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, despite losing Harris County, but Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried it in the 2018 senate race.
Before even getting to the general election, though, candidates have to compete in party primary elections to become their party’s nominee.
For this assignment. You are now the virtual campaign manager for a candidate for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3. If your client is a Republican, they’re trying to win the Republican Primary. If your client is a Democrat, they’re trying to win the Democratic Primary. Don’t worry about the November election yet. If you were in charge, what would you do to help your client get elected to this office?
Choose one of the candidates and design a campaign to win the primary 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:
Remember, party primaries are only for that party’s voters. If your candidate’s a Republican, you’re only campaigning to Republican voters. If your candidate’s a Democrat, you’re only campaigning to Democratic voters.
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.
If nobody in your primary race gets a majority (50% plus one) of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff election on May 26. Will any voters still be paying attention on May 26?
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. Some voters just don’t vote in party primaries. How do you target people who are going to vote in this election?
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 or her 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.