How GOP School Helps Candidates
Weekend sessions urge hopefuls to `utter sane sentences,' find strong males with pickup trucks
`YOU are the people who will determine the future of this state.'' The speaker is Royal Masset, director of education and training for the Republican Party of Texas.Skip to next paragraph
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His audience is more than a hundred GOP candidates for offices ranging from county clerk to the United States House of Representatives. They have given up a recent weekend and come from all over Texas to attend a candidate school staged by the state party organization.
Starting in 1985, the Republicans held four schools per election cycle. This year, they are stepping up the pace as part of Texas Republicans' new focus on winning grass-roots offices. The GOP will hold sessions almost every weekend, training up to 1,000 candidates and party workers on how to campaign.
The state Democratic Party has held a similar school for the past two election cycles. But their century-long hold on most county courthouses means Democrats need hardly come to Austin to learn how to campaign. Except for those in Dallas and Houston, Republicans have no residual knowledge of campaign tactics. Candidate schools help fill that void.
``The average voter will spend five seconds on your race,'' Mr. Masset tells the would-be county clerks and constables. ``This school is geared toward influencing that five seconds.''
The setting, a neat but cheap hotel conference room in north Austin, is a lesson in itself: Hoard your campaign dollars. Candidates spend an average of $30 for each vote they win in the state.
In addition to Masset, the candidates hear from Zack Dawes. Now a campaign manager for Republicans, Mr. Dawes used what he learned in a similar school held in 1985 to overcome a better-financed primary opponent for Travis County commissioner. In the general election, Dawes lost by just 800 votes in the heavily Democratic county.
What did the Republican hopefuls learn about winning?
* Proper motivation. ``If any of you are here today because you think you're going to make a lot of money [after you win], you're crazy,'' Masset warns. ``You'll lose money. Don't run.''
* Attitude. Voters want to elect ``the person who can make things work out,'' Masset says. Two candidates might have similar resumes and positions. But one has a smooth campaign operation. The other has problems: The volunteers bicker, mailings go out late, the media ignores his press conferences.
Your campaign is a test, Masset says. ``If you lose, it means you haven't yet learned the skills necessary to govern.'' And half of the candidates at the school will lose, he warns.
* Opinion leaders. Meet individually for 15 minutes with 200 to 500 of them. ``It's a ritual that will go a long way toward establishing you as a serious candidate,'' Masset says.
Most candidates don't campaign effectively. Instead, they file for office but then hide from the voters. When you visit opinion leaders, ``they can sense that you're normal. The fact that you can utter sane sentences means everything,'' Masset says.
Don't try to impress them, though. ``You will make your largest impression by being impressed by them.'' Praise them effusively. ``To the degree you make them believe in themselves, they'll believe in you.''
* Name recognition. All depends on it. Massive numbers of signs are the best way to get it. The best signs are simple: Bush. Clinton. Don't have more than one design, or people will think you are two different candidates.