“Jerry Kopel Cares”
An Analysis of the Marketing and Organizational Techniques in Gerald Kopel’s 1978 Campaign
By David B. Kopel
Engineering 9, Dean Hazeltine, Brown University
In November 1976, veteran state legislator Gerald Kopel was upset by his Republican challenger, Paul Swalm. Two years later, thanks to a more professionally run campaign Kopel beat Swalm and returned to the legislature. The reasons for his victory lie in sound decision-making processes applicable to most business and non-profit organizations.
THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
This month, Kopel begins his fifth term in the Colorado House of Representatives. The Colorado House is the state's equivalent of the federal House of Representatives. Each of the sixty-five members is elected every two years from individual districts. After every national census, the legislature redraws its district boundaries.
GERALD KOPEL 1964-1978
Gerald Kopel graduated from Denver University Law School in 1958 and went into practice with his wife Dolores. In 1964, he ran for the House of Representatives and won. The 1966 elections were held at large for the city of Denver; after what he called a "lazy" campaign, he lost.
Kopel reentered politics in 1970. After hard work in the primary, in which he stressed his role as a consumer champion, he unseated a lethargic Democratic incumbent. (See exhibit group A). In the largely Democratic district, he won the general election easily.
In 1971, the legislature redrew the district boundaries. In retaliation for Kopel’s opposition to holding the 1976 Winter Olympics in Colorado, he was gerrymandered out of the racially integrated and heavily Democratic Park Hill community, where Kopel had been a leader for many years. He found himself in a district with a Republican edge. (The district was about equal between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, but Republicans were the largest group.)
Kopel had no opponent in the Democratic primary in 1972, so he went to work in June on the general election. His opponent was Elaine Homan, the widow of an air force officer. While Homan did little campaigning except for a few radio ads and door-to-door work, Kopel repeated his strategy of relying heavily on door-to-door campaigning and distribution of verbose literature through a volunteer network. Mainly because of Homan's offensive manner, she lost more votes than she won door-to-door, and made Kopel the only Democratic candidate to win a majority in the district in 1972. (See exhibit group B).
Kopel’s opponent in 1974 was Tom Moen, president of the local retail gasoline dealer's association. Moen worked more effectively than Homan, putting more effort into advertising. However, 1974 was a Democratic year; Kopel, running a similar campaign based on his consumerist accomplishments and promises was re- elected. (See exhibit group C).
Nineteen seventy-six turned out to be a different story. Despite warnings from “insiders” that Kopel was unbeatable, two candidates entered the Republican primary for the chance to run against Kopel. The winner was Paul Swalm, the owner of several apartment buildings in the district. Kopel reran his previous campaigns, but for once he was up against a smarter politician than he. While Kopel stuck to door- to-door and literature (See exhibit group D), Swalm ran an innovative campaign. Not only did Swalm go door-to-door, using his charisma and ease in dealing with people to win followers, he worked hard to be visible, perhaps because he realized Kopel was better known. Raising almost twice as much money as Kopel, Swalm put out less literature, but spent a great deal on media items such as posters for display in supporters' windows, radio ads, car signs, and telephone note pads. Avoiding a major mistake of Kopel's past opponents, Swalm refused to concede any votes to Kopel; campaigning everywhere, Swalm even solicited the heavily Democratic Jewish vote.
Kopel took Swalm seriously, but no more seriously than any other opponent. He dismissed much of Swalm’s effort, such as the notepads, as beneath the intelligence of the voters. On election day, Kopel was shocked as the results added up to a Swalm victory (See exhibit group D).
Kopel’s next campaign showed greatly increased political sophistication, while Swalm’s showed a complacent repeat of the last time. Kopel won 53 percent of the votes and a seven hundred vote margin. The size of his victory surprised even him. Below is an examination of several details of the campaign, as well as some of the differences in campaign strategy that spelled the difference between victory and defeat for Kopel.
(See exhibit group E).
