Sabrina's Election

In 2010, Sabrina was a candidate for San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner. She lost.

Two years later she ran again, but this time not only did Sabrina win, she got more votes for that office than anyone in history!

On Nov. 6, 2012, Sabrina was first elected to the San Mateo County Harbor Commission. Receiving the highest number of votes (120,656) of six candidates. She got over 25,000 more votes than two longtime incumbents in a landslide victory.

On Nov. 8, 2016, she was re-elected to the Harbor Commission. In another landslide victory she receiving the highest number of votes (156,292) of four candidates in the four-year election.

NOVEMBER, 2016 - VOTE FOR 3

  • Sabrina Brennan  156,292 *
  • Tom Mattusch  134,211 *
  • Virginia Chang Kiraly  128,148 *
  • Shawn Mooney  68,157

NOVEMBER, 2016 - VOTE FOR 1

  • Ed Larenas  175,054 *
  • Brian Rogers 48,456

November, 2012 - Vote for 3

  • Sabrina Brennan  120,654 *
  • Leo Padreddii  95,218 *
  • Pietro Parravano  88,887 *
  • Will Holsinger  82,738
  • Neil Merrilees  60,998
  • Brandon Kwan  29,743

NOVEMBER, 2010 - VOTE FOR 2

  • Robert Bernardo  79,008 *
  • James J. Tucker  70,865 *
  • Sabrina Brennan  61,222
  • William T. Klear  26,743

What made the difference?

Sabrina beat all three incumbents the second time, but could not win an open seat the first. There were no scandals. The power of incumbency just did not make a difference.

As the last contest at the bottom of the ballot, spending for all the candidates was minimal. Per vote, Sabrina spent about 8 cents. Harbor Commission is simply not a high stakes election.

Here in California, candidates can opt to place a short statement in the official election guidebook that is mailed to all the voters. The first time Sabrina ran, none of the candidates paid for these statements. But the next time, Sabrina drew $4,500 from her credit card to place 200 words in the little pamphlett. I'm quite convinced that this was the ticket. But all three incumbents also paid for these statements, so it was the content that made the difference.

Sabrina's Statement

A friend who understood a bit about voter psychology helped Sabrina write this:

I love the ocean. Surfing at the beach, sailing on the bay, eating fresh local seafood. These things make me passionate about our wonderful coast and marine environment. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I went to New Orleans to help. That's when I decided to run for Harbor Commissioner. We must protect our own shore, and I feel driven to do my part.

In 1998, I founded and currently manage a small company that partners with Oracle Team USA and the America's Cup. I've served on the Midcoast Community Council, advising the San Mateo County Supervisors. I also founded a Fitzgerald Marine Reserve watershed advocacy group and the Coastside Bicycle Coalition.

My track record as a fierce advocate has earned plenty of endorsements, including local experts and elected officials. The Daily Journal said, “Brennan rises to the top of the challenger pool. She is smart, well-researched and knowledgeable on district issues and brings a unique perspective as a young resident of Moss Beach.” (9/24/2010)

Please visit SabrinaBrennan.com for my endorsement list, money-saving plans, and Harbor District priorities. And call 650-479-5654 with any questions.

I'd be honored to have your vote. Thank you,

Sabrina

SabrinaBrennan.com

What's not in there?

Most candidates lead with issues, policy or their agenda. You'll notice almost none of that in Sabrina's precious 200 words. Harbors are a local economic engine, and our Comissioners control a budget of $8 million per year. But she makes no offer to boost the economy, nor does she pledge fiscal responsibility.

Most candidates promise to be a good public official in some way. Or they tout their community service. Again, that's not the point of Sabrina's statement.

This is the only hint of typical candidate promises:

Please visit www.SabrinaBrennan.com for my endorsement list, money-saving plans, and Harbor District priorities. And call 650-479-5654 with any questions.

Those few words say that Sabrina does indeed have an agenda and wants to save money. Any voter who cared about those details would have found them on her web site. Conveniently, the server logs tell us how many actually visited. Of 120,654 people who voted for Sabrina, no more than 4% visited the site. That's confirmation for me that issues, policy and agenda are not as important as most candidates believe.

So what topics are persuasive?

Six foundations for moral decision making

Our brains have two systems at work, an emotional side and a rational side. In his book, The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains the two parts with a metaphor of the elephant and rider:

“Our emotional side is the elephant and our rational side is the rider. Perched atop the elephant, the rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the rider's control is precarious because the rider is so small relative to the elephant. Anytime the six-ton elephant and the rider disagree about which direction to go, the rider is going to lose. He's completely overmatched.”

When writing a candidate's statement, you want to talk to the emotional part of the reader because whom to vote for is an intuitive, moral choice. For plenty of people, this decision is about gut feelings.

  • Motivation
  • Competence
  • Social proof
  • The “ask”

These are the topics in Sabrina's statement. In most cases, I'd recommend the same for yours and I'll discuss each topic in turn. Overall, you want to make a personal connection with the reader. Use the first-person voice and project humility.

Motivation

As you talk with voters as a candidate, you'll encounter one question repeatedly:

Why are you running?

