You've won the primary election, now what?

By Jonathan Bridges, Founder & Consultant


Congratulations, you've made it through what was a grueling post-pandemic primary election. The race may be over for some of you, either as a defeated candidate or as a victor, without a general election opponent. Either way, the day after a primary election marks a pivotal time in any campaign.


While some candidates are going on vacation immediately after, or booking meetings the following day, all candidates should have these on their post-primary todo list:


After action report- Immediately following the primary election (after a couple of days rest) have a post-campaign meeting with your team, including your manager, treasurer, any consultants, and essential volunteers. Constructively discuss what worked, and didn't work and what should be changed. Evaluate what margin of the votes you received, how much did you spend, etc. This is a time to give yourself, your staff, and volunteers a performance evaluation. Don't openly criticize bad volunteers. Thank them for your time and make a note not to use them again. However, you should evaluate paid staff and consultants. You need to measure their effectiveness and determine if you want to use the same people for your general election. It's pretty common for candidates to change over staff after the primary.


Say thank you- Win or lose, you need to thank your supporters, volunteers, and donors. You want to keep relationships strong. Send social media messages, thank you cards, personal phone calls, or even a volunteer appreciation meal to show gratitude. Do this soon after the election so it's fresh on your mind.


Short vacation- Political campaigns are unlike anything else. They take a mental and physical toll. The candidate, staff, and volunteers should plan to take a break from all campaign activities during the few weeks after the primary. Seriously, no answering emails, texts, or social media. Your mind needs a complete recharge.


Who’s your general competition? After a nice long vacation, you want to evaluate your new opponent for the general (if you have one). See how many votes they got and from what voting districts, how much money they spent, how much cash on hand they have left, and how popular they are in the community. If you're lucky, your general election opponent had a tough and costly primary. This will make campaigning harder for them in the general. Knowing who your opponent will be in November will guide your campaign plan.


Reevaluate your campaign plan- If you don't already know, primary campaigns are a different animal than a general campaign. You're rallying your base of volunteers and donors while appealing to a much larger audience. Your message, budget, marketing, and get-out-the-vote strategy need to reflect the new voter segments that you want to target. Perhaps you want to capture undecided voters. Perhaps you want to steal the "on the fence" voters from your opponent. This all needs to be reflected in your plan. How much money do you have compared to what you need? You typically spend a lot more money in a general election, especially if it's a competitive race. What type of staff and/or consultants do you need to support these efforts?


Have a talk with your local political party- It's showtime. Your county or state party is now going to be your good friend and you should have their full support after the primary. Have a discussion with party leadership to see what type of support (money, volunteers, get out the vote efforts) they will provide. Don't duplicate their efforts. Save your money for other areas.

Build a New Fundraising plan- Based on your budget and knowing what support the party will give, you need to get back to fundraising. In fact, right after you win the primary is a good time to start fundraising. You're going to get a lot of new supporters and your donor prospects are going to grow. Start with setting up meetings over the summer with community and business leaders, as well as other major political donors to introduce yourself. Also, schedule meetings with elected officials to seek an endorsement or even campaign contributions if they don't have an election coming up. Spend the summer building your campaign committee with major supporters, and a war chest of funds, and identify individuals who would be willing to host fundraisers and large meet and greets mostly in August and September.


Recraft your message- As I stated, you're now appealing to a large audience rather than just people from your own party. Now you must appeal to wider audiences by attending non-political community events, advertise to larger groups, and speak to issues, not rhetoric. you should have multiple targeted messages for your platform. Messaging for your base should be focused on creating a sense of urgency with your supporters on needing money and volunteers. You should have a call for unity and remind the base of your CVP (candidate value proposition). Messaging for unaffiliated voters and moderates should focus on local issues, endorsements, and consensus-building. “I will work across the aisle.” Focus on your "candidate value proposition" and how you're the more "sensible" choice, as opposed to your radical opponent. You’re not going to win over the far extreme of the opposing party without alienating your base. So focus on the moderates and undecided voters.


Keep an open mind to outside support- Political Action Committees can be your friend or your enemy. For example, PACs can sling mud at your opponent through opposition mailers and other forms of advertising. They can focus on tearing down your opponent, while you focus on building your platform. Candidates never want to be directly involved in a smear campaign. It's always important to take the high road. However, always do your research with PACs and never sign a pledge or make promises as a condition for support.


GOTV- Get out the vote efforts are very important now. You will need to spend more time on grassroots outreach. The party should help with support through the precinct chairs/committees, robust voter data, and GOTV events. However, your efforts will be on garnering support among the middle.


Work the polls- Unlike the primary, unless it was highly contested, you need to spend more time at the polls, which means you will need more volunteers. Ask yourself, is your race on an off-year, like for municipal or midterm elections? Or is your race part of a national Presidential election. Down ballot races traditionally relied on the larger races to draw voters to the polls and vote straight ticket. However, fewer people are voting straight ticket, especially when it comes to down-ballot races. So you need to make sure you coordinate volunteers for a majority of the polling sites, not just ones that are comprised of your base.


Always Be Campaigning- Winning is the easy part, but the work is only beginning. After a victorious election in November, you need to spend time thanking supporters, meeting with groups, informing yourself on processes and procedures for your office, and making sure you make work arrangements to be able to devote time to the office. Make sure your treasurer is submitting final finance reports and if you intend to run for re-election, keep your campaign committee account open.


ABC, Always Be Campaigning. Many newly elected officials make the mistake of thinking that once an election is over that the campaign is over. Nope, you need to spend time building a portfolio of legislation, videos, photo-ops, and continuous stakeholder meetings. While you should not be expected to perform favors or quid pro quo (which is illegal in many cases), you should keep your supporters updated and make time to meet with them. Send a regular constituent email, and social media updates, and keep your website up to date. Don’t shut it down once elected. You’re building a brand and a war chest for reelection.


Best Foot Forward- If you didn’t win and want to run in the future, then pretend the campaign isn't over. Don’t burn any bridges. Keep your website and social media active, and keep in touch with your supporters. Use your newly found notoriety for good use. Get on a local or county board, especially the planning board. If there are no open positions on county/ municipal boards, then volunteer for a non-profit organization. Continue working your job, if needed, and continue going to community meetings. You’ll be a much stronger candidate next election cycle.


With decades of combined political experience, the Bridges Consulting team knows what it takes to win an election. Through meticulous planning, we can be by your side all the way to victory. Give us a call today and let us get to work on your general election campaign.