In 2016, Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota faced a strong challenge from multi-millionaire businessman Stewart Mills III, a rematch of the 2014 race that Nolan won by just 1.5%. With virtually endless personal resources to sink into the campaign, and the experience he gained from running in 2014 campaign, Mills was one of the toughest Republican challengers in the country.
Our goals for the direct mail campaign were to 1) reintroduce Nolan to voters in the expensive Minneapolis media market where we were unable to keep up with Mills’ spending, and 2) make the case that Mills had no idea about the challenges the middle class faced, disqualifying him with swing voters who would decide the election.
Early polling showed great enthusiasm for Donald Trump and antipathy for Hillary Clinton. Paid TV in the sprawling 8th Congressional district is expensive with roughly half the voters in the Minneapolis market and the other half in the efficient, but crowded Duluth market. This district is a place where direct mail would be critical if Nolan was going to return to Congress.
Persuadable voters in the Minneapolis media market who were less familiar with Nolan.
Persuadable voters on the Iron Range, the northern part of the district with unique local concerns and distrust of Washington
Possible Nolan defectors, a group of voters that modeling showed could move away from Nolan if delivered with negative attacks on him.
We began with positive flights highlighting Nolan’s deep connections to Northern Minnesota.
We introduced critiques of Mills, using his Facebook statements bragging about his wealth against him.
We layered in Mills’ openness to privatizing Social Security to illustrate that he was out of touch with the middle class.
We jumped on Mills’ support for an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement to make him unacceptable to Trump voters on the manufacturing-heavy Iron Range.
In the end, our mail plan reminded voters that Nolan understood the middle class while undercutting Mills’ blue-collar message. Nolan won by 2,200 (about 0.4%) votes in a district Trump won by 15%. We slowed the Republican wave in the exurban parts of the Minneapolis media market by just enough to pull off a victory – in some of our mailing areas we outperformed Clinton by over 20%. In the end, without our relentless mail program, Republican Stewart Mills III would be serving in Congress today.