EDMONTON - It’s a bright and early Tuesday morning.
A little too bright and a little too early for Chris Henderson.
“I’m a bit hungover,” he says disarmingly. “Mostly from lack of sleep.”
Don Iveson’s baby-faced, 31-year-old campaign manager found his room at the Matrix Hotel turned into an impromptu election night party suite. As he gingerly sips his morning chai, he looks more like an undergrad who’s pulled an all-nighter than the architect of one of Edmonton’s most stunning political victories.
Iveson won with almost 62 per cent of the vote in a six-way race, far outdistancing his nearest competitors, Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte. Iveson, says his manager, received more votes than any other mayoral candidate in Edmonton history.
Henderson still can’t quite believe it.
“When they say life takes you to weird places, this is what they mean.”
You could say Henderson and Iveson sowed their wild oats together. They met at Scona High School. Iveson was in Grade 12, Henderson in Grade 10. They became unlikely friends when they were both cast in Scona’s year play, Wild Oats.
“I was five feet tall back then. I grew 11 inches in Grade 11. And Don was as tall then as he is now. I was kind of the little kid, kicking around with big kids.”
Their friendship evolved through their University of Alberta days, where they were both immersed in campus politics. Together, they’d watch The West Wing and debate their own ideas for good government.
In 2007, Henderson, then 25, decided they should do more than talk. He convinced his 28-year-old buddy to run for council — with Henderson as his campaign manager.
“I said, ‘This would be an adventure!’ We didn’t have any kind of a playbook, so we had to write our own. People then said we ran a social media campaign. But really, we won by knocking more doors than anyone else.”
Six years later, they stuck to the same strategy.
First, they pored over the latest municipal census. When they saw how many young families had moved here, they made that group their target. They identified the 25 neighbourhoods with the highest number of children under 12, from Hollick-Kenyon in the northeast to Terwillegar Towne in the southwest. Iveson and his team knocked on those doors through the summer and fall. In the last four days of the campaign alone, they visited 85,000 doors.
They also created their ads to appeal to that key demographic, playing up not just Iveson’s positions on affordable housing and public transit, but his wife, music teacher and blogger Sarah Chan, and their kids, Dexter, 4, and Alice, 1. The centrepiece of their print campaign was the decision to buy the front and back pages of the free commuter paper, Metro, for an upbeat election day ad featuring a calculatedly irresistible picture of a chortling baby Alice, riding high on daddy’s shoulders.
There was lot of smart social media strategy, too, and not just on Twitter and Facebook. Instead of billboards, the campaign bid for Google ad space: on the last days of the campaign, every time someone Googled the words “Karen Leibovici” or “Kerry Diotte” or “Edmonton election,” they saw a Don Iveson ad above their search.
But no robocalls.
“Everything we did, we did with human beings.”
That disciplined, carefully timed mix of old and new strategies, delivered a stunning victory Monday night. But the self-effacing Henderson credits the campaign’s 400 active volunteers, and an inner cabinet of 45 core members, each of whom, he says, was essential to the win.
Patricia Misutka, who ran Stephen Mandel’s campaign in 2004, went on to serve as his highly respected chief of staff. Stephen Carter, who ran Premier Alison Redford’s leadership campaign, joined her staff — with less political success.
A consultant with Edmonton PR firm Calder Bateman, Henderson has only run three election campaigns — all for Iveson. He’s not sure whether he’d thrive as a political staffer — or as a “hired gun,” running campaigns where he didn’t feel a connection to the candidate.
“Don and I have a pretty good partnership,” he says. “I believe in Don intensely. Aside from his wife, I’m probably his biggest political fan.”
Right now, Henderson knows that Wednesday, he’s getting on a plane for Maui.
“My wife is looking forward to seeing me again.”
But he also knows that for his mayor-elect, the real challenge has just begun.
“Today is a big day for Don. Tomorrow, Edmontonians are going to be, like: ‘OK. Impress me.’ ”
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal