Sixteen assorted candidates and a handful of their support people attended an all-day school at Missoula’s DoubleTree on Monday, seeking to learn the finer points of corralling contributors, kissing babies and clarifying a message to entice the wily voters.
The candidates training course was sponsored by the Montana Electrical Cooperatives Association with assistance from its national counterpart. Attending were five county commissioner candidates, nine potential state representatives from Lincoln, Missoula, Ravalli, and Beaverhead counties, a justice of the peace hopeful and a sheriff’s candidate from Idaho.
Wearing snappy ties, “West Wing”-suspenders and ear-to-ear smiles, a pair of “young gun” lobbyists from Washington, D.C., explained the more esoteric facets of dealing with media (Keep It Simple, Stupid), going off the record (Don’t!), name recognition (Hit them 17 to 20 times) and fundraising (Have someone ask for you, ask for yourself, ask again … and again …).
Mixed in with the professional campaigners were the local veterans—Rep. Linda McCullough of Missoula, who now seeks the post held by Nancy Keenan as superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, Rep. Matt Brainard who is seeking another term in a district that encompasses portions of Missoula and Ravalli County, and state Sen. Fred Thomas, Senate Majority Whip, who is also running for reelection.
And the message from every point on the political compass?
Hit the hustings and stay out there. From the Beltway to the Bitterroot, the message for those who want to be elected is reach out and make contact—face-to-face contact—with the voters. Every speaker emphasized the importance of going door-to-door, handing out campaign literature, asking for voter comment and letting the voters see a person making an obvious effort to solicit votes.
From McCullough’s enthusiastic anecdotes of dog bites and worn-out tennis shoes to Brainard’s ultra-patriotic handouts of quotes on political service from famous statesmen, the material captured the potential candidates and held their attention for eight seldom-interrupted hours.
And as they straggled from the conference room, clutching thick notebooks replete with finance plans and sample radio ads, the candidates agreed the day was well-spent, if somewhat daunting.
“It gave me a lot to think about that I hadn’t considered before,’ said first-time, nonpartisan JP candidate Jim Bailey from Ravalli County. “A lot of good ideas got tossed out. Now I just have to decide which ones will work for me.”