Patriot organizations should focus on sponsoring Candidate Nights to allow voters to become informed about the candidates. Unlike Candidate Nights of the past, in which candidates may have had access to the questions beforehand, patriot organization Candidate Nights need to be more like an open, unscripted townhall in which audience questions are random and broad-ranging. These Candidate Nights should be videotaped and posted on voter accessible websites. Content from these Candidate Nights can be used in subsequent Voter Guides, which can be disbursed prior to elections via newspaper inserts and Neighborhood / Precinct Organizing canvassing. On Election Day, they can be disbursed at the polling locations.
Candidate Nights should occur well before voters receive their mail-in / absentee ballots prior to primary or general elections. This allows sufficient time for Voter Guides to be created and disseminated to voters, based on candidate statements made during the Candidate Nights.
Best practices for conducting successful Candidate Nights are detailed below. Much thanks goes to Dan W. Offineer who was the Candidate Night Project Coordinator for Ohio District 18 in 2010. He personally spent much time and effort in developing much of the below shared best practices. His efforts were rewarded with much praise from attendees and local media for having conducted effective and unbiased Candidate Nights. (Yet one more reason for patriot organizations to remain non-partisan.) In fact, based on website access records, the success of Ohio District 18 Candidate Nights resulted in much web-traffic from the Republican Party, Democratic Party, Campaign Consultants, National Lobbying Organizations, and National Corporations. To download the best practices presentation for Candidate Nights, click on the above, right icon.
The above mentioned Congressional Ohio-18 race is an excellent example of the power of Voter Guides and Candidate Nights, since the incumbent candidate chose not to participate in either and consequently lost the election by over 19%. This was considered an upset and was not anticipated by the political establishment. In contrast, the Constitutional candidate, who participated in both the Candidate Nights and the Voter Guide, received over twice as many votes in Ohio-18 than any other independent candidate anywhere else in Ohio, despite having spent very little on his campaign and having no campaign manager. The Voter Guide, which for the incumbent politician stated "Refused to answer questionnaire", was distributed to 65,000 voters in the district three days prior to the election via a Sunday newspaper insert.
Collaborate with Regional Patriot Organizations
Just as in Neighborhood / Precinct Organizing, it only makes sense to collaborate with like-minded organizations in your local region to plan and execute a resource intensive event such as Candidate Nights. Most likely you are already aware of like-minded patriot organizations in your area, but you might want to check with your membership and search the internet to assure all organizations are provided the opportunity to participate. Make sure that one of these organizations has a 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 non-profit status, under which you can conduct the non-partisan Candidate Nights.
Candidate Night Planning – conduct either in person or via conference calls
Scope & Dates – Decide on which elected offices to focus on, how many Candidate Nights to conduct, and dates.
Organization – Designate one individual for each of the following roles: 1) Communications to candidates and their campaign staff, 2) Secure venue & security, 3) Moderator for Candidate Nights, either from within the patriot organization or from outside, such as a local talk-show host, 4) Individual or committee to handle press releases, 5) Videotaping event, and 6) Web site design and upkeep
Venue – Assure the selected locations are centralized and have sufficient seating for the anticipated turn-out. The non-profit status will be beneficial in accessing local venues, such as colleges, school auditoriums, churches, etc. Most likely you will be requested to sign a rental contract. You may want to purchase event liability insurance, since most likely the contract will state that your organization is responsible for damages etc. Assure appropriate sound system capabilities and sufficient microphones for all attending candidates, the moderator, and two cordless microphones for audience questions.
Security – Hire local police for this task. The venue provider may waive liability insurance requirements if you hire appropriate event security.
Website – Create a website so that those voters who could not attend the Candidate Nights can view the videos in their entirety. Make sure you are explicit in stating that these videos are copyrighted and that they cannot be used in their entirety, or portions thereof, unless approved by your organization. Candidates will be tempted to extract favorable clips of themselves and unfavorable portions of their opponents. Additionally, this district specific website can be a repository for sharing straw-poll results, relevant local Voter Guides, media coverage links, press releases, etc. An excellent example of what such a website can look like is the Ohio District 18 Website, designed by Terry Ladrach.