Precincts 1301, 02, 03, 06, 07, and 08 are residential areas from the old Park Hill district to the North. Kopel always wins these areas, but won even more votes in 1307 and 08 this time; he attributes the gain to his participation in the community fight against an adult bookstore.
Precincts 1304, 05, 09, 10, 38, and 41 all contain a mixture of single family houses and apartment buildings. They are the poorest part of the district and, consequently, turnout for elections is below average. Kopel made significant gains in all these areas, as well as in other precincts with apartments, but because of the low turnout gained less than he felt he deserved o
Except for 1314, the entire area within the heavy black line in the center of the map is single family residences. Kopel and Swalm each won about half the precincts in 76, but Kopel won almost every precinct in 78. Besides holding onto 1311, 12, 14, and 16, Kopel picked up 1313, 15, and 19. 1318 stayed with Swalm, but with a much smaller margin than before. Partly because of his outstanding performance at a debate described below, Kopel did well in 1320 and 21, which together comprise the "Montclair Community".
1324, 25, and 26 are the richest part of the district, and have never supported Kopel.
1323, 27, 28, and 29 are Jewish areas. Kopel's 1978 margin erased many of the gains Swalm had made with the Jewish community in the previous election.
1322 is Lowry Air Force base; the population is transient and voter turnout low.
1335, 38, 39, 40 and 42 contain apartment buildings for upper income groups. Swalm owns the buildings in 1340.
The rest of the district- 1330, 31, 32, 34, 36, and 37 comprise a retirement community known as Windsor Gardens. The area is staunchly Republican. Fortunately, Kopel managed to keep his 1978 losses in the area low enough so that they did not ease his margin of victory elsewhere in the district.
The change in 1978 that led to most of the other improvements was a change in organizational structure. In earlier campaigns, Kopel was not only the candidate, but for all purposes except show, the campaign manager. Trying to do both jobs proved too much in 76, and would have been nearly impossible in 78. Kopel hired [X] as campaign manager in early 1978; [X] turned out to be less than competent and was fired in July. Kopel and his wife searched the party regulars in the district, but no-one was willing to take the job. Luckily, Jean Goodwin, one of the Democratic captains in the district volunteered. She took over late in July, putting twenty hours a week of unpaid time into the campaign.
Jean was assisted by Phil Munishor, a law student at the University of Colorado; he was Kopel's entire paid staff. Jean, Phil, and Jerry’s wife Dolores took care of the day-to-day details of the campaign, such as organizing volunteers or supervising spending. Jerry was left free to spend his time and energy with the voters. Even today, Jerry has no idea how many details of the campaign worked.
Besides Goodwin and Munishor, Kopel had help from a campaign strategy committee of about seven people. All of the members were Democratic party regulars who had worked for Kopel in the past. The campaign committee met several times in the spring and early summer to decide the focus of the campaign and met irregularly during the campaign.
Jerry Kopel gave a much stronger performance personally in 78 than 76. Although he was less involved in the details of campaigning, he helped his cause more. The Jerry Kopel the voters met in 78 was far more personally appealing than the one in 76. He was in better health and took care to pace himself. Jean Goodwin’s efforts as a campaign manager allowed him to concentrate on doorto-door campaigning and other personal appearances. When he had to make an important personal appearance at a night-time function, he was careful to stop going door-to-door early in the day so as to be well rested. His better health and greater energy may also have contributed to his ability to overcome his compulsive, intense personality and follow suggestions more easily.
From June until November, Kopel spent most of the daylight hours going door-to-door. When doing so, he was more attentive to individual’s concerns than he had been before. While campaigning in 76, he assumed that people would be aware of his record, His opening line at a house was something like, "Hello, I'm Jerry Kopel, your state representative. Do you have any questions you'd like to ask me?" In 78, Kopel realized that most people had no idea about anything in the legislature. Because most people vote on personality, Kopel tried harder to make a good impression. Instead of giving the same pitch to every house, he focused on what appeared to be the individual’s concerns. For example, he brought up taxes when talking with young families, and his generic drug substitution law when talking with older people. Additionally, his better health may have closed the charisma gap between Swalm and him.
