Case Study: LAUSD3 - Overcoming a 2:1 Spending Deficit


The Problem

Following a poorer-than-expected showing for 3rd District LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan in the March 3 primary election, a discussion began of whether or not it would be possible to unseat the longtime Teachers Union foe and Charter School proponent from a district that encompasses most of the western and northern portions of the San Fernando Valley. Regardless of the outcome of those discussions, one thing was clear from the start – removing Galatzan from office would be a hurdle unlike any political battle the teachers had taken on in decades. In 2007, teachers spent over $1.7 million dollars to stop Galatzan from reaching the board, and finished with just over 40 percent of the vote. In 2011 Galatzan ran virtually unopposed.

2015 was shaping up to be not unlike any other cycle. Scott Schmerelson, who after raising just over $25,000 to his campaign in the primary, managed to muster 20 percent of the vote and advance to the runoff election against Galatzan in May, leaving behind a field of 4 other relatively unknown and underfunded candidates. Despite total lack of name recognition, campaign infrastructure or a fundraising apparatus, Schmerelson was liked by teachers in the district. A former school principal, he had built a reputation as a pragmatic problem solver and was known for working well with his teachers and his students. Schmerelson’s biggest obstacle, however, was that he was a registered Republican running against an incumbent Democrat in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2:1.

In the face of fierce opposition from the deep pockets of charter school advocates, an unknown and poorly funded candidate, and a much larger looming battle next door in the 5th District, UTLA nevertheless decided that if there would ever be a time to take out Galatzan, now was it, and Schmerelson fit their bill of a candidate worth backing.

The Solution

After assessing the lay of the land, Zero Week Solutions developed a 2 part strategy for taking on Galatzan – 1. Get out early and let Democrats know that Galatzan is not their friend, and 2. Spread awareness to Republicans that they finally had a viable option for election one of their own to the School Board. By piecing together the Republican voting bloc in the district, and peeling off the left flank of the Democratic base, Schmerelson would be able to knit together just enough votes to surpass 50 percent by the May 19 election.

On top of earning fiery opposition from Teachers Unions, Galatzan had also failed to secure the endorsement from the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, despite being a Democrat in a 2 way race versus a Republican. Her strategy would be to turn the race into a Democrat vs. Republican. Schmerelson’s only path to victory was to prevent that from happening.

Zero Week Solutions put together an initial canvass program hitting 30,000 doors in 2 weeks with one simple message – Tamar Galatzan is not one of us. Not only has she run schools in her district into the ground, and wasted over a billion dollars on the failed iPad program, but she has not received support from Democrats and Progressives in the Valley. This program would be unlike any other before it. Canvassers would go door-to-door delivering a negative message as part of an awareness campaign to shed light on Galatzan’s vulnerabilities before she had a chance to define the race, and herself, to the electorate. The strategy paid off, as voters were not only receptive to the message, but most were hearing Galatzan’s name for the first time.

Following the two-week public awareness campaign to likely Democratic voters in the district, the strategy shifted to the second phase – massive person-to-person contact with Republican voters. In many ways, this phase of the program would prove more challenging. Zero Week Solutions put together a large canvass and phones program, sending up to 40 walkers out on the doors and 20 callers on the phones every single day. Their path would not be easy – canvassers needed to convince Republicans that Schmerelson, a candidate backed by Teachers Unions, was both a respectable and viable candidate, and one worth turning out for in an election that was expecting to see turnout hovering around 10 percent. Once again, however, canvassers were met with open ears and a receptive electorate. The plan seemed to be working.

As the weeks went by, more and more voters were met by ZWS canvassers at their doors and our callers on their phones. Momentum seemed to be gathering for Schmerelson’s campaign. However, as polling came back, an obstacle had presented itself. While Schmerelson’s support had been gaining, and our message was clearly working, the pace at which he was picking up votes would not be fast enough to reach 50 percent by Election Day. However, with a large number of undecided voters remaining, the race was going to come down to one thing: which candidate would be able to reach them first. Schmerelson would have to win nearly two thirds of remaining undecided voters in order to capture victory. The final weeks of the race would be a pure, clean, race to the finish line.

Zero Week Solutions integrated polling data with daily field metrics and developed a regression analysis to determine exactly where Schmerelson would finish if things continued to move at the current trend, and what would need to be added or adjusted in order to finish over 50 percent. The solution was to divert resources from doors and reallocate them to phones, thus substantially increasing the number of voters being contacted each day. Less than 2 weeks out from Election Day, the size of the phones program was doubled overnight and the phone message was driven home to uncontacted and undecided voters day after day. By Election Day, Zero Week Solutions was having real, person-to-person conversations with over 4,000 targeted voters each day. With only 36,000 voters expected to cast a ballot, Zero Week Solutions was blanketing the electorate in a way that the opposition was not capable of competing with, despite a heavy financial advantage.

The Outcome

The result on Election Night was decisive. Tamar Galatzan, a two-term incumbent who had received endorsements from nearly every local elected official and newspaper in the city, wad defeated by the political newcomer Scott Schmerelson. Despite outspending him by a nearly 2:1 margin, the strategy put forth by Zero Week Solutions to deliver a single, focused message in the field early and carry through Election Day had broken through the onslaught of direct mail and advertising by Galatzan’s allies. Schmerelson won the election handily, receiving nearly 55 percent of the vote, and ensuring Teacher’s maintained a majority of votes on the LAUSD School Board for the next five years.