Publicity – Assure press releases are appropriately vetted by your organization prior to release. Expect that initially the media will be slow to publicize your events, but they will come around. Complement press releases to the print media with appearances on local radio talk-shows and by distributing and posting Candidate Night flyers. Use your organization members to help get the word out.
Funding – Cover out-of-pocket Candidate Night expenses by seeking local donations from individuals and businesses and collecting donations at each event.Patriots tend to be fairly generous in supporting the grassroots efforts!
Identify, Contact, and Invite Candidates
You need to first identify who the candidates are for a given elected office and then contact them to invite them to the Candidate Night. As a non-profit organization you are obliged to extend an invitation to all viable candidates and cannot be biased in which candidates are allowed to attend the Candidate Nights.
Identify which candidates are viable by pursuing the following: 1) Check who has registered with the Federal Election Commission, 2) Call the Board of Elections in your voting district’s most populous county, 3) search the internet, 4) ask patriot group members. This assures that all viable candidates are included, even those who may not yet have fully completed all the required paper work.
Once identified, contact either the candidate, preferred, or the campaign manager to invite them to your Candidate Night event. One approach is to visit candidate campaign events, introduce yourself, and obtain relevant phone and e-mail contact information. While initial invitations can be informal, i.e. verbal, phone call, or e-mail, make sure the final invitation with all relevant details are sent to the candidates via registered mail. Request a written response, either via e-mail or US Postal mail. Check out a sample invite letter from Ohio District 18 by clicking your mouse on this sentence.
In the invitation, make it clear, though, that only properly certified candidates by the relevant Board of Elections will be allowed to participate in the Candidate Nights. Experience has shown that some potential candidates fail to secure the proper certifications. Also indicate that unless candidates have a verifiable, valid reason for not attending the Candidate Nights, that a seat will be reserved for them at the event and that a prominently displayed name plate will be in front of the seat, all captured on video which will be accessible from the website. Usually, this gets them to attend!
Candidate Night Format – plan on a three to four hour event, with maybe a fifteen minute break halfway. Experience has shown that attendees are even willing to extend the allocated time, as they become engaged in the event.
As Audience Arrives – When audience members enter the Candidate Night event, ask if they would like to ask a question. Give them a card to fill out with their name. Retain the card for random selection of questioners. You may also want to distribute “Straw-poll” pamphlets, to be collected at the conclusion of the Candidate Night, to tally if minds were changed, interest in the event, and to rank the three top candidates.
Event Organizer – introduces self, Pledge of Allegiance, prayer, welcome, background on Candidate Night, ask for donations, and introduction of moderator
Welcome and introduction of each candidate by reading a candidate provided short BIO - may have to be abbreviated.
Each candidate gets 3-5 minutes to state why they are seeking the elected office.
Inform of all rules as outlined below. Encourage audience members to submit additional questions once the discussion starts. Experience has shown that audience members get very motivated to ask more questions once the candidates start talking.
Audience Questions – Use a time keeper to time audience member questions & candidate responses. Have time keeper hold up “1 Minute Left” and “Time Is Up” signs, as appropriate.
Randomly select questioner cards and announce who will get to ask question. Bring portable microphone to audience member with question.
Audience members have 30 seconds to ask a question. They can ask either 1) one question of one candidate, who has three minutes to answer, with an optional audience member follow-up question, for which the candidate has one minutes to respond or 2) ask a single question of more than one candidate, all of whom have one minute each to respond, with no audience member follow-up questions.
Only questions are allowed, no statements.
“Yes” or “No” questions must be answered with a “Yes” or “No” by candidates, with an allowed three minute follow-up to explain his/her position.
Candidate Closing Statements – if time permits, each candidate gets 2-3 minutes for a closing statement.
Wrap-Up - thank everyone, request donations, request that drop off “Straw-poll” pamphlets (inform all that only properly marked “Straw-polls” with an indicated 1,2, and 3 order will be counted), inform of when the next Candidate Nights will take place, and direct all to your organization’s web site for “Straw-poll” results, Voter Guides based on Candidate Night discussion, etc.
Content copyright . Peter H. Wolf. All rights reserved.