Kopel's 78 literature was one of the major improvements over 76. As exhibits A through E show, Kopel’s earlier literature was bulging with copy. Highly literate, it talked about specific issues in detail. The closest Kopel came to appealing to someone not willing to invest several minutes reading was his cartoon pieces, but even they were frequently full of copy. Kopel also believes that if one does not use volunteers, they go to work for somebody else, so in every election until 1978, he had a new piece of literature to be distributed every two weeks between September and November. When going door-to-door, he used to hand a constituent many pieces of literature. At the insistence of his campaign staff, Kopel put out less literature but improved the quality. The "Jerry Kopel Cares" brochures were checked by several people many times for reading ease, clarity, and interest before printing. Once finished, it showed a degree of care and appeal not found in the earlier brochures. (See exhibit group F).
The brochure is both physically more attractive and inviting than any previous effort. "Jerry Kopel Cares" shows the results of attention to details. Notice the candelabra at the top of the bookshelf in the picture of Jerry playing the piano. It is an unspoken appeal for Jewish votes. Kopel is hoping the candelabra will look like a Menorah (Although Kopel is Jewish, he is not practicing.)
Also note that there are three different brochures, each with a different picture below the headline "The Change We Need is Jerry Kopel." Kopel had the brochure with the picture of Regis Groff distributed in the Park Hill part of the district, the brochure showing Kopel at a luncheon with elderly people in the Windsor Gardens area, and the one with the picture of Barbara Holme distributed in the rest of the district.
One example of the effect outside advice had on Kopel is the contrast sheets of the Swalm and Kopel records (See exhibit group G). The first sheet, written by Kopel, is too technical, and deals with some issues not important in the district, such as high tuition at the University of Colorado. Despite the advice of Jean Goodwin, Jerry insisted on using the sheet, out of his strong hostility towards Swalm and desire for revenge. Goodwin eventually went ahead on her own and had the new sheet printed and convinced Jerry to use it. (See exhibit group H).
Besides improving the literature, Kopel picked up almost every one of Swalm’s 1976 tricks. No longer concerned about running a gimmicky campaign, Kopel, like Swalm, used telephone notepads, roof-mountable car signs, radio ads, and posters. Dolores Kopel and Jean Goodwin supervised efforts to have Kopel posters put up in as many places as possible; in 76, the posters had been given little attention. Unfortunately, the poster was produced in the early spring without much outside advice. Drab and uninteresting, it symbolized Kopel's previous campaigns-just too dignified.
Kopel benefitted greatly from outside advice in preparing the radio advertisements. Steve Keany, a friend of Jean Goodwin and station manager for a local radio station advised him. Keany persuaded Kopel not to use Kopel's original idea: a tape of Swalm on the floor of the legislature denouncing a program to provide dentures for poor elderly people as "creeping socialism." Instead, the radio ads focused on Kopel's accomplishments in the legislature. Keany also advised Kopel about the timing of the radio ads and on which station they should run.
One bit of bizarre advertising shows a danger of outside advice. Over
the summer, Kopel supporters bought ads mocking Swalm in “The Colorado
Statesman", the local bipartisan political paper.
SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Swalm and Kopel had both appealed to special interest groups in 1976, but in 78 Kopel stepped up his efforts. Both candidates had friends in the Jewish community write letters to other Jews asking for support. The mailing list of Rabbi Daniel Goldberger, a Kopel supporter, quadrupled from 300 to 1200 households for 1978. Kopel also had friends take out ads in "The Jewish News" with implied calls for religious solidarity. Kopel made sure people knew that he had persuaded the Denver Election commission not to end registration on Rosh Hashanah. (What he didn't tell anyone was that his wife, a Methodist, had noticed the scheduling problem.) Thanks to his targeting of the Jewish vote, Kopel won back some of the votes Swalm had taken away in 76. (See exhibit group J).
