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2007-11-14 / News

Independents started from scratch - seeking volunteers

By Greg Pearson
STAFF WRITER

Kirk Kirk How do you organize a successful campaign when you don't have a political party like the Republicans or Democrats standing behind you for support? That was the challenge that almost all Independents faced in order to get elected, knowing that the major party candidates would have the experience, expertise and fundraising apparatus Independents didn't.

Independent Marleen Durfee won the Matoaca District supervisor race last week against three opponents and gave the credit to her organization, led by Campaign Manager Cathy Kirk. As a teenager and college student, Kirk had been somewhat involved in political campaigns, but the part-time pharmacist had no experience at this level.

"We had a campaign team of 12-14 people," she explained, "and recognized early that fundraising was going to be an issue for us. So each member was tasked with finding ten residents each, and they wrote personal letters. We reviewed the letters first to make sure they were on message. The letters were very personalized and very successful."

About 150 residents responded with contributions, typically $50-$100 each, but some contributors donated a second time and a few even a third time.

Schrum Schrum "That's a different impact than receiving a letter from the Republican Party of Virginia," observed Kirk.

The campaign sponsored several fundraising events including the kickoff at the Birkdale Golf Club and neighborhood events in Foxfire and Foxcroft. All the while the campaign was collecting names of those willing to put up campaign signs in their front yards and on higher traffic roads zoned commercial. One committee member oversaw campaign signs.

"We took full advantage of free media opportunities," said Kirk. This newspaper and the Village News in Chester published numerous Q&As in print and online, but she expressed disappointment at other media coverage of the supervisor's race. "We saw the Q&As as a gift, but some of our opponents didn't take full advantage. The newspapers gave a lot of space and addressed issues that were on the voters' minds."

The campaign made sure precinct captains voted in that precinct and assigned poll workers to the precincts on the same basis wherever possible. "We had more poll workers than we had precincts," Kirk added.

Since many of the voters in the district worked, Durfee and her supporters knocked on doors to talk to voters on the weekends. During the last two weeks of the campaign, Kirk said she was working 16 hours a day on the election.

Supporters stuffed campaign fliers in 12,000 flier boxes during the last five days. "Some drove the neighborhoods during the wee hours of the morning with their children asleep in the back seat," marveled Kirk. "We were on a budget, and the flier services were too expensive for us."

Most of the advertising budget went to four direct mail pieces with the remainder for Durfee's Web site, a YouTube commercial plus ads in this newspaper, the Community Weekly and some community newsletters. The campaign also used the professional services of consultant Jamie Radtke.

State Senate race

Durfee was fortunate to be running for an open seat, but Independent Roger Habeck, running for the 11th District State Senate seat, had a different set of challenges. His major opponent was incumbent Republican Steve Martin. Habeck would raise about $120,000 for his campaign efforts to reach most of the voters in Chesterfield and all of Colonial Heights, but Martin would raise far more with all the other advantages of being the incumbent and backed by the Republican Party.

"Initially, the Democrats went to Roger, but the views were so far apart he couldn't contemplate running as a Democrat," said businessmen Bob Schrum. He, businessman Randy Powers, restaurateur Chris Andreano and human resources executive Debi Girvin became Habeck's kitchen cabinet to run the campaign.

"The Democrats wanted Roger to blast Steve early on like Alex McMurtrie did, but the cabinet decided that wasn't who we were," explained Schrum. McMurtrie entered the race as a Democrat after Habeck and did several direct mailings but dropped out last month after polling showed Martin way ahead. McMurtrie's name still appeared on the ballot as the Democratic candidate, garnering 19 percent of the vote to Habeck's 15 percent.

"What shocked me was our poor showing," said Schrum. "I expected 35-38 percent. As for me, I won't be personally involved in any more campaigns. It's too time-consuming."

Even though the cabinet worked 40 hours a week for 10-12 weeks, the Habeck campaign was playing catch-up. Schrum said $30,000-$40,000 of the early fundraising had been misspent - "money that we desperately needed."

Powers and his son drove all over the district putting up signs, adds Schrum, "But we didn't have enough ground troops. We needed people to stuff flier boxes, have a phone bank, and we didn't have poll workers at about half of the precincts."

Shortly before the election, the campaign held a successful fundraiser at the Halfway House. "We sent out e-mail invitations about five or six days before, and about 50 people showed up for heavy hors devour and cocktails - many of them prominent business people, who contributed."

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