By Matthew Sawh
Journalists covering political campaigns often focus on candidates’ personal style to say something about substance—George W. Bush’s Texas swagger or Barack Obama’s cool detachment, for example. The danger is that election results that are anything but inevitable are presented as inescapable—produced by personality. For a deeper look at campaigns and their power, check out Campaigns and Elections magazine.
Campaigns and Elections brings its 30,000-plus readers inside the smoke-filled rooms where political operatives are plotting the “path to power,” to use biographer Robert Caro’s phrase. It seeks to appeal to the powerful insiders who make the major decisions on advertising, hiring and messaging that win or lose elections. While political magazines like The Weekly Standard and The New Republic often talk tactics, Campaigns and Elections offers depth and grainy “how-to” detail. Insiders need that detail and interested outsiders can benefit from it, too.
Campaigns and Elections stresses the practical nuts and bolts of modern campaigning. One story in the November/December issue measured the depth of each GOP campaign’s ground game in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three Republican primary contests, providing office and staff counts. Another story devoted nearly a dozen pages to a political-consultant scorecard. Want to run for office? This tells you whom to hire.
When New York magazine asks, “Who in God’s name is Mitt Romney?” Campaigns and Elections wonders: Who is organizing the fall presidential debates? A technology theme pervaded much of that winter issue, with social media, the social Web and the implications of pushback against online campaign tracking all scoring coverage. Staffers wrote most of the pieces, but practitioners also wrote a few, answering the neurotic questions of political consultants, such as: Can a digital billboard with new messages each night be effective? How do pollsters count people who only use cellphones?
The late Stanley Foster Reed started the magazine in 1980 as a how-to-enter-politics guide. He said he wanted to get better people involved in the process. “In political campaigns and in business, it is management that makes the difference,” he wrote in the first issue. “Management of resources: money, media, people.”
The magazine’s media kit claims that sixty-five percent of readers each control campaign spending worth more than $100,000 in a cycle, and eighty-three percent have regular contact with elected officials. Campaigns and Elections has a deck of editorial advisors that is stacked with familiar names, including Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, which he built through online organizing; queens like Mary Matalin, who advised the administrations of both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush; and aces like David Yepsen, an expert on Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus.
Campaigns and Elections shows that campaign tactics have consequences. Recent events reflect this: Just thirty-four votes separated Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in Iowa. Four years ago, organizing strategies in South Carolina produced a crucial Barack Obama win, answering Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire victory.
The November/December issue’s letter from the editor, Shane D’Aprile, kicked off with his all-time favorite rant from a campaign staffer: “We do all the work and the candidate gets all the credit. We ring doorbells and make the posters and build up the candidate’s image. And then he says something stupid and ruins everything we’ve done.”
Content like that makes Campaigns and Elections an entertaining read for people who like political inside baseball, whether they are players or just interested spectators. The magazine may be elusive on newsstands, where it costs four dollars and ninety-five cents. But for three dollars and ninety-nine cents, it’s available online, where its detail and insight impress despite having to use the clunky Zinio reader.