Kopel convinced several other of his supporters to send out at least five hundred letters apiece about him. Lea Robinson, for example, wrote to her neighbors in Windsor Gardens about Swalm's poor record on bills important to elderly people. Other supporters wrote to different groups, such as their friends or church congregation. (See exhibit group K)
Both Swalm and Kopel fought hard for the apartment dweller’s vote. Kopel also tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to encourage apartment dwellers to get out and vote. Swalm's poor record on tenant rights came back to haunt in November, but turnout from most apartment complexes was disappointingly low. (See exhibit group L).
Besides going door-to-door, Kopel made other successful public appearances. He participated in several "fun” affairs, such as a sing-along at Windsor Gardens so that people knew he was not overly serious. (See exhibit group M).
One of the highlights of the campaign was the Montclair debate. Every election year, the Montclair Community Organization sponsors a debate (actually a series of timed speeches) for all candidates. In 76, the turnout was small, and Kopel and Swalm both spoke off the cuff without any noticeable impact. In 78, however, Ralph Nordhauser, a Montclair resident and one of Kopel’s strategists, organized the debate. He told Kopel to expect a large turnout; over a thousand people filled the auditorium at Montclair school. Kopel volunteers were there early with Kopel literature and "I'm for Kopel-He Cares" buttons, which were quickly grabbed up. Swalm spoke first in his usual folksy style, philosophizing, "Sometimes I think it's good we don't get all the government we pay for." When he finished, he received moderate applause. Kopel had taken it easy that day and was fresh. He went to the podium and told the audience, "The only thing Paul Swalm and I have in common is tired feet." In a precisely timed speech that Goodwin and Munishor had made him rehearse to perfection, he detailed the differences between what Swalm had done in the legislature and what he would have done. The crowd gave him thunderous applause; Dolores called it the turning point of the campaign. Not only was Kopel successfully copying Swalm's campaign tactics, he was now one step ahead of Swalm. The Montclair debate was a microcosm of the entire campaign. Where Jerry Kopel had done everything himself last time and performed indifferently, he came in well prepared and blew Swalm away.
GERALD "JERRY" KOPEL
The campaign strategists made a major effort to repackage Gerald Kopel for the election. They believed that in the past he had come across as too cerebral, intense, and unapproachable (He is all three). Feeling that people wanted to vote for a nice guy who would do a good job, the mangers kept an eye on Kopel to make him more approachable. As detailed earlier, his performance door-to-door and at public functions improved greatly. For the first time his literature worked around a central theme- “Jerry Kopel Cares." The slogan was chosen after a great deal of thought about what image to project. The literature became more approachable and friendly to the uninformed voter. One person or another kept an eye on Jerry's image throughout the campaign. Jean Goodwin's effort to cut down Kopel's public antipathy to Swalm, as well as reduce the massive amount of literature he likes to hand out, are examples. Kopel had wanted to make a major issue of Swalm's subservience to suburban lobbyist Freda Poundstone. (The Denver Post had characterized Swalm's anti-Denver votes as "Profiles in Groveling.”) Kopel's advisors realized the public had little idea who Paul Swalm and Jerry Kopel were, much less Freda Poundstone and that the whole issue would be obscure. The advisors also had Kopel change the headline in his brochure "Part of your present state representative’s shameful record" to “Part of your present state representative’s sorry record."
The simplest example of the whole process came when the staff decided to hand out cards near the polling places on election day; the name the voters were given was the humanized Gerald "Jerry" Kopel. (See exhibit N).
