John Edwards' Win Free or Die Strategy for New Hampshire

Cross-posted on techPresident.

As we race into the most compact primary schedule ever and the top two candidates for the Democrats continue to dominate the polls, I've realized that campaigns are a lot like ball games: the key ingredient that makes them both so much fun to watch is the tiniest possibility that an underdog can win. Therefore, with the help of a number of New Hampshire-ites, I've designed a blueprint for victory for John Edwards that isn't about squeezing the very last dime out of bundlers and other donors but leveraging the commerce of the 21st century: social networks. Forget the political capital of the last century, no more broadcast TV or radio ads, stop taking polls, fire the expensive consultants, just continue to pay your existing staff and follow this plan to victory in NH. Here's your Win Free or Die in New Hampshire Blueprint strategy courtesy of me -- no charge.

According to the Rasmussen polls, you have the support of 22% of likely caucus goers in Iowa and 17% in New Hampshire -- sadly about the same place you've been for several months (even more reason to fire the consultants!), but not insolvable.

You have to switch gears today, right now, in New Hampshire for two reasons: 1) chances are great that you will come in a close third in Iowa and that's fine, no harm in a solid double digit showing in Iowa. 2) In order to survive the compact primary season, you have to come out of New Hampshire at least a close second (remember the Comeback Kid who came in second in 1992 and declared victory?) With the New Hampshire vote just a few days later there won't be any time to change strategy after Iowa, do it now.

Here's the math. There were nearly 220,000 votes cast in the 2004 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, and Kerry won 39% of them, or 85,500 votes. So, let's say that you already have a little over 20,000 sewn up (and I know that's a risk to assume, but you've got to start somewhere) then what you really need to do to win is gain 55,500 votes. Here's the plan to do that without any cash out the door:

Stop Asking for Money -- NOW!!!. I know it sounds crazy, but all fundraising is doing for you at this point is exhausting everyone, staff, donors, potential voters and obfuscating the real need for volunteers to take control of the campaign in New Hampshire. Candidates send out an email that has a promising beginning, like, "I am so determined to bring a fresh approach to politics in America, but I need your help." And it's followed by the inevitable next line (and always in bold), "5,000 people donate in the next 24 hours, we can show their campaign that we reject this kind of divisive politics. Make your donation of $25 now!"

The old 20th century political playbook says squeeze every donor you've got for contributions and spray paint messages across the broadcast airwaves. But don't, please don't, just stop before it's too late.

Generally in political circles there is confusion between money and votes in politics, as if the former automatically begets the latter. But, Presidents Perot and Forbes know better. You need votes now and you can't buy them, you've got to earn them.

Get Off The Bus And Go Skinny Dipping. The biggest surprise this campaign season has been the unwillingness of the candidates, other than Ron Paul, to reveal his or her true selves in unexpected and unscripted ways. You can use social media but it still doesn't make you authentic. And if there is anything that rubs people the wrong way about you, no offense John, it's your unctuous lawyerlyness. You've got to close the deal that you should be the next POTUS with 50,000 people in the next three weeks. Micah Sifry, one of the big brains behind TechPresident, suggests a live webcast every morning between now and the election and talk to voters about your day, your views, your hopes, your fears. It doesn't matter what the topic is, it's an opportunity to inform and inspire people and show them your real, intelligent, authentic self. It's critically important that you engage your supporters, listen to them, and recruit them to be your foot soldiers for the final push.

KISS Off. You're going to have to steel yourself against the natural tendency that campaigns have to try to do absolutely EVERYTHING in the final stretch. It's time to Keep It Simple, Stupid. Joe Trippi is a smart guy, but your website has become a mish-mash of every widget, gadget, social network gizmo under the sun. As appalling as this may sound, you need more Karl Rove and less Joe Trippi right now. Pick a social networking tool or site and get everyone you know in New Hampshire to start using it to share information about who needs help, how many voters you need per precinct (no need or time for secrets.)

Cut the Parachutes. Friend-to-friend persuasion beats kids parachuting in from Pennsylvania driving people crazy by ringing on their doorbells between 6 and 9 every night or emails for money every day. Unfortunately, New Hampshire is light on union workers, your base in other states, but no worries, there are other social networks that you can leverage. Couple this friend focus by pulling the plug on all of your broadcast media. You'll get the added benefit of free media reporting on your rejection of mind numbing TV and radio ads droning in people's living rooms that the intelligent folks in New Hampshire stopped watching months ago.

Find and Nurture the Nodes. Networks have nodes, key spots where lots of information is exchanged. In social networks, these nodes are people who know lots of other people. This is New Hampshire, folks are more public and invested in their support of a candidate than in almost any other state. You need to find the nodes, and fast, and put them in charge of your campaign. Really, put them in charge, they're smart people who know the state and its voters much better than your suits ever will. Hand over the keys to them. Your fate is inextricably linked to their interest, passion, and commitment to your cause.

I won't assume that the nodes have been identified already, although they should be, but they're not very hard to find, they're the head of the PTA, the coach of the new girls ice hockey teams across the states, the deacons in churches. You need to talk to them every day -- by email or phone or in person -- and deputize them. Without the fundraising and TV noise this will be easier to do. Lots of campaigns talk about doing this, but almost none do it because they are paying staff and consultants too much money to believe that they are in charge. These real New Hampshire-ites are going to convince five, six, seven of their friends (and remember, in New Hampshire Independents often provide the margin for victory in the primaries) to vote for you and create the margin of victory. Get them talking points, videos they can watch and share, and testimonials they can read and share. Give them the tools they need to make your case at the dinner or a Christmas party or at the hockey rink-- and get out of their way. But keep talking to them, ask for their input and ideas, listen to them about what is and isn't working. You will only win because of these key supporters -- or lose because you haven't engaged them enough.

Follow this blueprint and I'll see you in South Carolina. Brush it aside, run around New Hampshire like a chicken with your head cut off, and you'll be back in North Carolina very soon.

[Readers Note: I don't work for any of the campaigns, I just watch them and wish they were better, better at using the new social media tools to engage supporters in more meaningful ways, better at facilitating real conversations about real problems and not just direct mail machines.]