The candidate needed a catchy slogan for his television ad. Something about the community he wanted to represent and how he'd unite it.
For a few moments, pens floated listlessly over notepads as he and his campaign staff searched the ceiling for inspiration. Then one worker started scribbling furiously. She had it: "A Good Neighbor for a Good Neighborhood."
No, she decided. The phrasing could be more active, the region more broad.
"A Good Neighbor Committed to Good Neighborhoods."
Craig DeRan nodded and smiled, as his campaign worker reminded him to encourage people to vote for him.
Someday soon, DeRan may do that for real. But yesterday, the 35-year-old lawyer from Harford County, Md., was learning how to be a candidate only in case he decides to run for the House of Delegates.
The fictitious TV ad he starred in was part of a political boot camp held at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase that started Friday and ends today. Organized by Wellstone Action, the nonprofit group named for U.S. Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (Minn.), a well-regarded liberal Democrat who died in a plane crash three years ago, the event was open to candidates and activists of all political persuasions and was designed to help them learn the art of the campaign. And it came as the region heads into an election year.
About 160 people attended seminars on, among other things, making stump speeches, organizing voters, getting them to the polls, handling the media, fundraising and campaigning door-to-door.
"The point is to help equip progressively minded people to be able to be active in politics and public life," said Jeff Blodgett, Wellstone's former campaign manager.
Hugh Bailey of Gaithersburg, who is running for the Montgomery County Council, attended because he had never run for political office and had a lot to learn. During a lecture on field campaigning, he asked what he should do on Election Day. Should he knock on doors? Call supporters? Stop by the polls?
Blodgett said Election Day is a time for two main things: visibility in the community and pumping up supporters who should be canvassing precincts and getting people to the polls.
"If you or your team are getting much sleep during the get-out-the-vote sweep, you are not doing your job," Blodgett said.
During the seminar on TV ads, the participants split into five groups and had 30 minutes to develop a two-minute political ad.
DeRan was chosen to play the part of the candidate, while his teammates were his staff. Though he has never run for office, DeRan knew the commercial had to say something about the community and the issues it was facing. So it highlighted how he would fix traffic woes and school crowding. Then it featured DeRan asking viewers to get out Nov. 6 and vote for "a good neighbor for a good neighborhood."
He got the slogan slightly wrong. And the day he told people to vote was different from the day advertised on the campaign sign.
But he did remember to ask people to vote for him, which many of the other candidates forgot.
"A small but important point: You have to ask," Blodgett told the group, while praising DeRan.
Later, in an interview, DeRan said he was thinking about running because he wants "to serve as many people as possible." He touted his nonprofit work and his involvement in youth sports.
It was a decent answer but also a bit vague. What nonprofit groups? What youth sports?
Then again, the seminar on how to deal with the press wasn't until later that afternoon.