WHY KOPEL WON
The differences in what the public saw of Kopel were a result of Kopel's improved organization. Kopel knew intellectually that he had to come across as more likeable, but he needed people like Goodwin reminding him about it every day. It was his campaign committee that persuaded him to make the race more than a brawl with Swalm, and made him focus on his own accomplishments, as well as Swalm's mistakes. It was the campaign committee that continuously revised the brochure until it was near perfect. It was Jean Goodwin who finally got Kopel to put out a better comparison sheet with Swalm, and kept Kopel from handing out four pieces of literature at every house. Almost every piece that did go out was checked by at least two people plus Jerry.
Ralph Nordhauser's help proved to be indispensible. His suggestion about the ads to "get” Swalm was useless, but he also came up with two valuable pieces of advice: having a campaign manager distinct from the candidate, and opening up a campaign headquarters in a shopping center. The campaign headquarters made volunteer organization easier, and contributed to the new sense of professionalism.
Nordhauser did have some worthless ideas that no-one else took seriously, such as his suggestion to ask the state party's geriatric old pros for advice.
Among the contributions of Jean Goodwin not mentioned earlier was her handling of the volunteer workers. She did a better job than Jerry had done of keeping the volunteers motivated for the whole campaign, possibly because of her more recent experience as a volunteer herself.
Jerry himself came up with several new ideas, such as the note pads and the car signs (Goodwin then took over the design and placement of the signs.) Just as Swalm's refusal to concede votes in 76 had helped him cut his losses in Park Hill and the Jewish areas, Jerry's new refusal to concede votes helped him cut losses in Windsor Gardens. As Kopel had done in the past, Goodwin viewed Windsor Gardens as hopeless, but Kopel kept drawing her attention back to it.
Despite the breakdowns of the new organizational and marketing strategies, they worked. From the impetus of Jean Goodwin and the rest of the campaign strategists, the Kopel campaign correctly perceived its audience for the first time. Jerry Kopel finally learned how to overcome his legal instincts; instead of trying to rationally prove to the voters that he would be a better state legislator, he worked at being the better candidate. He realized he was not proving something to a group of intelligent judges, but had to sell himself to a group whose political decision-making process was based on ignorance and lack of consideration.
Kopel's marketing technique shifted once he stopped overestimating his audience, but the change would not have been possible without the change in the organizational structure. The new structure gave Kopel outside advice that kept him from repeating his past mistakes, and took over enough administrative duties so that his effectiveness as a campaigner improved. Without Jean Goodwin and the others acting as a brake, Kopel would have tried to do everything himself. Running a bitter anti-Swalm campaign, he would have beaten no-one but himself.
FOR THE FUTURE
In 1980, Kopel should do what worked in 78, fine tune the rest, and be ready to innovate. He of course must continue to seek outside advice. He should expand his circle of advisors, because the potential for mistakes within the 78 group was too great.
Because Jean Goodwin will not run the campaign in 1980, Kopel must begin the search for an equally effective manager. Since none are presently in sight, Kopel must look especially hard. Kopel may have to allocate at least $3,000 of his 1980 budget to staff salary. At least 1,500 dollars of the 15,000 1978 budget was poorly spent; the rest of the money can be diverted from other expenses. Such an expenditure would be novel for a legislative campaign, but if it produces a competent, hard-working campaign manager, it will help Kopel's chances more than any advertising could.
Although Kopel should attempt to professionalize the top part of his 1980 staff, he must take care not to lose touch with the non-professionals and non-politicians. Kopel and his wife are both well-educated lawyers. Their intellectual strength and involvement in politics makes it harder for them to understand the concerns of the average voter. Thanks to Kopel's solicitation of outside advice in 78, his campaign focused on the important issues. In 76 he had tried to run on his record and define the issues. This time he and his advisors anticipated the issues the voters would care about and tailored the campaign around them. A comparison of the Kopel and Swalm campaigns shows both candidates touting their own records in the fight against inflation and big government.
The major breakdown in anticipation of the issues came in the Kopel camp's failure to deal with air pollution. Not until October did they realize its importance. The air pollution flyer was quickly done, and showed the effects of being a last minute effort.
