Discover more from Longleaf Politics
What I learned working on a statewide campaign
And what comes next for me
The closing weeks of a political campaign are the last burst of a marathon. You’ve worked so hard for so long, the stakes are so high, and right there ahead of you is the finish line. You know your result will be determined by the miles already put in, but you still give it everything you have at the end.
And then, it’s over. Abruptly. Completely. Permanently.
In the off chance you’ve wondered why you haven’t heard from me, here’s why: For the past year and a half, I worked for Dan Forest’s campaign for Governor of North Carolina as communications director. It was an honor and a privilege, and I loved every minute of it. But now it’s over, and my body and mind are still recovering.
A few thoughts:
This state is huge and amazing.
Perhaps my favorite part of the campaign was getting the chance to travel from mountains to coast and everywhere in between. If this is possible, I fell in love with the state of North Carolina even more over the past 18 months.
Lt. Gov. Forest hits all 100 counties in his campaigns, and while I didn’t personally come close to that, I did rack up roughly half. I’m counting only the counties I stopped in for campaign activities, not counties I simply drove through.
This state is full of good people. And good barbecue. The best barbecue I found: Stamey’s in Greensboro and Skylight Inn in Ayden.
The party system is vitally important.
Yes, unaffiliated voters are quickly becoming the largest group in North Carolina. Yes, the internet has made it so much easier for candidates to launch a do-it-yourself campaign and build a movement.
But when it comes to actually getting elected, the infrastructure that comes with a major political party cannot easily be replicated. Every county has its own party outpost, its own group of volunteers and activists, its own women’s clubs and young professionals clubs, its own dinners, conventions, galas and festivals. The number of people who are deeply involved in the party system is small compared to the electorate, but they punch way above their weight. These are the dedicated people who will make or break your campaign.
Third parties tend to focus on ideology as they try to get off the ground. But infrastructure is so much more important.
Intra-party politics are not for the faint of heart.
You have serious disagreements with the other side of the aisle. That’s a given. But while the partisan divide is distant, the divide within your party is personal.
Factions within parties are real, and they are powerful. Jealousy, rivalry and hurt feelings can turn a primary into a much greater bloodbath than any general election could be.
A campaign is a start-up.
I used to describe a campaign as a media company, and that’s still true. So much of a political campaign is about generating content, breaking through the noise and communicating a message at scale. But the overall operation is a start-up company.
You must raise a substantial amount of money in a hurry, building a team as you go and hoping to gain traction before you run out of runway. You’re courting investors (donors) and customers (voters) at the same time, but each group is looking for something different. Your small team is all-in and there’s an end goal in sight.
And just like with a start-up, there’s a big emotional let-down when it’s all over.
So what comes next for me? I’m still figuring it out. For the past two weeks, I’ve mostly just tried to decompress — raking leaves, camping with my Cub Scouts, taking my kids to the playground.
One thing is clear, though: I’ve missed writing. I’m planning to do some freelance journalism (look for my debut in the Charlotte Ledger this week). I’m starting work on a book about how conservative principles apply to state government.
Longleaf Politics will also come back in some form. North Carolina and Charlotte can use another voice trying to break down what’s important and what comes next.
I reckon I also need to find a full-time job. If you know of opportunities in writing, editing or communications, let me know.