A campaign for public office is a machine. Every single piece in the machine is essential. No matter how small the position is in the campaign, you are contributing something. This brings us to Joshua Collins, or “Joshua4Congress”. The Joshua4Congress campaign in WA-10, an open seat primary, is a case study in how not to run a campaign.
The candidate is the most important part of the campaign. They must be able to explain why they are running for public office. The candidate must be able to provide the seed money to pay for the initial stages of the campaign. Joshua was not a traditional candidate. He is only 26 and has never been elected to public office. That is not inherently a bad thing; AOC was only a bartender for example. However, it does make it more difficult to run. As a regular person, you do not have embedded connections to your district and your Rolodex of people you can ask for seed money is notably smaller than average. For Collins, his base mainly came from his Twitter account, @Joshua4Congress.
Besides the candidate themselves, the most important member of the campaign team is the Finance Director.
The Finance Director is in charge of creating and drafting the fundraising strategy for the campaign. They engage in donor research, select targets for solicitation, plan fundraisers, and prep call time for the candidate. This is usually the first person hired and they set the budget for the campaign. A campaign without one is usually dead in the water.
According to his staff page, Joshua Collins did not hire one. He seems to be the exception here, as he was able to raise $249,064.82 during the two-year reporting period for his campaign. That is not that bad; it is about a third of the $603,073.14 that Marylin Strickland raised. Joshua was outraised by his opponents, but he still had enough money to actually run a campaign. He did step into one pitfall that candidates that do not have Finance Directors tend to fall into, however, as he forgot to submit his FEC report on time. That is a survivable occurrence if it happens once. However, it happened twice. It showed that his finance team was not up to the quality of a major campaign.
The Comms Director is the person in charge of the campaign messaging and the campaign social media accounts. They make sure that the campaign has a unified message and can help with the finance team by soliciting donations online.
This is also something that Joshua Collins did not have, and it showed. Joshua ran all of his social media accounts himself. This is a huge mistake and something that I caution politicians from doing. When you run for public office you will get a lot of hate. If you run your own accounts you will see all of your vocal detractors, and your brain will focus exclusively on them. For people and candidates with major social anxiety, this can be debilitating to the campaign. Even Joshua Collins admits it.
This is where the Comms Director comes in. They will run your campaign accounts for you. They will make sure you never see the hate that comes your way. Due to the hate, Collins took a months-long break from social media. That was probably a good thing for his mental health. I have seen what concentrated negativity can do to a person, but that also meant that he did not have a social media presence for a long period of the campaign. That is deadly to many campaigns, people’s memories are short and if you disappear you will have to put in more effort to get your name rec up again.
The campaign strategist is the person that distills what the candidate believes into a campaign message that resonates with the population of the district. They engage in issue and messaging polling and will tell the candidate what parts of their platform they should emphasize and what parts of their platform they should not talk about. This tends to be the position that most lower level campaigns skip out on because they often can run on just being a generic democrat or republican.
To Joshua’s credit, he did have one at one point, but they were moved from that position to running the campaign website. Looking at the website, it is apparent that Joshua’s former campaign strategist was competent at what they did. The platform shows obvious signs of candidate meddling. If you look at the platform page there are three things that appear to be his top priorities, federal rent control, the Green New Deal, and the abolishment of capitalism as a system because it is the root cause of racism.
If you are running for Congress as a socialist this is probably what you should expect from a platform page, but there is also a link to further policy points. The page is a fever dream of socialist goals and policies. They are displayed there, no matter how unpopular they are or how extreme they are. From abolishing the CIA to banning the transportation of fossil fuels within the United States.
Any campaign strategist would tell the candidate to never talk about these issues at all. They would tell the candidate to focus on kitchen table issues: taxes, job creation, and health care. Any campaign strategist would remind the candidate that they are running in an open top two primary. That means that Republicans, Blue Dogs, New Democrats, and progressives to your right can also run and vote. If the primary electorate was just socialists he would have been golden. It was not, and he paid the price for ignoring that.
The Party Switch
The lack of a campaign strategist also led to one big and fatal mistake for the campaign: he switched parties in the middle of the campaign. Joshua stated “We thought, based on public sentiment & the level of disapproval the parties had at the time, that this was a good move.” As a person that works in campaigns, I will tell you that there are numerous volunteers that will only volunteer for Democrats. There are organizations that would have to rescind monetary and electoral support if you are not a Democrat. It is a mindnumbing thing to do in the middle of a campaign. This begs the question why did he do it? Joshua said that he did so based of personal interactions with the community.
What this tells me is that there was no polling done on if this was a good idea by the campaign. There was no AB polling on how much this move would impact him. All he had was a bunch of conversions with cashiers that told him they did not like the Congress and the Democratic Party. This is reminiscent of those polls that say that Congress has a horrible approval rating. While at the same time 95% of incumbents are reelected. Your Representative is fine, it is the other Representatives that are the problem. Likewise, he was probably talking to people who think the Democratic Party was too left, or not left enough, or really does not like Congress as a whole and mistook that for a person that would not go out a vote for a Democrat anyway.
After the election, he admitted that most of the voters he targeted will still vote for Democrats despite their disagreements. There is some old wisdom that I will impart here. You have to work with the electorate that you have, not the electorate you want. This is a mistake that many campaigns make. we live in a two party system so you have to work within that constraint.
The political director is the person that schedules candidate meetings with organizations and elected officials. They are the person that cultivates relationships with movers and shakers. They try to get endorsements for the campaign that the comms team can blast out to voters in the district. Joshua Collins had one but she must have pulled her hair out after he switched his party. Supporting a non-Democrat is a very hard thing to get an elected Democrat to do. So switching parties made her job much more difficult. Not only that but by switching parties he made it so that the High School Democrats had to make the Washington state chapter rescind their endorsement of him.
The field team is led by the field director. This position uses metrics and creates a plan on how to contact voters throughout the district via canvassing, phone banking, and in person events,. They are concerned about numbers and voter contacts.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into the plans of every campaign but it seems that there was not a concentrated push to campaign within the district. There is no evidence of campaign mailers that I could find. He made no campaign ads. For the most part, he seemed invisible. When you add the fact that his social media was silent for months, you see a lack of a field plan. I am sure that his field director poured their heart into the campaign. However, it is hard to run a campaign when the candidate does not have their heart into it.
The last of importance is the campaign manager. The campaign manager’s job is to take the advice and recommendations of all of the previously mentioned positions and turn it into a campaign. This will include vetoing certain proposals, including those from the candidate. They are one of the few people in the campaign that has access to all of the information. On a traditional campaign, most of the branches do not have an idea of what the other parts of the campaign are doing. For example, the field director does not know the results of the AB test on the wording of a specific issue. They do know that the campaign manager told them to use a specific wording when they create scripts for phone banking and canvassing.
Joshua Collins had a campaign manager, but the way he structured the campaign made it so that he really did not. His website states “our campaign is organized around equal cooperation and input with all members of our staff. Conventional hierarchy is a disease.” This ignores that campaigns are hierarchical for a reason. Too many cooks spoil the broth. You have to have veto points. If you don’t, you will have a confused and muddled mess of a campaign instead of one voice that is effective.
With that, I have gone over many of the senior positions within a campaign and explained what they do. Hopefully, the case study of Joshua Collins serves as a warning on what not to do when you run for public office. He made many mistakes. Some of those mistakes were fatal. I really hope what happened to his campaign does not discourage more normal people from running for public office.