An Interview with Randy Weston
“What started as a tool for efficiency became a symbol.”
In some of the most conservative counties of the Buckeye State, a candidate with a “D” next to his name managed to unseat a Republican incumbent and subsequent challengers for the better part of a decade. Former State Representative and current Director of Political Action and Legislative Affairs for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, Randy Weston sat down with Print for Progress to talk about some of the most important lessons he learned while running for office.
IT TAKES A FAMILY TO RUN FOR OFFICE
“While the candidate is the best person to talk to voters and raise money, a campaign takes the support of the entire family.”
Running a successful campaign must have buy in from everyone. The candidate needs to focus on two things – knocking on doors and raising money. Therefore, other family members will need to pitch in elsewhere. During the campaign Randy’s wife, Carolyn, would address the “Thank You” cards for Randy to sign every evening, and prepare the following day’s walk lists. Even his brothers and extended family would pitch in on helping on the farm or mowing the lawn so Randy would be free to spend time where it was needed most – on the doors or raising money.
MESSAGING IS MORE ABOUT LISTENING
“The first month of the campaign, I would just introduce myself and then listen.”
Absent polling or focus groups, campaigns can get a pulse of the district simply by listening to neighbors and voters. In Randy’s first campaign, people were eager to tell him exactly what they thought was wrong with the current representation. These frustrations molded what eventually served as his campaign slogan, “It’s Time for a Change!” “Had I not taken this time to really listen to voters, I may have missed the level of frustration that was clearly on voters’ minds.” It’s important to hear what voters care about, not just assume the issues you want to campaign on are important to all.
NOTHING WILL REPLACE HARD WORK
“While targeting and the use of direct mail are important, nothing can replace the value from talking to people one-on-one.”
Campaigns of today have a variety of tools to choose from – tools that can target voters so precisely that every person can be served a different message. While the use of this technology should be embraced, nothing can replicate the personal one-on-one conversations that are had at a voter’s doorstep. These interactions go beyond the words spoken. Going from one house to the next represents a willingness to put in the tough work to get the job done. Voters recognize this hard work and understand this attitude will serve them well.
PEOPLE VOTE FOR THE PERSON, NOT THE ISSUES
“Over the years, I’ve run into people who voted for me, and I have yet to hear someone say, ‘I voted for you because I agreed with you on a specific issue.’”
People like to vote for someone they can relate to, and someone who will work for them. Voters can quickly overlook the fact that you may not see eye-to-eye on every issue if they think you’ll go to work every day for their district. Be the candidate who goes the extra mile, works the extra hour, and really listens to the concerns of the people, this authenticity and perseverance may get you votes from unexpected places.
“I knew by walking I could cover 12 houses per hour, but on a bike, I could get to 17. On my way home one day, I picked up a used bike. Little did I know this bike would take on a greater meaning.”
Opportunities can present themselves in many ways to campaigns and candidates. You must be ready to take advantage of them as they arise. What started as a tool for efficiency to cover more ground, the bicycle in Randy’s race quickly became more of a symbol for hard work, being environmentally conscience, and a recognizable feature that showed his willingness to earn people’s votes. While each campaign may encounter its own unique opportunity, it’s important to recognize and take these opportunities to stand out to voters.