University of Wisconsin-Madison sophomore Augie McGinnity-Wake has had a busy semester. In addition to academic work and involvement with his student organization, College Democrats, he also managed Hayley Young’s campaign in her race to be elected as County Board Supervisor.
Hayley Young won the race for County Board Supervisor for District 5 in the election on April 5th. Young will now sit on the board with 36 other supervisors, one from each district in Dane County. This board is similar to a city council but at the county-level, and they are in charge of passing legislation for the county government. McGinnity-Wake’s campaign strategy was instrumental in securing Young’s victory.
Young and McGinnity-Wake met during his freshman year through College Democrats. Young was the organization Chair and McGinnity-Wake had been interested in politics ever since the statewide protests against Governor Scott Walker in 2011. He joined College Democrats excited to get more involved with politics on campus.
After Young asked McGinnity-Wake to manage her campaign, their next step was fundraising. They sat down together and came up with a long list of friends, family and acquaintances who might be interested in donating to the campaign. Contributions were capped at $250 per person, but in the middle of the race a bill passed that allows donations up to $500. Despite such a high donation cap, McGinnity-Wake estimates the average donation to Young’s campaign was around $30 to $40. He reports that many students gave small $5 or $10 donations, highlighting the fact that Young had widespread support, not just a few large donations.
Young’s opponent in the race, Angelito Tenorio, out-fundraised her by nearly two-to-one. Young initially raised $3,000 in funds, but after finding out Tenorio had raised $8,000 for his campaign, she raised another $2,000. Even after a second round of fundraising, Young was still $3,000 behind her opponent and depended on a strong campaign to lead her to victory.
The significant gap in campaign funding shaped McGinnity-Wake’s campaigning strategy and makes Young’s victory all the more impressive. Young relied heavily on voter contact to earn peoples’ votes. “Tried and true knocking on doors grassroots campaigns work,” McGinnity-Wake says. He estimates they knocked on about 14,000 doors to talk to people one-on-one about the election. McGinnity-Wake believes the campaign’s emphasis on personal relationships secured Young’s spot on the County Board.
Because Tenorio had more funding he was able to pay for more leaflets and mailers to distribute which was a concern for those working on Young’s campaign. Chet Agni, a member of College Democrats who volunteered for the campaign, believes it is important that Young won despite having significantly less money than Tenorio. “In these local races money shouldn’t be a deciding factor,” Agni says. Had Young’s opponent won, it would have raised the bar for how much money local races cost, he says. Subsequent candidates might have felt pressure to raise as much as Tenorio. This could have discouraged people from running who cannot afford to raise that large amount of money, changing the precedent for every local race in the future.
The rest of the campaign strategy was simply to raise awareness about the election and get Hayley Young’s name out there. To do this McGinnity-Wake used social media campaigns and advertisements. District 5, the area Young now represents, encompasses most of the UW-Madison campus so getting the student vote was a priority. Social media is an inexpensive and effective way to reach this demographic. McGinnity-Wake bought Facebook ads and had a promotional email sent out to all UW-Madison students on the day of the election. Evidently, McGinnity-Wake’s campaign strategy was effective, with Young winning the election with over 62% of the vote.
“When you’re diligent and focused, you win,” McGinnity-Wake says, reflecting on his campaign strategy. As a member of College Democrats he will likely stay involved in politics, but Young’s victory still has not quite sunk in and for now he is taking a well-deserved break from campaigning. “I’ve gained so much respect for anyone who’s run any race at any level. I bet my hairline receded a couple inches from this race so I can’t imagine a statewide race or, god forbid, a national campaign,” he says. Although McGinnity-Wake loves campaigning, he is unsure of what the future holds. “There are lots of possibilities. Maybe a few more since we won.”