The first time I went to a Grady County Republican Party meeting, there were nine people in the room, including myself and my father, who had also never been to their meetings. The various friends I told about the meeting laughed at the idea, warning me to watch out for the crazy old people there. Because there were so few people there, each person as given a chance to introduce himself or herself. What I heard from most of those in attendance were various themes on this concept: we will never win as a party because the whole town is full of old Democrats and the paper is run by the Democratic Party chairman. Having grown up in a town where a large percentage of the people voted Republican - enough so that some Republicans didn't agree with others and still Republicans held most of the offices - I was not ready (or willing) to listen to the negative attitude. Despite being the youngest person in the room by at least thirty years, I stood up and gave them my ideas, what I might call the tricks of the trade.
"If you want to win, then expecting to win with newspaper coverage and advertisement will never get it done. You have to go door to door, stand on corners with signs, get friends involved and build an organization," I explained. "By having an organization, it becomes easier to get out the message and to spread the work. You start with your own friends, then they bring in their friends, and in time you have a large organization and a great chance to win some offices."
I went to help my Dad become the chairman of the party. After that speech the almost immediate reaction was, "You want to be Treasurer?"
I accepted, largely because I would have lost all credibility for what I had just said if I didn't back it up by taking an office. In the next election, we helped elect the first Republican governor in the state of Georgia. Did our little party get him elected? Probably not, but we did help our county vote for him, and the same county had previously voted for his opponent - the sitting governor. We also elected the first Republican state senator from that district. In the election after that one, we elected the first Republican state representative from a district built to keep Democrats elected for the next ten years. And most of what we did came from my speech. Was it all my idea? Far from it, but it was what I had seen time and again in successful campaigns.
1) The best (read: most electable) candidates almost always have a lot of friends. They have the sort of friends that love the idea of helping them get elected.
2) Once those friends have bought in to the campaign, they often get infected with the energy of politics, what I call "the disease". They find themselves sharing the message of the candidate with their friends, and some of those friends get involved, too.
3) The group that has formed around the candidate shares the message the candidate has to offer. They pass out bumper stickers and put up signs. They hold parties and fundraisers to help the candidate meet the constituency, the people.
4) The group can help stuff mailers that go directly to the voters. Newspaper ads and articles are more easily ignored because they are within a lot of other articles and ads. A single glossy mailer (or a lot of them) with the right picture and message can leave an impression.
5) The group can help make phone calls just before the actual election to remind people to get out and vote for their candidate.
Those basic concepts have many candidates become elected officials. They worked for the candidates here. Now the same Republican meetings have had as many as fifty for official meetings, and a recent dinner the week after Thanksgiving (never a great time for politics, especially in a non-election year) had over 100 in attendance with $25/plate entry fee. Even more showed up for a meet-and-greet for the Republican governor. Eight years ago, the Democratic primary was considered the end of an election cycle for local offices in this town. Now there have been opposed primaries in both parties, and this year there may be several locally elected Republicans. I know one thing: people don't make fun of someone for being willing to call themselves Republican anymore.