‘Campaign School’ hopes to show new candidates the ropes

A record number of candidates put their names in for statewide office on the first day of the filing season. At this point, 165 people have filed to run for seats in the state legislature. Another 50 are running for other statewide offices, ranging from Governor to District Court Judge.

Let’s glance at a resource for new candidates looking for ways to gather up votes, a campaign school.

This series of one day training sessions has been going on for about a decade. A number of groups like electric cooperatives, credit unions and the Montana Chamber of Commerce support the event. Montana Electric Cooperatives Association Assistant General Manager Gary Wiens said the school tries to teach the nuts and bolts of campaigning. The hope is to motivate more people to run.

“It’s gonna remove the fear and the mystery of running for office and that’ll mean more people likely to file and more competition in these political races we think results in better government leaders,” Wiens said.

The ‘campaign students,’ if you will, they have these trainings on things like working with volunteers or fundraising. Wiens said they bring in campaigning professionals to teach these sorts of things. Also attendees will hear from people in office from both sides of the aisle. They don’t talk partisan politics, it’s more about the benefits of holding office and Wiens said, the downsides.

“It’s not all roses of course,” he said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice for family and so forth but they talk to them ultimately about how it’s worth it. The sacrifice is worth it.”

Montana Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Director, Jon Bennion is giving a presentation on get out the vote efforts. He said a rural state like Montana is special in that focusing on TV and radio ad campaigns and mailers is usually not enough.

“Montana you really have to get out there and ask for people’s votes personally, going door to door meeting people,” Bennion said. “That’s how campaigns are won or lost in Montana.”

It’s not unusual those campaigns may be won or lost by a small number of votes, especially with state legislative seats. And Montana candidates will have to start reaching their constituents earlier. There has been a trend over the last decade to voting absentee.

“2012 will likely be the first election where more than half of the electorate votes before election day through early voting,” Bennion said. he has worked with these campaign schools in year’s past. He said it can get pretty interesting when two opposing candidates both show up to take the training.

“In fact I’ve seen opponents talking to each other and kind of laughing about the fact that they’re going to be using the same strategies,” he said. “I think most people have fun with the idea and that’s what it’s all about is it’s not about negative campaigning. It’s not about do anything that it takes to win. It’s about running affective campaigns, one’s based on issues.”

The Campaign School training sessions will be held in Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman and Billings the week of February 6th.



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