In the upcoming federal elections, the Republicans will probably gain seats in both houses of Congress. Whether they can regain a majority in either is impossible to say, but the stage is set for a major Republican sweep – if the Republicans don’t throw it away, as they seem to be inclined to do.

The makeup of Congress actually has little impact on gun owners these days, because the Democrats are too scared to push anti-rights legislation and the Republicans are too gutless to push pro-rights bills.

At least that’s proven true at the federal level, but things are different in many state legislatures, county commissions and city halls. There have been some dramatic fights and major advances made at the state and local levels, and that’s where rights activists can have the greatest impact.

The strength of the gun-rights movement lies not in our pockets but in our sleeves. Supporting and voting for true pro-rights federal candidates is important, but, for rights activists who really want the most bang for their buck, the best course of action is to roll up their sleeves and go to work for good candidates at the state and local levels where they can truly make a difference.

Big-dollar campaigns for president, Congress or governor have hundreds or even thousands of active volunteers and a score of paid campaign staff. A few volunteers more or less working on these major campaigns will have little impact on the outcome.

On the other hand, in the shoestring campaigns for offices lower down on the ticket, a very few committed volunteers can make all the difference in the world. Since the party faithful, the college clubs and the political hangers-on all want to be associated with the big, important campaigns – the ones the news reporters give all of the attention to – the little guy running for the state House is left with little money, no paid staff and few volunteers. Even the best sign locations go to the “big guys.”

Political consultants write tomes about what really works in campaigns. They say that every bumper sticker is worth $400.00 and every yard sign worth $200.00, or that the candidate who knocks on the most doors wins, or that the secret is publishing a list with the names of hundreds of important people who endorse your candidate, or …

The truth is, the single most powerful tool for influencing a person to vote for a particular candidate – especially lower-ticket candidates that the voter has likely never heard of – is for someone to look them in the eye and say, “It is really important that you vote for ‘Zeke Zucker.’ He’s a Republican / Democrat / Libertarian, but most importantly, he’s a good guy who will make a real difference for our community / state / country.”

That’s it.

That is the most powerful tool in campaigns and elections, and that tool gains power in direct proportion to the obscurity of the candidate and the office for which he is running. Elections are all about getting people’s attention and convincing them that it is important that they vote for “Zeke Zucker.” That’s hard to do with just a couple of thousand dollars and a handful of volunteers. Under those circumstances, every volunteer can make a huge difference.

Having run for office myself, I can tell you that it is hard work. There are a thousand things to do and usually only a few people to do them. The vast majority of voters are paying no attention at all to yard signs, bumper stickers, TV ads, and they’re mostly annoyed by auto-calls and flyers in their mailbox or on their windshield. They have lives and families and jobs that take up most of their attention. When they walk into the voting booth, they might know who they want to vote for in only two or three races out of ten or twelve or more races on the ballot.

Generally speaking, two out of three voters will vote strictly based on whether the candidate has a (D) or an (R) after his name. The third voter decides who wins. The secret to winning elections is for the candidate or a committed volunteer to find that third voter and to plant the candidate’s name positively in his head.

When that voter goes to the polls you want him to say, “Oh, there’s ‘Zeke Zucker’, I should vote for him. I hear he’s a good guy.”

Nothing can accomplish that more effectively than face-to-face encouragement from a staunch supporter. Even the candidate herself can’t be as effective at planting the message as a good volunteer can be. The candidate can’t say certain things without seeming arrogant and conceited, and the candidate doesn’t have the personal relationship of being a friend, neighbor, lodge brother, regular customer or fellow church member with enough people to swing an election. It takes volunteers earnestly communicating within their sphere of influence. If enough committed supporters reach enough of those uncommitted voters, your candidate wins.

All politics is local, and local politics often matter most.

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