Earlier this week I wrote an article about candidate debates and forums, saying that winning candidates always participate in most of the ones they are invited to. In this piece I’m going to share some insights on debates and forums from two different candidates who each won their election this year in two very different states: Texas and California.
The first candidate is Angela Conrad. Angela won her re-election to the Humble Independent School Board in Texas this spring. Angela used the resources provided by The Campaign School to focus her campaign and win a resounding victory, beating her opponent by winning 63% of the vote.
The second candidate is Chuck Conder. I served as Chuck’s campaign consultant this spring when he was running for office in Riverside California. All of the knowledge and experience I have and provide here was utilized by Chuck to defeat a two-term incumbent and win an upset victory that put him on the Riverside City Council.
You the man, Chuck!
Here’s the questions I asked and the answers Angela and Chuck provided regarding debates and forums:
How many debates or forums were there in your race?
Angela Conrad: In my first race, there were about a dozen forums, 3 or 4 of which were sponsored by larger organizations, like the teachers association, chamber, etc.
This time, there were only a half dozen, with the exception of one put together at a church, the rest were organized by political organizations.
Chuck Conder: There were five.
(Note: One was a televised debate, the other was a debate before the local newspaper editorial board).
How many of those did you participate in?
Angela Conrad: I participated in all but one, so I’d say 10 or 11.
Chuck Conder: I participated in all five as well as three interviews before Political Action Committee boards.
How much time did you spend preparing for your debates and forums?
Angela Conrad: I spent several hours writing my stump speech — at your recommendation — and getting input from supporters, but once I finalized and had that down, I could just go to anything as it came up.
Chuck Conder: I spent 5 to 6 hours preparing for the first debate. That was both writing my opening and closing statements, trying to memorize them to the best of my ability, and trying to write down answers to anticipating questions.
I was not given notice of questions to any of the debates so I tried to guess on topics and have a variety of answers available.
Beyond the first debate, I spent probably an hour before each one just brushing up for content and style.
How many people attended the debates and forums in your race?
Angela Conrad: 25 to 30 people.
Chuck Conder: The average number of attendees to the live events was approximately 20.
How many voters that came do you believe you convinced to vote for your based on your participation?
Angela Conrad: Probably 75%, since some were there specifically to support my opponent. I had many come to me at the polls and tell me that they liked what I had to say at the forums.
I was very clear in responding in such a way that helped the public understand the role of a board member
Chuck Conder: It’s hard to say on numbers however at the three events where there were live audiences, I had numerous people each time come up and tell me that they liked what I said and that they were now going to vote for me.
As a candidate for elected office there are four very clear things you can take-away from Angela Conrad’s experience running for school board in Texas and Chuck Conder’s experience running for city council in California.
1. Debates and forums play an important role in a campaign so you need to show up if you are serious about winning.
Remember, if you don’t show up, it could be used against you to paint a perception in the public mind that you’re arrogant and don’t believe you have to answer the voters questions when you’re running.
2. You need to set aside time to prepare for the candidate debates and forums you participate in.
You don’t need to know everything, but you need to be versed enough in the aspects of the position you are seeking to demonstrate you are a credible candidate.
3. Not a many people come to candidate debates and forums.
Very few voters who show up for an evening of questions and answers with local candidates are undecided. Usually each candidate brings a small group of supporters to cheer them on, so be sure to bring yours.
4. You can earn some supporters by your performance at debates and forums.
While most people in the audience you’re standing before already are backing a candidate, there may be others there who came to find out more about the people running for office.
By showing up you’ve shown you’re serious about the office you’re pursuing. By preparing, you can then demonstrate you’re ready to hold the office.
You’re not going to turn an election your way with the small number of supporters you may pick up at a public debate or forum. However the ones who do come and then swing your way will likely be high propensity voters.
Low propensity voters don’t come to forums. Only those very interested or concerned about what’s going on in their community attend them.
And when a high propensity voter becomes a strong supporter, they tell everyone they know to vote for you.
In the big scheme of things that may not be much of a big deal, but in an extremely close election that could be the difference between you being a winner or a loser on Election Night.