And now for my next trick...

As the 2006 cycle approached, I had only worked on parts of campaigns -- at the end or in specific contract work -- and I wanted to try my hand at the whole thing. So, I took on the 2006 Minnesota State Senate campaign of Jessica Peterson, an old friend and first-term Rice County commissioner. Because of my relationship to the candidate, and because I could get started at the very beginning of the campaign, I could implement a range of new ideas.

There was no way I was going to make a 29-year-old blonde woman seem as serious and established as the four-term silver-haired male imcumbent, so I focused on the opposite: the passion, excitement, and personability of Jessica. At the outset, we worked with a professional photographer to get a large (300+) set of photos, none of which looked like a typical "official portrait". The "button" logo projected a dynamic quality, and the matching round lawn signs became a quite successful badge of unconventionality, for candidate and supporter alike.

This was also the first time I used a professional writer and acting coach in speech preparation, quite successfully for the nominating convention. I provided a topic outline to an acquaintance Hollywood TV writer who turned out a beautiful speech that rivaled anything from 'The West Wing'. The lesson: professional writers really know what they're doing, and we should use them more. The same goes for acting coaches.

I was also proud of a kind of "zero-sum" campus GOTV technique I developed for this campaign. In a seemingly obvious, but apparently unconventional approach, our campus organizing started from a list of ALL students, rather than registered students, nearly doubling voter turnout at Carleton College that year. The technique was subsequently applied by Carleton students organizing for Obama in Iowa in 2008.

Of course, the campaign was not without its errors and challenges (what with a first-time campaign manager deliberately trying to break the conventional wisdom), but Jessica came closer to beating the incumbent than anyone had since 1990. Plus, our efforts laid the groundwork for a DFL win the next year in a special election.