This November, Harris County voters will go to the polls to help choose a new President of the United States – an election you will hear about more than you care to. Also on the ballot, though, are dozens of important races for local legislative, judicial and county positions.
After 11 years as a police officer and 4 as a county constable, Steve Radack was elected to represent Precinct 3 on Harris County Commissioners’ Court in 1988, and has served there ever since. On the last day for candidates to file in December, 2019, Commissioner Radack announced he would not seek reelection, setting off a scramble of candidates for one of the most powerful positions in government.
The voters of Precinct 3 have leaned Republican over the past 30 years or so, but growth in the area’s minority population combined with the unpopularity of President Donald Trump among suburban and exurban voters have made this a competitive seat in a general election. Republican Donald Trump carried this area in 2016 (Trump 48.22%, Clinton 47.63%), despite losing Harris County, but Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried it in the 2018 senate race (O’Rourke 51.58%, Cruz 47.68%).
For this assignment. You are now the virtual campaign manager for a candidate for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3.
Choose one of the candidates and design a campaign to win the November general election. Write this assignment as a 2 – 5 page memorandum (memo) (with cited sources) from you, the campaign manager, to your candidate. Outline the race for them, how much money you think they need to raise, how you will raise it for them, what you propose to spend it on, what issues they should talk about, how you want to deliver their message, etc.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Precinct 3 is huge – geographically and demographically. At 1.2 million, it has more people than Montana.
- Nearly half the population is not in the city limits of any city, meaning county government is the only source of many government services like law enforcement, parks, libraries and code enforcement.
- Not everybody who lives in Precinct 3 will vote in this election. Some are under 18 years old, or they’re not U.S. citizens. Some simply won’t register or show up. How do you target people who are going to vote in this election?
- This election, for the first time, will not have an option for “straight party voting” – an option that previously allowed a voter to make one selection to automatically vote for all of a party’s candidates at once. Voters will now have to make a choice in each individual race. Will voters who are only showing up to vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden going to stick around for your client’s race, which is a long way down the ballot?
- What sort of people live in your candidate’s district. What motivates them?
- What is your candidate’s background and experience? What will be his key issues?
- How much money will you need? How will you raise it? How will you spend it?
- How will you get your message out? Be cautious about television. Remember – anybody who lives outside Precinct 3 can’t vote for or against your client. You’ll waste a lot of money if you use TV. Same with radio, although radio is a lot cheaper, so some candidates think it’s worth considering. If you use direct mail, you can mail only to people who are registered to vote. Or, you can be more surgical – only people registered to vote who voted in the 2018 general election, for example.
This can be a challenging assignment, but it can also be a lot of fun. Keep in mind that campaigning is more art than science, and that there are few absolutely right or wrong answers. If I asked five campaign professionals to do this assignment for the same candidate, I would probably get five totally different campaign strategies (and they’d charge me a lot of money).
Hint: Remember, this is a memo to your client, not an essay about your client. Talk to your client. Do not spend the first page telling them where they were born, where they went to college or how many kids they have – they know this already. Talk to them about your strategy to win the election for them.
Submit in Word. Cite your sources.
Here are the candidates:
Some facts about Precinct 3: http://www.pct3.com/Portals/45/about/about-pct3.pdf?ver=2019-10-14-085414-447
This Harris County Population Report has some useful information about Precinct 3: https://budget.harriscountytx.gov/doc/Budget/fy2020/approved_budget/FY20_Population_Report.pdf
Here’s a more detailed map of Precinct 3 with all the county facilities: http://www.pct3.com/Portals/45/about/maps/pct3_map.pdf?ver=2019-10-14-085347-443
Liberal blogger Charles Kuffner spends a lot of time covering local elections, including posts of interviews with candidates:
Another local blog, Big Jolly Politics, has a lot on local elections:
Campaigns and Elections Magazine editor Ron Faucheaux has an article called “Writing your campaign plan: the seven components for winning an election”: