The problem: Succeeding with “different.”

In 2006, I managed the Minnesota State Senate campaign of Rice County Commissioner Jessica Peterson. Because the candidate was an old friend, and because I could get started at the very beginning of the campaign, I could implement a range of new ideas.

Concerned about voters’ ability to see a 29-year-old woman as as serious and established as the four-term silver-haired male incumbent, so I focused on the opposite: the passion, excitement, and personability of Jessica. At the outset, we worked with a professional photographer to get a large (300+) set of photos, none of which looked like a typical “official portrait”. The “button” logo projected a dynamic quality, and the matching round lawn signs became a quite successful badge of unconventionality, for candidate and supporter alike.

(I was also proud of a kind of “zero-sum” campus GOTV technique I developed for this campaign. In a seemingly obvious, but apparently unconventional approach, our campus organizing started from a list of ALL students, rather than registered students, nearly doubling voter turnout at Carleton College that year. The technique was subsequently applied by Carleton students organizing for Obama in Iowa in 2008.)

Of course, the campaign was not without its errors and challenges (what with a first-time campaign manager deliberately trying to break the conventional wisdom), but Jessica came closer to beating the incumbent than anyone had since 1990. Plus, our efforts laid the groundwork for a DFL win the next year in a special election.