The answer to this question should lead a candidate's statement. I discovered that in Simon Sinek's TED talk, and I'll let him explain why this comes first:

People are really cynical about politics. All candidates are supposedly in it for themselves. I found a way to counter that in Sabrina’s statement:

I love the ocean. Surfing at the beach, sailing on the bay, eating fresh local seafood. These things make me passionate about our wonderful coast and marine environment. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I went to New Orleans to help. That's when I decided to run for Harbor Commissioner. We must protect our own shore, and I feel driven to do my part.

Sabrina did indeed go to the Gulf in response to the oil spill. She and I tried several additional sentences about that event and her feelings on the matter, but I felt that merely mentioning the oil spill was enough. Rather than explaining everything, I wanted readers to fill in the blanks with their own emotions. Following that, I switch to first-person plural to include the reader in Sabrin’s motivation:

We must protect…

Instead of a politician consumed with ambition, hopefully Sabrina is now a citizen driven by duty.

Sabrina got an email or two from voters turned off by the melodrama, but far more email from people cheering her on. Most candidates will have a hard time finding such an emotional trigger, but I suspect it's better to err on the side of too much emotion than too little.

Great advice on behaviors that increase trust

Competence

Voting for a candidate is an act of trust, and trust depends on both character and competence. Opening the statement with your motivation is a way to address character. Competence, the second part, includes your capabilities and skills, as well as your track record and results.

So this section should summarize your resume in one paragraph. Make the case that your experience and skills qualify you to perform this particular job. Ideally, it should say that you are an expert in the field.

Have you served on a government body before? Can you read a financial statement, plan a budget and follow the law? Can you manage employees or negotiate with a union? What else demonstrates that you are capable and trustworthy?

In 1998, I founded and currently manage a small company that partners with Oracle Team USA and the America's Cup. I've served on the Midcoast Community Council, advising the San Mateo County Supervisors. I also founded a Fitzgerald Marine Reserve watershed advocacy group and the Coastside Bicycle Coalition.

Each candidate is described on the ballot with “Occupation:” followed by up to three words. Sabrina chose “Businesswoman / Marine Advocate”, so part of this resume substantiates those claims. In addition, Sabrina had served on several citizen advisory committees so we picked out one to highlight.

If you don't have such government experience, keep in mind that capable people are credible and inspire trust. Pick out some of your own accomplishments that indicate intelligence, discipline and hard work.

Social proof

The third topic, social proof, is a term from Dr. Robert Cialdini's book, Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion.

Six motivators that get people to do something

You've probably been in a hotel room where a little sign asked you to help with the hotel's conservation program:

Instead of having your towels washed everyday, let them dry on the rack and reuse them like at home.

What do you put on the sign to get people to do this? Back in the eighties, Dr. Cialdini conducted an experiment to find out. He tested four versions of the card in a hotel chain:

  • Do this for the environment
  • Do this for future generations
  • Do this to reduce costs and expenses

Each of these resulted in 20 to 30% success. The fourth version of the card said:

  • Do this because the majority of your fellow guests have done this

That one got 45% compliance. When we're unsure of how to behave, we look around to see what others are doing. For example, if you don't know which fork to use at a fancy dinner, watch the other diners.

Everybody knows who to vote for as President. But the lower the office, the less people know about it. For example, nobody knows what an assessor/recorder does, and they don't really want to find out. If someone they trust says, “vote for so and so”, that's often good enough.

Social proof is the reason campaigns collect and advertise endorsements. We put this wonderful quote in Sabrina's statement:

My track record as a fierce advocate has earned plenty of endorsements, including local experts and elected officials. The Daily Journal said, “Brennan rises to the top of the challenger pool. She is smart, well-researched and knowledgeable on district issues and brings a unique perspective as a young resident of Moss Beach.” (9/24/2010)

You probably do not have a press clipping like this. So pick out a respected authority that your voters will recognize, and get that person's endorsement. Ask him or her to give you a quote, or even better, write one yourself and ask your endorser to take credit for it.

When writing in first-person singular, your words as a candidate should be humble, even self-effacing. Your endorser's words are your opportunity to say how great you are.

If you’re short of space, you can squeeze social proof into very few words as in:

Endorsed by: Jackie Speier, U.S. Congress; Jerry Hill, State Assemblyman

The “ask”

When a person votes for you, he or she is doing you a favor. You must ask for this favor, and show gratitude. It is humbling to ask for a vote and the request makes you more human. Not to do it makes a candidate seem entitled or even arrogant.

Please visit www.SabrinaBrennan.com for my endorsement list, money-saving plans, and Harbor District priorities. And call 650-479-5654 with any questions.

I'd be honored to have your vote. Thank you,

/Sabrina/

www.SabrinaBrennan.com

Most candidates say they will listen to the voters. Rather than offering an typical politician’s promise, I like to offer a phone number instead. The one above is a Google voice number. That's a free service that lets you choose a new phone number and route it to any phone. You don't have to publish your real phone number and you can turn this one off after the election.

Your web address should help with name recognition. Make it simply your name, properly capitalized, with no extra words.