The Great Wisconsin Direct Mail Battle
The war for Wisconsin voters ended on Tuesday, following a year of battles fought on several fronts, including direct mail. You probably know the background story: Democrats angered by legislation restricting public employee unions campaigned for the recall of allies of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican. After some successes, Walker himself was then targeted for removal from office. In only the third such contest in American history, he successfully kept his seat.
Direct mail was enlisted by both sides from early on. The four-color #10 outer of a fundraising effort in mid-2011 from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin showed huge crowds of protesters surrounding the Wisconsin statehouse. The letter inside warned that Scott's "actions have unleashed a wave of anti-union, anti-worker legislation across the country."
Another DPW mailing that dropped in the first few months of this year boasted that in the Walker recall signature drive, "We needed 540,208 - our volunteers turned in over 1 million." To Democrats targeted across the country, it was another hopeful sign of strength, as well as a call to arms "for every working family in America" to "expose the real Scott Walker."
As for the Republicans, their efforts also focused on those protesting the governor's actions, but cast them in a different light. "Big Government Union Bosses are Calling the Shots" read one headline in a brochure mailed by Friends of Scott Walker in April. The letter in that package calls them an "immovable road-block to the reforms desperately needed to revive our state's economy-in-crisis."
And like its Democratic counterparts, it ties the effort to national consequences, specifically, President Obama: "A win here is a big boost to his prospects; a loss will be a major set-back." Or as another mailing, this one from the Wisconsin Recall Action Fund, put it: "this isn't just about Wisconsin. This same fight is taking place in cities, counties, and states across the United States."
As far as direct mail formats and techniques go, the Wisconsin elections didn't break any new ground. It's not surprising: political fundraising mail is pretty risk-averse in that sense. But the bipartisan outreach to out-of-state donors was unusual, and probably, a sign of things to come. In these hyper-partisan times, using direct mail and email to motivate "donors of principle," as Roger Craver called them, will continue regardless of where they live.