Contact with Voters
These days, when someone files for an office such as Congress, the candidate receives a ton of offers from businesses that supply campaign materials. There are campaign postcards, bumper stickers, tee shirts to wear in parades, hats, pens, banners, buttons, billboards, yard signs, magnetic stickers, flyers to hang on door knobs, and, of course, campaign leaflets or flyers to hand out in person, hopefully with nice photographs of the candidate and family. When I ran for Senate in the 2002 Independence Party primary, I ordered a box of small red combs with my name as a candidate and the website address. A few still sit on the shelf in my bathroom.
A new type of product is robo-calling. The candidate records a message for voters and the call is automatically dialed. It usually arrives around supper time. Then there are commercials on radio, television, or cable television. There are conventional newspaper ads. The Star Tribune, for instance, sent me a solicitation to advertise in its paper pointing out that an ad in the Star Tribune and Startribune.com would reach 1.7 million potential voters in the Twin Cities. It did not disclose the price.
I’ll consider any offer that shows price but not something like this. Also, I learned from experience that the Star Tribune reserves the right to reject ads with a politically offensive message. In 2002, my support of “dignity for white males” as a campaign issue was interpreted to mean that I must hate other people . The paper’s “legal department” would not permit my proposed ad to run without deleting that phrase. Opposition to free trade was not quite as contentious, but one never knows what the newspaper censors will think.
If I were a wealthy man, I would have purchased some of those products. Not being rich, I could not afford to throw money into a race with such long odds, especially when I would finance much of it myself. So I started out with a simple product - business cards, custom made for the campaign, which disclosed contact information. I printed these up myself on the computer. They looked terrible.
printed cards and a half-page flyer
Then I had some cards made professionally at Office Max. I ordered initially 1,000 cards with a distinctive flag design in the background. There was also a statement on the other side of the card, encouraging people to contact me as a prospective speaker. Such a card at this quantity cost me $70.00, not including tax. I actually received a discount because the cards were not delivered when promised and I needed the cards fast.
I took a chance on flyers. I had none. Instead, there was a little message on a half-page sheet of bright, golden paper. A cute design of a swallow flying near a light tower in the sea was put in the margin.
The text read:
“ DOES IT MAKE SENSE FOR NON-DFL PARTIES TO RUN CANDIDATES FOR CONGRESS IN MINNEAPOLIS AND ADJOINING SUBURBS?
OK, maybe DFLer Keith Ellison is a likely winner in the 5th District (Minneapolis & suburbs) race for Congress. But we also need real discussions of our future when we elect people to represent us in Washington.
Two questions: Can the U.S. reverse its $700 billion annual trade deficit? Can our grandkids be happy in a world without oil? Let’s discuss this in an election campaign.
Bill McGaughey, the Independence party candidate for Congress in the 5th District, is basing his entire campaign on answering those two questions. Nothing else. Just those two questions.
To get started, read McGaughey’s campaign statement, ‘Manifesto of our Future Possibilities’, at http://www.newindependenceparty.org. Next, meet the candidate. Invite him to speak at a meeting of a group to which you might belong. Invite Keith Ellison and the other candidates, too. Let’s focus this year’s election on our long-term future.”
In smaller print, at the bottom of this flyer, was a disclaimer: “Prepared and paid for by Bill McGaughey for Congress Committee, P.O. Box 3944, Minneapolis, MN 55403.” Peter Tharaldson told me I should have put a box around this statement. However, hundreds of them had already been printed.
In retrospect, the flyer could have been better. It should have said more about me and less about Keith Ellison. I thought, however, that the main response to my third-party campaign would be that I could not win. I wanted to acknowledge this and get it out of the way. Also, I wanted to focus my issues as sharply as possible to appeal to the small numbers of voters who would also feel strongly about them. I wanted to publicize the website, giving its URL, and also encourage people to read the “Manifesto” which summarized the campaign issues. At that time, I was also harboring the hope that people would invite me to speak at an organization to which they belonged. If that happened, my campaign had a chance.
a routine for distributing the flyers
My initial thought was that I could tack or tape this bright golden flyer on public bulletin boards such as those in coffee shops or laundromats. I had also seen some bulletin boards in the kiosks that are located at various spots on the “Grand Rounds” route maintained by the Minneapolis Park Board. The kiosk at the Quaking Bog near Glenwood Avenue had a map showing the various locations. I wrote down this information on a piece of paper. I also went through the Yellow Pages to find the names and addresses of coffee shops in the 5th district. Caribou Coffee, Starbucks, and Dunn Brothers were the main ones, but there were also others. Laundromats would be another good place to find public bulletin boards. The Yellow Pages had lists of them, too.
The fact that the bulletin board near the Quaking Bog park was blank made me nervous. Perhaps the public was not allowed to post notices there and park employees tore them down as fast as they were posted? As a precaution, I telephoned the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Department to find out what their policy was about posting notices on these bulletin boards. No one seemed to know.
Eventually, I was referred to a woman with some responsibility for this matter. As a relatively recent employee, she, too, did not know the policy. She said she would survey others in the department and get back to me. The ultimate verdict was unclear. I was advised to check with the park employee nearest the kiosk in question - in this case, with someone at the Eloise Butler Wildlife Refuge - to seek permission. That person did give permission. But it seemed needlessly cumbersome to be asking permission for each kiosk.
My first step was to visit bulletin-board locations at coffee shops in downtown Minneapolis. One evening, on July 29th, after the parking meters had lapsed for the day, I walked the streets of downtown with my yellow-sheeted lists in hand. Many of the listed coffee shops were closed for the day. Some had gone out of business. I did, however, run into Peter Tharaldson who lived in an apartment on the southern fringe of downtown. By then, I was ready to call it a day. As I recall, I had not posted a single flyer.
My next move was to scout the area along Hennepin Avenue heading south from Franklin Avenue. My luck improved. I left some loose flyers on a ledge at the liquor store and on a table at Sebastian Joe’s. Hollywood Video had a small bulletin board where I received permission to post my half-page flyer. There was also a laundromat farther down, at 2540 Hennepin. Dunn Brothers in Loring Park also had a bulletin board although its contents were removed monthly. I found that I could often post two pieces of literature: the half-page flyer and the business card. Where the bulletin board lacked space for the flyer, I could usually fit the smaller business card in somewhere.
I found my groove on the following Sunday, August 3rd. Starting out on University Avenue around 10th Street S.E., I worked my way east to Dinkytown, visiting stores and eating places along the way. These were not necessarily coffee shops or laundromats. I would just ask the proprietor if the business establishment had a public bulletin board. If there was one, I usually received permission to post my flyer. If not, it was on to the next location. I spent three or four hours that day.
It was summer session at the University. The student population was away. On the other hand, because it was Sunday, there was less problem with parking. I could wander through the campus at my leisure posting my flyers on the bulletin boards with thumb tacks or scotch tape. The kiosks on the mall near Northrup Auditorium was plastered with flyers. I tried to be respectful of others. I would not cover something, such as for a concert, which had not reached its expiration date. However, I put my own flyers wherever I could.
After covering much of the East Bank campus, I walked over the Washington Avenue bridge to the West Bank, scouting locations on the bridge, of course. Here I called on a large number of businesses from Seven Corners on the north to the far reaches of Cedar Avenue in the West Bank where Somali stores ad restaurants were located. Several of the Somali businessmen said they favored third-party candidates. I appreciated this feedback. I was learning not to be afraid of coming into someone’s store uninvited, but instead try to interact with people.
The guts of my campaign for Congress was actually this routine of visiting stores. I no longer consulted my lists taken from the Yellow Pages to find laundromats and cafes but instead stopped at all likely commercial establishments along both sides of a street. I asked each proprietor if there was a public bulletin board. And so, my campaign became oriented to streets. Among the different routes, I covered:
It was in places such as this that I hit my stride as a campaigner who was “pounding the pavement” in search of votes. It was my Congressional campaign’s equivalent of visiting small-town newspapers. Instead of seeking newspaper publicity, I was seeking to post my flyers or cards in businesses that would accept them. Also, I visited all the Watchdog newspaper stands in Minneapolis - more than a dozen of them - taping my half-page flyer to the outside of the stand. I would check on the supply of newspapers and the condition of the stand. Many stacks of bundled newspapers were piled in the back seat of my car that could go into the boxes if needed.
One Sunday in August, perhaps the 17th, I covered the entire “Grand Rounds” route maintained by the Park Board, posting my flyers. I was no longer concerned with permission. If the Park Board was opposed to the posting, its employees could simply remove the material. I discovered, however, that a substantial number of kiosks - between 30 and 50 percent - did not contain public bulletin boards. Instead of being four-sided with one side free, some kiosks were only two-sided. Park Board maps and other materials took up all of the space. I posted my flyers where there was a blank surface, and otherwise left the kiosk alone.
The Grand Rounds route, for those who are interested, began for my purposes at the Quaking Bog kiosk on Theodore Wirth Parkway, just south of Glenwood. I drove north on Wirth Parkway past the golf course to where the parkway becomes Victory Memorial Drive, and then turned right and drove east to Weber Park just west of the Mississippi river. The route then crosses the river to follow Saint Anthony Parkway into Columbia Heights. Here there seems to be a break.
The Grand Rounds route resumes at the James Rice parkway near Boom island on Plymouth Avenue. Then it runs east along this parkway to become East River Road, passing the Mill City Museum near downtown Minneapolis. It goes south on East River Road the entire length of the city to the area around Minnehaha Park, and then west on Minnehaha Parkway almost to Edina. There are four kiosks at sites on Lake Nokomis. From this point, in the southwest corner of Minneapolis, the route heads north to sites near Lake Harriet and then Lake Calhoun; and then it passes along the south side of Lake of the Isles, and finally returns to the Theodore Wirth Parkway. There are also two kiosk sites near Loring Park but I was then unable to find them.
Grand Rounds bulletin boards, while spectacular in range, were a minor part of my publicity effort. Mainly I was visiting businesses. Since I had started out in Minneapolis north of Lake Street, I became aware that I had neglected large parts of south Minneapolis and also had largely neglected the suburbs. These areas became the focus of my campaign in its later stages. I decided to start with the shopping centers on both sides of Winnetka Avenue and Highway 55 in Golden Valley. Then I would go north on Winnetka all the way to Bass Lake Road in New Hope. East of there on Bass Lake Road is a huge shopping center - or perhaps two of them - in Crystal.
While traveling along Winnetka and visiting stores at 36th or 42nd street, I developed a different approach. Instead of asking business owners if they had a public bulletin board, I would simply introduce myself as a Congressional candidate and hand the person literature. This seemed a more legitimate reason for visiting the business than being interested in its bulletin board. And that was the approach that I used for the remainder of the campaign. I was forthright as a campaigner. I would tell people straight up that I was not the Democrat or the Republican but the third-party candidate. Most accepted that. it was a plus when the storekeeper would spend time talking with me.
Once however, while I was visiting stores along Winnetka Avenue, I entered a liquor store managed by a middle-aged Asian woman who did not speak English so well. I pitched my message to her. She looked worried, hesitating for a few seconds. Finally she handed me a large bottle of soft drink. I understood what was troubling her. She thought that I was a politician shaking her down for merchandise. I handed the bottle back to this woman, explaining that I was running for political office and wanted simply to talk about my campaign. She smiled broadly. I told her that I had an Asian wife and knew it was difficult speaking a different language. We had a understanding of each other better when I walked out the door.
I covered the huge shopping area in Crystal and then headed south on Broadway toward Robbinsdale. The proprietor of Northside Appliance, who knew me as a customer, posted my half-page flyer in his window. Farther down the street, in a bowling alley, I ran into a man who said that he owned rental property. Keith Ellison had once defended a drug dealer he was trying to evict. Though he eventually was able to rid his building of this man, he did not appreciate Ellison’s effort. Ellison had kicked his butt in court.
Toward the end of my campaign, I also covered the main shopping area of Robbinsdale, both on Broadway and across Lakeland. Then I turned my attention to businesses along Central Avenue, starting with 25th Street and going north well into Columbia Heights. I covered the Miracle Mile shopping area in St. Louis Park along 36th Street, and some businesses in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.
My biggest project, however, was to work both sides of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis between Lake Street and Highway 62 in the south. Then I crossed Highway 62 into Richfield. I covered all of the businesses in the Hub Shopping Center where a Watchdog news stand was located; and then the Lyndale business district in Richfield. In this midst of this effort, I broke down and enjoyed a $5.99 all-you-can-eat lunch at the Old Country Buffet. I had previously covered Penn Avenue south of Highway 62, between the Lunds store and businesses south of 66th street. Richfield, at least, would be adequately covered.
I will not bore you further with details. I felt good that I was running a real grassroots campaign, even if it was mostly by myself. I may have spoken personally with 700 or 800 people who might, in turn, tell others about my campaign. I concentrated on businesses, rather than knocking on the doors of homes, because my time was limited and the district was so large. Also, commercial establishments might have a bulletin board. While a few might resent me intruding on their business, the managers of shops are generally practical people who are used to dealing with the public. If they’re busy or annoyed, they’ll tell me - was my theory.
Even if a sign in front of the store said “no solicitors”, I usually went into it anyhow. After all, I was not trying to talk the business out of any money. I was a political candidate and an election was approaching. Elections are something special. I knew better, though, than to try to “solicit” customers in their store politically. Many store managers seemed eager to talk about politics so long as they did not have customers waiting.
My business cards cost about seven cents apiece. The half-page leaflet was about four cents, considering that two could be made from one sheet. I did not have to order more than I could use. This was a cost-effective campaign with respect to supplies. Even so, I needed the extra fire power of something like a lawn sign. They put a candidate’s name out in neighborhoods where the voters lived. When Roger Smithrud showed me a cheap vinyl sign that could be purchased in a Twin Cities suburb, I was interested. Lawn signs, however, took the money requirement up to a higher level.
My campaign gets lawn signs
After the September primary, I decided to hit up Independence Party members once again. I had done a mailing in connection with organizing a campaign committee. The only response was an offer of a lawn-sign location - from Bruce Anderson. So I pulled out the stops and sent an email to party members in the 4th and 5th Congressional districts, playing on their suspected sense of guilt. The subject title was: “Don’t give up on 5th District IP Congressional race.”
My email began by giving the primary vote totals for Independence Party Congressional candidates running in the four districts, a piece of information not reported in the newspapers. I wrote: “If I could raise some money - in the $1,000 to $2,000 range - I could get some yard signs printed ... If you want to help out, you can send a check to: McGaughey for Congress, P.O. Box 3944, Minneapolis, MN 55403. I will call all contributors to let them know how their money was spent.”
I already had some locations, I said, but needed money for the signs. I also asked party members to help get me some speaking engagements. Finally, I pointed out the various activities undertaken by my campaign so far. The implication was that I was already working hard on the campaign, but needed help from party members.
A few people responded directly. Red Nelson wrote: “Hang in there & thank you (for being a candidate).” More substantively, Dan Justesen, who was the IP state vice-chair, sent an email disclosing the fact that his brother, Jim, was host of a cable-television interview show called “Best of the Cities” that aired on MTN. Jim Justesen had interviewed other IP candidates and perhaps would be interested in interviewing me. I promptly emailed Jim expressing a willingness to be on the show and was promptly accepted. This was a big help. Finally I received a check for $150 as a campaign contribution from Tim Nelson.
With receipt of this check, I knew it was time to act on purchasing lawn signs. I did a search on the internet to find the Twin Cities vendor that Smithrud had used. Those signs were priced at $1.72 apiece, with another $.34 for the wire stand. But they were also cheap-looking. I had a quote from a supplier in Crystal, whose store I had visited, for 15 two-sided signs of a sturdier kind for $199. This was more than $13 apiece - way too expensive.
Finally, on the internet, I found a vendor in Wyandotte, Michigan, called SS Graphics, that made an attractive offer. It was having a special for 18” by 24” two-sided Coloplast signs which would supply 100 signs for $237.31 including shipping and tax. Even if I would have to chip in some of my own money, this was certainly worthwhile. After suggesting some changes, I authorized the design on the third try and placed the order with SS Graphics. In white lettering against a bright blue background, the sign said “Bill McGaughey for U.S. Congress (IP).”
I could also buy 100 H-type wire sign holders from this firm for $75.00, which seemed a good price. Peter Tharaldson told me, however, that the Independence Party had some sign holders in a storage garage that I could use for free. Craig Swaggert, the party’s state chair, had the key to the garage. So I ordered only the signs themselves from SS Graphics.
As the days went by, I was having trouble contacting Tharaldson, who, in turn, said he could not get ahold of Swaggert. Peter Tharaldson did, however, generously offer to purchase fifty sign holders from a firm in Eagan, Minnesota, Capitol Direct, that had helped him with the party’s “40 more cops” campaign. These cost $1.40 apiece. He had already paid for them; they were the party’s contribution to my campaign. I picked up the box of wire holders myself. Now that the signs had arrived by UPS, I could get started with lawn-sign placement.
I myself own property on Glenwood Avenue, just west of downtown Minneapolis, which is a prime location for political signs. Glenwood is a main east-west thoroughfare between downtown and the suburbs. I could advantageously place four signs next to my three properties, on both sides of Glenwood, facing different ways. Red Nelson said that he also could also use four signs for his house and another property on 37th Street N.E. in Columbia Heights, which was heavily traveled. I had offers of a single location each from Bruce Anderson in Crystal and from Tim Nelson on Douglas Avenue in Golden Valley. This made ten locations out of one hundred.
For the rest of the sign placements, I turned to my landlord friends. I sent an messages to persons on MPRAC’s email list saying that, even if this was not an official group communication, I sure could use some help with signs. That in itself did not do the trick. I called Jim Swartwood, the other co-director of the group, asking for his help. I knew that Jim had recently bought some foreclosed properties. Yes, he gave me 19 locations over the phone. I wrote down the addresses on my notepad.
I then called Howie Gangestad, a landlord on the north side. He gave me another 8 addresses. Another landlord, Richard Bear, gave me 4 yard-sign locations. His were good because two of them were on Emerson and Fremont avenues, one-way streets that had heavy traffic, and another was in northeast Minneapolis - my only one there. Also, my landlord friend, Frank Trisko, said he would put a sign next to his house in Kenwood and also in front of an apartment building he owned in Columbia Heights. Again, these were good locations.
Then I called Steve Meldahl, one of the biggest owners of rental property in our group. Bingo! He had 60 locations and he gave me permission to put a lawn sign on each property. They were too many to mention over the phone. Meldahl sent me an email with an attachment that listed all the properties, their addresses and, sometimes, the tenants’ name and phone number. In more than a few cases, these were vacant properties, having recently been acquired from a bank. Steve was then making a major move into acquiring foreclosed houses.
Most of Steve Meldahl’s properties were in north Minneapolis, which was a relatively poor part of town. It was a stronghold of Keith Ellison’s candidacy. Vacant properties and those being rented by poor tenants were not quite as desirable a location for lawn signs as those in affluent places such as Kenwood which have higher voter-turnout rates. Besides, with all the publicity given to foreclosures, I was not sure that having a sign next to a house that was boarded up would impress the neighbors much.
There was also the problem that Steve, not the people living there, had given permission. What assurance would I have that occupants of Steve’s building would not rip out the sign once I had installed it and left? I therefore thought it advisable to knock on each door and seek the occupant’s permission to install the sign even if the owner had a legal right to give me that permission.
At any rate, I had my hundred sign locations, mostly on the north side of Minneapolis. After I had used up the fifty wire holders, I went back to the supplier in Eagan for fifty more. They had only forty in supply. I placed an order for those and again drove to Eagan to pick them up. Finally, I secured the remaining ten holders when the stock had been replenished. I now had everything I needed to install all my signs.
about this experience
What can I say about this aspect of the campaign? I enjoyed it greatly. In beautiful fall weather, I drove around town with a supply of lawn signs and wire frames in the back seat of my car. My car radio was often tuned to K-Love 103 where my friend, Sarah, was spinning the songs. I would drive from one lawn sign location to another, get out of the car and install the sign, asking permission at most places. Then, back in the car, I would hear another of Sarah’s songs. That was my routine.
The main challenge was to figure out a route for delivering the signs. I had typed up the addresses given by Swartwood, Gangestad, and Bear, so that I could quickly determine which were in the same vicinity and not waste gas with unnecessarily long drives between stops. I separated the addresses that were in south Minneapolis from those that were located in north Minneapolis. Signs were installed in the south first; they were relatively few and scattered more widely. Then I worked my way through north Minneapolis, taking those on the extremities first. On certain heavily traveled streets such as Penn, Fremont, and Emerson Avenues, I might put up two signs. It’s about the number of exposures, after all.
Experiences varied. A few occupants of these properties objected to my sign. Despite having received permission from the property owner, I would oblige and put the sign back in my car. Others said it was OK to put the sign in the yard if the property owner agreed. (He had.) There were others who took the signs more enthusiastically. In one case, I actually had people who were not on the list ask if I would put a sign in their yard. Yes, I would; this was the best kind of offer. Because I had a few more locations than signs, I skipped some addresses on my list that were close to others on a lightly traveled street or where the property seemed remote or physically unappealing.
The delivery of signs to Bruce Anderson and Tim Nelson in the western suburbs meant a special trip to those places. It was worthwhile, of course. So was the delivery of signs to Columbia Heights and to Richard Bear’s property in northeast Minneapolis. I also gave one to Alan Morrison for installation in Brooklyn Park. When Alan acquired some Obama lawn signs, he planted two of them next to mine in my yard. It was a smart thing to do in this year’s election; and I did support Obama for president.
A neighbor, who was also on the board of Harrison Neighborhood Association, said she would take one of my signs. This would establish a presence farther west on Glenwood. Then, there were two people who liked what they saw on my campaign website. They contacted me for lawn signs. I thought I remembered one, Pete Wagner, from a project many years ago, but he was not home when I installed the sign in his yard. I had a warm conversation with the other. One afternoon, when I was making the rounds in north Minneapolis, I ran into my chief benefactor, Steve Meldahl, who was delivering an appliance to one of his properties. Because Steve seemed busy, I just thanked him and went to the next address on my list. I also stopped in to see Howie Gangestad at his home.
I’m sure that having 100 lawn signs in yards around the district helped my campaign. Of course, the other candidates had them too. But mine sprouted up suddenly, showing that this once invisible campaign was alive. My sign, I thought, had a better and clearer design than those of my rivals. And so, between the lawn-sign campaign and visiting commercial establishments, my campaign for U.S. Congress in a district that was hopelessly Democratic established a presence for the Independence Party in a place once given up for lost. The once unaffordable lawn signs put my campaign on the map.
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