Kopel must look even harder than he has for outside advice about voters' concerns. He should bring a few people with little experience in politics onto the advisory committee. The fresh point of view may lead to valuable suggestions; if not, he does not have to follow the suggestions.
Despite the increased organization, much of Kopel's strategy was hit
or miss. No-one could say for sure what the effect of the ads in “The
Colorado Statesman” or how much effect the radio ads had, or if the
comparison sheet with Swalm mattered, or many other things. Part of
the continuing effort to professionalize must
After the election, the state Democratic Committee asked Kopel for advice about how to beat an incumbent. One of the suggestions he gave was that the candidate must have a deep-rooted conviction of his opponent's wickedness. Kopel must learn to take a step back and gain some perspective on the situation. Kopel had always advocated a much stronger attack on Swalm than anyone else. He was vulnerable to silly suggestions about going after Swalm, such as the newspaper ads. Despite what Kopel feels, Swalm is not evil, just extremely conservative. Had Kopel not been restrained, he would have made a major issue out trivial point of Swalm's allegiance with Freda Poundstone. When 1980 arrives, Kppel will have to be careful not to come out swinging so hard at his opponent that he creates a backlash. After all, Tom Moen ran hard at Kopel in 1974, used smear sheets, and lost; Swalm never mentioned Kopel by name and won in 1976.
The only time Kopel should attack the opposition strongly is when dealing with an audience ready to listen, such as a crowd at a debate or special interest group, such as apartment dwellers or elderly people.
Immediately after the 1976 election Kopel explained his defeat in a newsletter to his supporters. He laid the blame at the doorstep of the Denver Democratic party, sinister business interests, and everyone but himself. By early 1978, he had looked at himself and his last campaign and seen flaws. Because he had the ability to admit past mistakes and accept help, he won in 1978. Kopel’s chances in 1980 will depend on how much he can bring himself to accept even more outside help.
Swalm ran against Kopel in 1980. The rubber match was hard-fought, and Kopel prevailed by a little more than a hundred votes. Swalm later ran for Denver City Council, easily crushed his opposition, and served several terms.
When the Republican-controlled state legislature redistricted the Colorado House of Representatives after the 1980 census, the Republicans decided that Kopel could not be beaten by a Republican; so they radically changed his district. His 1972-1980 had been evenly balanced between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. The new district was much more Democratic, with Kopel moved into the same district at as another incumbent Democrat. That Democrat decided not to challenge Kopel in a primary, and announced his candidacy for another office. The announcement prompted the Republicans to revise the district even further, putting Kopel into the district of incumbent Democratic Representative Jack McCroskey. McCroskey decided to leave the legislature, and run for the Board of Directors of the Regional Transportation District. McCroskey won that race, and was later re-elected. (Still later, McCroskey served as a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute.)
Kopel thus was left as the only incumbent in a heavily Democratic district. He still campaigned relentlessly, and easily won re-election in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1990. When he announced in 1992 that he would not run for re-election, his Campaign Treasurer from the 1988 and 1990 elections announced that she would run for the seat. Diana DeGette won that race in 1992, was re-elected in 1994, and then in 1996 was elected U.S. Representative from Denver. She continues to serve in that office.
Beginning in 1993, Kopel served as an advisor to the State House Democrats, and later the State Senate Democrats, explaining to them the meaning and effect of proposed bills. He also wrote a column for the Colorado Statesman, Colorado’s weekly political newspaper. Before Swalm passed away, Kopel wrote a column praising Swalm as a sincere and worthy adversary. One of Swalm’s children, Spencer Swalm, currently serves as a Colorado State Representative from Littleton, a suburb south of Denver.
In 1992, David Kopel (Jerry’s son) joined the Independence Institute as Research Director. The Independence Institute published several op-eds by Jerry Kopel (some of them co-authored with David), and several Issue Papers co-authored by them. Another of Paul Swalm’s children, Katherine Whitcomb, serves on the Board of Trustees of the Independence Institute.
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel