Menu

Opinion

Inside Rick Perry’s Campaign Strategy: How it Worked in His Race for Governor and Why it Might Work in His Race for President

This Saturday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will announce his candidacy for the 2012 presidential race. But the question remains: how will he campaign?

Last November 2 Rick Perry coasted to an easy win over Democrat Bill White in what many had thought might be a close race. Instead, Perry routed the popular Democrat with a campaign that marked one of the most revolutionary approaches in modern American political history. At every turn, Perry bypassed the conventional for the unconventional, turning his campaign into a political laboratory where new ideas and new innovations were tested and modified. Going into 2010, his campaign consultant Dave Carney believed that impersonal voter contact mattered less than personal interaction. The campaign devised a revolutionary plan to reflect that insight. If Perry does run for president, this new style of campaigning will likely be deployed again. Here are five strategies that Rick Perry might use in running for president.

#1 DIRECT CONTACT, NOT DIRECT MAIL

The 2010 Perry campaign developed a unique direct mail approach: it didn’t send any. In the state where Karl Rove first made an art out of the science of mail, Perry turned this political craft on its head. Rather than flood mailboxes with a cascade of glossy mail pieces filled with shiny photos and three-point plans on the issues, Texas voters were invited instead to lead “Home Headquarters.” People who volunteered for this designation agreed to “identify 12 pro-Perry voters from amongst your friends, family and co-workers” and then to “turn those 12 out to vote during early voting….” The Perry campaign also didn’t rely on phone banks since Carney judged it another impersonal approach whose time had passed.

#2 POLITICS OF MULTIPLICATION, NOT ADDITION

Traditional voter outreach strategy stresses touching voters at least seven times, with direct mail serving as a major factor. Perry changed the equation from addition to multiplication. Rather than hoping that one person would read a mail piece or receive a phone call and drive to the polls to vote, the Texas governor knew by name who was heading to the polls and all the people they were taking with them. Political consultants may have laughed at this technique before the campaign. But it worked.

#3 TALK TO THE VOTERS, NOT THE EDITORIAL BOARDS

Perry didn’t just refuse to send mail; he also refused to visit editorial boards. This highly unusual tactic earned him the scorn of newspaper editors around the state, just as he had hoped it would. Saying that “the most prized resource that you have is the candidate’s time,” he simply insisted his time was spent better meeting with voters. And in a Republican year, the Texas governor relished this fight with mainstream media. He did still find plenty of ways to communicate with voters outside of newspapers, including a carefully cultivated relationship with conservative bloggers.

#4 RUN THE CAMPAIGN LIKE A BUSINESS

All candidates pledge to do this. Perry succeeded. A drive around any Texas neighborhood before the election showed a flowering of Democrat Bill White signs and a dearth of Perry signs. Why? The Perry campaign correctly reasoned that yard signs represent a relic of campaigns past. People don’t vote for a candidate because of sign. People who wanted Perry signs could still get them, but at a cost. By charging for signs it distributed, the governor’s campaign turned a campaign expense into a money-maker.

#5 SOCIAL MEDIA AS A MEANS, NOT AN END

Barack Obama and Rick Perry both understand the value of social media. But they have different views on its purpose. Obama likes to use social media as an end: making announcements on Facebook or by phone text. The goal is to sign up as many people as possible. Perry views social media as a means: getting his voters organized, connected and to the polls. He’s less concerned with how many Facebook friends he has and more concerned with how many of his Facebook friends go to the polls and take people with them. To Perry, a tool like Facebook help facilitate the “Home Headquarters” approach to campaigning. It doesn’t take its place.

From McKinley’s front porch strategy to Eisenhower running the first television ads, presidential campaigns changed gradually during the 20th century. But in the first ten years of the 21st century, they’ve changed dramatically. In 2004, Matthew Dowd and Ken Mehlman imported micro-targeting from the corporate marketing world to help George W. Bush uncover voters and usher them to the polls. In 2008, David Axelrod and Barack Obama reached millions of young voters with Facebook and Twitter. If Perry does run for president in 2012, win or lose, he seems destined to change the rules of campaign politics again.

 

Kasey S. Pipes served as a speechwriter for President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger and wrote the Amazon.com national bestseller “Ike’s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality.” He currently serves the Norris Senior Fellow at the Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College and can be reached at http://www.facebook.com/#!/kasey.pipes and http://twitter.com/#!/kspipes