Libertarian State Leadership Alliance
More Campaign Reports--2000
The James Dan Campaign Summary Report
Chris Azzaro, Campaign Manager
Dear friends and supporters,
Thank you for making the James Dan for Nevada State Assembly campaign such an exciting and inspiring race. The official results are listed below. DEM-Chowning, Vonne 1,197 54.73% LIB-Dan, James 990 45.27%
Although we did not achieve our ultimate goal of winning, we did make significant gains for the Nevada LP in numerous ways...
This was the highest percentage of the vote for a Libertarian (or any minor party candidate) in the history of Nevada politics, breaking the record set by Tamara Clark in 1992. And considering that this district had over 60% registered Democrats, and a Democrat incumbent, this was a remarkable achievement indeed.
The establishment media took our race quite seriously. This bodes well for future LP candidates in Nevada. Probably the greatest achievement was receiving the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. This was not your average endorsement either -- it was a five paragraph ringing endorsement that said among other things "District 28 voters should enthusiastically cast their ballots for James Dan." The race was also called "the upset special of the year" by Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun. And the campaign was featured on the front page of the Nevada section of the combined Sun / Review-Journal edition of the Saturday newspaper just prior to the election.
We were able to reach thousands of voters in District 28 with our Libertarian message for the very first time. In fact, the LP voter registration in that district was only 0.5%. So the 45% that James Dan received was almost entirely a crossover vote. Many of these people had never considered voting Libertarian in their entire lives.
So what exactly happened that caused James Dan to do so well?
First of all, we were able to raise over $58,000 which made us very competitive with the incumbent who raised over $61,000. That gave us the ability to stand toe-to-toe with our opponent on signs, direct mail, and other forms of advertising.
The main tool in our advertising arsenal was direct mail, and we hammered hard in this area. We hired Arena Communications, a firm that specializes in knocking out incumbent Democrats, to handle the production of nine districtwide mailings. We had done extensive opposition research on our opponents voting record. Using our research, Arena put together a series of hard-hitting pieces that favorably contrasted James Dan with his opponent on all the main issues. The issues we selected were chosen as a result of polling data we had collected several months prior. These mailers were the glossy / fancy style mailers people expect to get from big time candidates.
In addition, we sent out three targeted mailings. One went to third party voters urging them to support our campaign based on the common interests we have. Another one went to inveterate voters as a neighbor-to-neighbor postcard with a hand signed signature. And the third one went to anyone who had said they would vote for James during our door to door activities, urging them to vote early (in Nevada we have two weeks of early voting prior to the election).
Two outside groups mailed endorsement letters for us, independent of our campaign. The Republican Liberty Caucus sent a letter to every Republican asking them to vote for James Dan. And the "Congress for the Preservation of Nevada Small Businesses" sent out a districtwide letter sharply attacking our opponent and encouraging voters to support James Dan
And finally, when we received the glowing Review-Journal endorsement, we sent out a copy of it to the entire district.
Overall, every voter received at least 10 mailings from us, and some got as many as 14.
Our opponent responded with three districtwide mailings, including an attack on James Dan for being a Libertarian Party Lobbyist (gasp!). She also sent a targeted mailing to women voters urging them to vote for her because she has fought for women's issues. Her mailings emphasized the fact that she was supported by almost every union in the state, with special attention given to her police union endorsements.
In the sign war, we thought we were doing quite well. Initially, we had overwhelmed the district with 400 3x6 signs and 3 big 8x16 a-frames. But our opponent put up 400 bigger signs (4x8) and had them towering over ours on 4x4 posts and plywood. We had never seen anything like that in NV politics before. She also had a giant 12x24 billboard sized a-frame. But we did go unchallenged in the area of yardsigns, where we had over 350.
The real centerpiece of our campaign was the door to door effort. James Dan campaigned tirelessly throughout the Las Vegas summer (and over 100 degree weather) until election day. This was six months of daily campaigning and meeting voters. Every voter we met was given a free campaign T-shirt, a brochure, and a refrigerator magnet. Although we made two full passes through the district, we were only able to personally meet about a third of the voters because so many people were not home. We feel that we won most of those votes, since our opponent did not do any door to door campaigning. But she did counter us with a "Re-Elect Chowning Gift Package" that was dropped by paid walkers at each house. It contained a brochure, an American flag, a Nevada legislative booklet, and a potholder that said "She listens... She cares... She works hard for us. Re-elect Vonne Chowning." Again, this was something we had never seen before in any political race.
Our opponent was also aided by the Nevada Democratic Party who dropped off a doorhanger to all Democrats saying "Vote Democrat" and listing the names and photos of Al Gore, Ed Bernstein (US Senate), Shelly Berkley (US Congress), and Vonne Chowning. This certainly did not help us in a district where we needed lots of Democratic votes.
We had two "Meet the Candidate" nights at senior citizen housing projects. Both went well, and the seniors seemed to respond well to our Libertarian message. We even gave out door prizes of $25 gift certificates for a local restaurant. Our opponent also held similar functions and gave out $10 bills.
During the last four days of the campaign, our efforts turned towards getting out our votes. On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, over 700 calls were made to registered voters that identified supporters and urged undecideds to vote for Dan. On election day, we called our supporters throughout the day, checking off people that did not vote. This was the most extensive GOTV effort I have ever seen for a Libertarian campaign. Unfortunately, our opponent was again aided by a huge Democratic Party GOTV effort through telemarketing. Additionally, the night before the election she had posted on all of her signs a smaller sign that said "Be A Voter TODAY!" and plastered her signs up all around the polling areas, and even had big U-Hual trucks with her signs on them parked around the polling areas.
Having worked the polls a bit on election day, I must say that there were a lot of people that were voting straight ticket Democrat. Apparently we were not able to do enough to overcome the partisan advantage.
Turnout was a surprise. Based on the past presidential year turnouts, we had estimated that we would need 1000 votes to win, as we were anticipating 1800 voters. We got 990. Somehow, our opponent, along with the Democratic Party, turned out 1,197. The fact that this was a close presidential election, and Nevada was a battle ground state, did not help our situation.
One tracking poll was conducted a several weeks prior to the campaign, after we had been campaigning for months, and prior to any real efforts by our opponent. It simply read, "In the race for state assembly, do you plan to vote for Democrat Vonne Chowning, Libertarian James Dan, or are you undecided?" We wanted it to identify the political affiliations so that the results would take into account the partisan advantage for Chowning. The results showed 33.6 for Chowning, 21.7 for Dan, and a whopping 44.6 undecided. We knew we had a chance, but we would have to take two-thirds of the undecided voters. In the end, we got slightly more than half of the undecided vote, which was not enough.
The voter registration breakdown was 60% Democrat, 22% Republican, 17% Independent, and 1% minor party.
We believe that our opponent had about 30 - 35% of the district locked up from the start. These voters would have voted Democrat no matter what. We probably had a solid 5% Libertarian support in the district. The real battleground was over the other 60 - 65%. We won most of them, but we needed to win nearly all of them to pull off the victory. It is my opinion that Libertarian candidates need to be able to significantly out-campaign AND outspend our opponents by a wide margin in order to overcome the partisan advantage. As was noted before, we were about even with her on money, and tried to make up the difference with hard grassroots work. It almost worked, but not quite.
Were there some things that could have been done better? Perhaps. But this was certainly the best Libertarian campaign anyone has ever seen in Nevada. And considering all the obstacles, to still get over 45% of the vote for a Libertarian candidate was truly remarkable. This was still a great victory in many ways. This race should be an example and an inspiration for Libertarian all over the country. We have a lot to be proud of.
I'd like to thank our terrific campaign staff, and most of all, James Dan for being an awesome candidate.
Let's never stop fighting for freedom!
Chris Azzaro (Campaign Manager, James Dan for Assembly)