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FRIENDLY FIRE: Behind the Wendy Long Campaign

Since we’re on The Road to Smart Girl Summit 2012, Lynn Krogh and Vince Casale take us for a walk through Wendy Long’s primary victory in the New York Senate Race…from them choosing the candidate all the way to Primary Night and what’s next.

Lynn handled the bulk of it. Vince’s two cents are thrown in bold and italicized…

I know before the race started there were a few potential candidates you were considering. Why Wendy Long?
One big reason we decided to go into this business is the luxury you have, as consultants, to work or NOT work for whomever you want. You get to choose your clients. My first interaction with Wendy goes back to CPPAC, the NYS Conservative Party’s Political Action Conference, which was held at the end of January, if this year. TCG (The Casale Group) was trying to figure out who we wanted to work with. Our first client had decided against running for personal reasons. We had just sat and met with George Maragos and we weren’t excited. Marc Cenedella, while a super-attractive candidate at first, had his own issues. At this point, VAC had pseudo-given up… I was franticly trying to convince him and others that there “Has to be SOMEONE!” Then it happened…

Shaun Marie (for those who don’t know SM, she is one of the most amazing political beasts I’ve ever met. The Executive Director of the NYS Conservative Party, SM is no bullshit with a sense of humor to boot!)… So, we sat down with SM for breakfast and the US Senate race became the topic. Mid forkful-of-melon, SM’s face lit up: “You have to meet Wendy Long!!” Me: “Who?” SM: “Wendy Long!! She’s incredible. She’s here!” Me: “Hm… OK, please point her out…”

Less than 12 hours later, I found hope. I found the ONLY candidate I wanted to work with. I don’t think I’ve ever pitched a potential candidate/candidate so hard in my life. When we went home, we spent hours googling, researching, and finding out everything we could about this mysterious Wendy Long. Impressed doesn’t cut it. She presented a clear contrast to everything Americans are sick of; everything Senator Gillibrand represents. Wendy understands government, as she’s worked with all 3 branches in Washington, D.C. and Wendy was the only candidate with Conservative credentials who fundamentally understands that this is an uphill battle.

We signed on 2 weeks later and I remember Vince saying, “There definitely was someone else.” [I think what I actually said was, “I knew there was someone else.” I wasn’t about to admit LK was right.]

You sign the client. What are the first things you did to physically start the campaign?
This was different from other races because we had a little less than a month to get Wendy 25% of the GOP State Convention, scheduled for March. Compared to 2010 where we had 6 months, this was going to be a much larger challenge… Try this on for size: a fairly unknown candidate, with no elected experience who had never run for office previously, but a candidate with an impressive resume and rolodex who looked to work hard and was entering it for all the right reasons.

[Conventions are actually pretty easy, we just sit back and let Lynn run them.]

So we set off on a 3 week sprint of New York State, tossing out facts and figures to Wendy while we set up meet and greets with County Chairmen and women, rank and file Republicans, and Tea Party leaders. It was exhaustive, but we received nearly 49% of the NYSGOP Convention vote. A solid foundation that helped us as we set off on a 3.5 month journey against a sitting Congressman with higher name ID and a sitting County Comptroller from the largest population of Republicans in the state.

[Anytime I work on a party caucus, I’m reminded of the old joke…Do you know the difference between a cactus and a caucus? With a cactus the pricks are on the outside.]

Prior to last Tuesday’s primary, there was a three way race to even get on the ballot in the first place. Compare the different strategies in campaigning for and winning each.
Post-convention, our strategy was to put Wendy infront of as many Republicans as possible. With limited resources, low name ID and a short 3.5 month window, running against the aforementioned opponents, we knew that our #1 asset was our candidate. When people meet Wendy, they love her, madly, and they want to help her. So that’s what we did.

[SO, this grassroots shit still works….who knew!]

Wendy became the upstate candidate, as Maragos never really left Long Island after the convention and Turner didn’t have the time to head upstate much because of his current position as Congressman had him in Washington, D.C. quite often. We were given an opportunity to capitalize on the grassroots movement that is not just the Tea Party, but the growing desire for government to stop spending, stop taxing and stop over-regulating.

[Lynn is being way to nice. We had a solid political operation that swamped the other two campaigns. Maragos never knew what hit him and Turner miscalculated his name ID outside of his congressional district. Oh, and sorry to kill the mystique, but Rudy is not popular north of the Bronx…]

How was the campaign able to build enough name recognition for Wendy Long, considering New York is a) one of the most expensive media markets in the country, and b) even Republican voters are jaded when it comes to state wide candidates?
With Wendy as our greatest asset, we did it the “old-fashioned way.” We put her on the road, exhausted the upstate circuit and put it all out there… allowing her to interact 1:1 with the rank and file Republicans and Tea Party alike. It was important that she remain the chosen candidate of upstaters and that remained intact from the jump.

[All true, but what should not be overlooked or underestimated is the media and press genius of Dave Catalfamo. The man can create news and spin stories like no one else can.]

The first time a lot of voters go to see all three candidates was at the debate of Father’s Day. What was the campaign strategy going forward from there?
Well, I don’t believe anyone was too thrilled with Father’s Day, but NY1 did an incredible job coordinating the schedules of 3 candidates. Strategy  didn’t necessarily change much from that point, but we did know that there was momentum coming out of the debate and the ability to harness that momentum and turn it into an effective GOTV operation was critical for the remaining 10 days of the campaign.

[The natural contrast of that debate was beyond helpful. I think from there on out we were able to look and run like the frontrunner. We took off from there and never looked back.]

They say the most important part of any political campaign is the final 72 hours. Walks us through yours.
Aw… We’re talking about my baby! 72 Hour weekend is like Christmas Eve for me. Seriously. I get butterflies. I tempt voters with cookies… not many prefer carrots. And Brodigan, you have a better shot of meeting Santa himself, before I give up my GOTV strategies…

What goes on for the campaign staff on election day?
At this point, we’ve likely been up for days… We’re so exhausted that we can barely see straight, but we have the best team in the business, from legal to political to media. I always feel confident in our convention and election day teams. They’re as much of a comfort for me, as they are the best.

Election Day is one of the slowest days of the year. It crawls by. When 2PM strikes, you’ll see Vince’s Facebook status update to “The longest 7…” as in hours. It. Crawls. Then 9PM hits and it’s like the bridge of the Enterprise. Each team member mans his/her station and we’re a well-oiled machine prepared for battle. As the returns come in, we’re counting and tallying. On Primary Night, our team was calling the Election for Wendy by 9:20PM. They’re that good and I thank my lucky stars for them.

You’re 1 week removed Wendy’s victory. What’s next?
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Senator Gillibrand has a mound of cash and while we won’t match her dollar for dollar, we need cash to compete. So go to to DONATE NOW, please.


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