known that the ability of a candidate to raise money was the most important factor in their success, but I didn't fully realize how much of a politicians life revolves around that and only that. Essentially, a politicians job, when he or she first begins to campaign is to start raising money. By the time a perspective candidate formally files their intent to run, they should have at least 10% of their total anticipated campaign budget banked. This money is typically raised with the help of personal appeals by the candidate to high-dollar donors (called "ego" donors) and "centers of influence", which are essentially the groups and organizations that hold the most political and financial sway in the district which the candidate intends to campaign.
Once this seed money has been raised, and the candidate files formal intent to run, the next step of the campaign is the long, ongoing process of working to raise donations from local constituents as much as possible. I learned the "1 = 7 rule", which basically says that every time you get someone to give you a dollar, that translates to 7 more votes that the person who gave you that dollar will go out and personally recruit. The idea is simple and brilliant - people don't want to back a loser. So, if you get someone to donate money to your campaign, they're going to go out and personally try to recruit an average of 7 other people to vote for you too, to help their odds of backing the right horse in the race. The value of a donation is exponentially higher when it comes from local constituents. This is because, while most candidates can, and do, seek funding from sources outside the district, such as friends, family, business associates and PAC's, that money doesn't equate to a vote. However, when a local constituent donates, someone who actually can vote in the election, that vote is guaranteed. So, fund raising within the district is a huge priority for the beginning of the campaign.
Later in the campaign, after the candidate has raised enough money and support to be a serious contender, then the candidate begins to articulate his core issues - the agenda on which he will run. Candidates are encouraged to pick only 2 issues, 2 fundamental ideals that will be platform of the candidates campaign. These 2 issues are encouraged to be broad, sweeping, ideals that are generally popular with the majority of voters in the candidates district. For example, if a candidate was seeking to run for a county assembly seat in a rural, farming community, he might choose to run on ag issues and road maintenance, two issues that tend to affect a large percentage of people in those kinds of districts, because so much money and so many jobs depend on the ag industry in one way or another, and because road conditions are generally poor in rural communities. This would ensure that, not only would the candidate appeal to the widest possible base using issues that are popular with a large segment of the local voter base, but they are also issues that are simple and easy for the average, uneducated voter to support.
Now, I don't want to give too much away about this, but I learned some basic facts about voters, demographics, voting habits and so on that profoundly affected my view of the difference between the illusion of what our politicians do and the reality. Of course, most of it is obvious stuff that seems like it would be a no-brainer to the average, cynical American. However, it's so much deeper, more calculated, better studied and mapped out than I think most people could even begin to imagine. It's fascinating, depressing, disenchanting, brilliant and frustrating, all at the same time. I was asked afterwards "knowing what you know about the whole process now, do you still want to pursue a career in politics?" And I thought about it for a minute, and replied "I'm not sure if I want it now more than ever, or if I want to go lock myself in a closet and just wait for the apocalypse."
Then, at the end of the whole thing, after a long, physically and emotionally draining day, I had to give a mock televised interview where I had to make my case for why I would make a good candidate for office. I stood there, staring at the mock interviewer, trying to keep that big, happy smile on my face, figuring out what to do with my hands, trying to remember all the talking points tips and the fundamentals that I had been taught over the previous 8 hours and delivering the most canned, plastic, empty, bullshit, deflective, lip service responses to basic questions I've ever heard come out of my mouth, even at my most intentionally sarcastic and I don't know whether I wanted to throw up or jerk off. I mean, I deflected a question about accepting special interest money by saying "I welcome the support of anyone who believes in my vision for this country, and I will never turn down the support of like-minded people from all walks of life who want to join me as I work to make that vision a reality and deliver the leadership that they want and deserve." It's so dirty, so wrong... I feel like I just shot up heroin, and after I finish throwing up, I'm gonna have one hell of a sweet ass buzz...