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Sharpe, a businessman, consultant and former Marine who lives in New York City, points to fundraising (he’s raised more than $100,000) and the 2016 election, in which Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson got 176,000 votes in New York, as reasons for optimism.
The thing about spending is it matters where the money goes. A review of Sharpe’s July campaign finance filings shows that he only had about $23,000 left. It doesn’t seem that any of the reported spending went to petitioning to get on the ballot, and he hopes to get 30,000 signatures. Most likely he will get on the ballot. That still leaves the push to reach voters in the last weeks of October and first week of November, right before the election.
In NY, a third party candidate for Governor hopes to get at least 50,000 votes. This helps greatly with ballot access for the party for the following four years.
In 2010 my campaign saved our money and spent what we had on radio and TV in two markets shortly before the election. It worked. We saw a bump in votes in those areas. Though of course we did fall just short of the 50K goal.
Sharpe is taking a different approach. Campaign finance records show he’s spent around $25,000 on Facebook ads. In 2010 when I ran the Facebook ad system did not have great targeting options. I tried it and found it ineffective. It is much better now so hopefully Sharpe is targeting his ads effectively (i.e. focused on voters in New York State).
His campaign Facebook page is doing very well. He has over 55,000 “Likes” on his page. One problem with that is we can’t tell how many of his Likes are from New York voters. It could be that he has reached a large national libertarian audience, but still doesn’t have a following among non-libertarian mainstream NY voters. That’s hard to tell. On the bright side his page has more likes than Democratic candidate Cynthia Nixon (45,000 Likes) and a lot more than Republican candidate Molinaro (20,000 Likes).
Sharpe’s Facebook videos have reached a large audience. The page has posted well over 100 videos since the start of 2018 and several have tens of thousands of views. This is very impressive and a very good sign for the campaign. His CBS interview from 2017 has over 200,000 views, for example.
It looks like they have neglected the campaign YouTube channel. They barely have 1000 subscribers and less than 40,000 total video views. Only one video has more than 5000 views and that’s 2 years old. For some reason they’re not uploading the Facebook videos to the YouTube channel. This seems like a failure to execute. Once you have the video, it costs essentially nothing to upload it to YouTube. YouTube is widely considered the second largest search engine so ignoring it seems unwise. On the bright side he had a lengthy interview on The Rubin Report channel that has over 70,000 views.
The records also show substantial spending on consultants and campaign staff including Zac Mac Creative Group ($23,000), Wilson Digital ($6000), Lauren McKinnon ($10,000), Brian Waddell ($10,000) and Jennifer Gray ($20,000). This is potentially troubling. From my perspective our campaign spent nothing on consultants or campaign staff. Money spent on that is, in my view, money not spent on reaching voters.
I reached out to the campaign and spoke to Brian Waddell, who identified himself as the campaign manager. He pointed to Wilson Digital in particular as very effective spending on “small dollar fundraising.” It’s hard to tell from the documents whether money spent on fundraising raises much more than is spent on fundraising, but Waddell clearly believes it does.
Waddell also told me that the campaign has set aside a substantial amount of money for TV and radio advertising leading up to Election Day. He painted a very optimistic picture of the campaign strategy and he may have persuaded me.
On the downside I don’t see a core message that resonates with voters, something we did have in 2010 (“Stop Wasting Money”). When voters walk into the voting booth and see Sharpe’s name, will it mean something to them? Without that resonating message it may not. He’s had a lot of time to find that message and hasn’t done so yet. Like so many libertarians he probably isn’t interested in finding one.
With that said, considering the amount of time Sharpe has put into the campaign and particularly the amount of engagement he’s gotten on Facebook, I’m cautiously optimistic that he will finally break the 50,000 vote threshold and get ballot status for the LP in New York. And he may do much better than that. We’ll find out soon.