In early 2019, it was clear that the Raleigh City Council was approaching a watershed moment. The incumbent, popular mayor decided against reelection. Numerous, serious candidates were creating committees and beginning to fundraise.
Our client, the Triangle Government Alliance, conducted a poll to take the temperature of the electorate. It was clear that, though the council as a whole was rather popular, a plurality of voters thought it was time for new faces to represent them. We combined intuition about existing controversies and, informed by data, created a grassroots campaign to influence the election. Briefly, here’s how we did it.
Granny Flats: A Digital Approach
The core of the campaign was centered around a satirical character named Granny Flats. Her name comes from a nickname for Accessory Dwelling Units, which are small buildings adjacent to homes usually occupied by mothers-in-law or short-term tenants.
Granny’s character allowed us to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous issues and scandals in Raleigh politics, but it also made for a novel method to personify the issues that were important to voters. In a political environment where our messaging focused on the lack of interest incumbents had for their constituents, letting Granny ask “Does your voice matter?” made an impression.
Bolstered by a comprehensive social media plan, the Granny Flats account shared videos, articles and blog posts throughout the course of the campaign. All told, the Facebook page touched more than 60,000 Raleighites and her videos collected 20,000 views — all this in an election with barely 55,000 votes in the mayoral race.
While the digital campaign made a constant, broad impact, we also outlined, designed and mailed nearly a dozen different pieces of direct mail to highly targeted likely voters. These mailers worked in two, complementary ways: One, the negative mailers against two targeted incumbents, and two, positive mailers to boost preferred challengers.
One of the pieces of mail, directed against an incumbent councilor, stirred up controversy. The news coverage of the piece rebounded in our favor, as reporters parroted the claims made and were unable to refute them (because they were fact-based and cited the same newspapers as sources). Incumbents crowing about negative campaigning only reinforced the claims in the mailers, and drew attention to their own negatives.
The mail pieces largely fell in the last two weeks of the election, propelling our narrative into the last days of the election season and keeping momentum behind preferred candidates and away from the targeted incumbents.
The campaign was a clear success. Entering the election, our client hoped to flip two seats on the City Council. The final result: Three new councilors on City Council, including their preferred mayor and preferred candidate in an open seat. Additionally, their preferred incumbents were easily reelected. All told, only a single candidate opposed by our client won reelection.
We did this by setting a narrative early and maintaining it. The goal from the genesis of the campaign was to keep the incumbents on the defensive, fending off attacks and never gaining strong footing to promote their accomplishments. With this electoral victory, the makeup of the Raleigh City Council has shifted for the foreseeable future. In the next municipal cycle, instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars to flip seats, our client’s preferred candidates will have name recognition and incumbency advantage.
An early investment in the latest election will pay dividends for years to come.