Campaign Mail: Dear Voter, Please, Please Read On _ and Send Money
Dec. 29, 1995
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ The letter from Phil Gramm's campaign purported to set the record straight on Bob Dole.
While Dole offered expensive chocolates, cream puffs and scented bath oils to win votes in the Florida straw poll, Gramm offered a balanced budget, a flat tax and less government, the letter to New Hampshire Republicans read.
Never mind that Dole also says he supports tax reform, a balanced budget and less government. Gramm's campaign saw Dole's actions to woo votes in Florida as an opportunity to score some points far away in New Hampshire.
It's campaign mail season in New Hampshire, Iowa and other key political states, and voters can expect to see more such letters as the 1996 presidential primaries and caucuses near.
Registered Republicans, independents and activists _ from gun owners to small business owners _ will be inundated with mail from GOP candidates as New Hampshire's Feb. 20 leadoff primary approaches.
Many of the letters end up in the trash, but that's a risk the campaigns take to build early support and raise money.
Neil Wallace, 72, of Manchester, has gotten mail from Senate Majority Leader Dole, Texas Sen. Gramm, Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.
Some campaigns have followed up with more letters and telephone calls.
Wallace reads the letters and isn't bothered by the calls but said he isn't influenced much.
``Anybody who calls me who wants me to vote for him for president, I tell him `Yes,''' Wallace said.
Campaigns tailor letters for audiences. One letter goes to people known to care about a particular issue _ like pro-family groups, gun rights supporters and small business owners _ another to registered Republicans, another to independents and another to known contributors.
Before Florida's GOP straw poll last month, party activists were flooded with mail like Gramm's letter. Each got a letter from someone in Alexander's hometown of Maryville, Tenn. Dole's frequent mailings included one from his daughter, Robin, and another targeted Christian Coalition members.
``Your mail has to complement your television; your television has to complement your message,'' said Jim Courtovich, Gramm's New Hampshire director.
Allen Clobridge of Strategic Message Design Group in Washington has specialized in campaign mailings for 24 years. Over the years, campaigns have adopted strategies from businesses that solicit customers by mail or phone.
``Some of the most sophisticated fund-raising mail that is likely to be seen is going on up there,'' he said of New Hampshire.
The extra work is intended to avoid making the right pitch to the wrong audience.
``We spend as much time figuring out who to mail to and what to tell them as we do creating the piece,'' Clobridge said.
Even obtaining addresses is an art.
Campaigns buy lists from state motor vehicle departments. That gives them names and addresses, which are matched with voter registration lists collected from town and city halls.
Armed with a name, address and party affiliation, campaigns get more detailed information _ and phone numbers _ from companies that specialize in data gathering. It's a process similar to that used by credit card companies or other businesses that solicit by mail.
In campaign parlance, the key is to get a ``clean list.''
``That means these people are all still alive, are all still Republicans or independents, are still at the same addresses,'' said Pat Griffin of Alexander's campaign.
Campaigns then categorize people, identifying those who might contribute money or sponsor a coffee chat, those who might need prodding, those who give the slightest indication of support. Good prospects get the royal treatment _ video or audio tapes, books, faxes.
Dole's campaign has sent up to 30,000 audio tapes, while Lugar, Alexander and others have sent videotapes.
The work pays off in the final few weeks, when people begin to pay closer attention.
``Political campaigns have learned you have to _ early and often _ reach out to voters,'' Griffin said.
Money also comes into play.
To receive federal matching dollars, campaigns must abide by spending limits that vary by state. Letters sent more than four weeks before a primary can be billed to national headquarters, which means campaigns can be greedy with early mailings and still have money for a blitz in the last month.