Retail Politics

, Allie Winegar Duzett, Leave a comment

On September 22, 2009, freshman congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) took the stage at the Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Bloggers Briefing and showed the crowd how to win friends and influence people all the way to Congress—all the while spending under one hundred thousand dollars.

Rep. Chaffetz is the perfect man to address this topic. In 2008, he shocked the world by unseating an incumbent of twelve years, U.S. Chris Cannon (R). And while Cannon had a budget of almost $700,000 for the race, Rep. Chaffetz won using a mere $74,000. Clearly, Rep. Chaffetz’s techniques are worth studying.

To Rep. Chaffetz, the Republican Party “blew it” when they last controlled the government. With a Republican president and Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the American people could have seen a lot of the changes they have actually been hoping for. Unfortunately, Rep. Chaffetz said, this was not the case. He attributed this to the notion that many people in Congress and Senate are simply not as conservative as they say they are. This is an issue Utah faces every day with their representation.

Rep. Chaffetz expressed his belief that if Americans want different results in government, they need to begin electing different people. While other members of Congress may think Americans aren’t paying attention, Rep. Chaffetz believes otherwise. He said he has faith that Americans do pay attention—and that’s why his kind of campaign worked.

Campaigns are not about money, Rep. Chaffetz claimed. This is why he had no paid staff, and why he gave out no free meals. He had no polling, no campaign office, and most importantly to him, no debt. Rep. Chaffetz showed the citizens of his district that he took his conservative principles seriously by carefully handling his money. Rep. Chaffetz made the point that being a “Democrat-Lite” conservative is a “recipe for death.” “This is not a liberal country,” he said confidently, elaborating on the point that conservatives who run for any office need to actually be conservative. According to Rep. Chaffetz, no one gets points for being just another Republican acting like a Democrat.

In addition to suggesting adherence to conservative ideology, Rep. Chaffetz also suggested that those running for Congress make wise use of old techniques—like actually meeting constituents during the race—and new techniques, like social media. Rep. Chaffetz’s favorite social media tools are Facebook and Twitter. He explained his belief that many members of the House are potentially doomed, because they neglect these all-important ways of communicating with constituents. Rep. Chaffetz claimed that Facebook and Twitter are all about creating a bond with your voters—so not only should they be important to an elected official, they should be so important that the task of connecting on Facebook and tweeting every day should never be delegated. Rep. Chaffetz made his point clearly when he remarked over and over that he makes it a priority to communicate with Facebook constituents every day. This is how he maintains that crucial one-on-one rapport with the people of his district.

Chaffetz ended by inviting the viewers of the briefing to friend him on Facebook, or follow on Twitter @Jasoninthehouse. It seemed an appropriate conclusion.

Allie Winegar Duzett is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.