LI Graduate Helps Jeff Flake Win U.S. Senate Seat in Arizona

December 18, 2012 | By Lauren Day

Winning a U.S. senate seat is no small feat. It takes integrating thoughtful strategy with hard work months before Election Day. 

Leadership Institute graduate Sam Stone has volunteered and worked on campaigns since he was 17 years old, and he’s not stopping now.  Sam works as the Arizona state director for FreedomWorks, an organization that recruits, educates, trains, and mobilizes millions of volunteer activists to fight for less government, lower taxes, and more freedom.

“FreedomWorks for America ran a statewide grassroots campaign in support of Jeff Flake for Senate. We set goals to make over 100,000 phone calls, knock on 200,000 doors, and distribute 15,000 signs,” Sam said.  “It's not glamorous stuff.  It just wins races. Every day, we organized teams of volunteers to go out there in the Arizona sun and grind out the win.” 

And “grind out the win” they did.

Republican Jeff Flake, having served in the lower chamber of Congress since 2001, will now return to Washington, D.C., but this time as a senator from Arizona.

When former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl retired, two candidates emerged to fill the vacancy: Jeff Flake and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who campaigned as an Independent. Flake brought home the victory in November with 49.7 percent of the vote, while Carmona carried 45.8 percent.

“Jeff Flake can save America. No, seriously,” Sam shared with the Leadership Institute. “Other than perhaps Paul Ryan, there is no greater advocate for limited government, fiscal sanity, and reduced spending than Jeff Flake. He led the fight against earmarks. He's one of the few congressmen who understand the risks of our ballooning national deficit. Ten years ago, Greece was in a very similar economic position to where we are today. Jeff Flake is exactly the kind of man we need in the Senate to change that trajectory.”

Long days are always the best, Sam said, because he loves to campaign and there’s much to do.

“One thing I've learned, though, is to take a little time each day for myself,” he said. “We've all seen campaigns filled with burned out operatives ‘Red Bull-ing’ their way through the day. Taking just a little time each day for me keeps me moving at full speed.” 

So, each morning he used the first hour or two to take care of personal things. He took walks, ran errands, and read.

During the day, he made calls, knocked on doors, organized and trained volunteers, staffed events, and distributed yard signs.

During the evenings without events, Sam said he used the “quiet time to focus on developing earned media opportunities, following up with all our vendors and suppliers, and strategic planning work -- making sure we're ready to act, not react, to whatever opportunities are available to us. And I never got enough sleep,” he then added with a smile, “That's what November 7th is for.”

Since age 17, Sam’s been a volunteer on campaigns, but five years ago his friend called and asked him to run his City Council campaign.

Sam responded, “I laughed. And hung up on him. He called me back. I ended up taking the job and my life changed forever.” 

Although the City Council race was unsuccessful, Sam was led to a new opportunity. 

“I was offered a job running a U.S. Congressional primary campaign, and I panicked,” Sam admitted. “I knew I didn't have the knowledge or skills to run that race. So I started asking around. Everyone I talked to said the same thing: go to the Leadership Institute. I took the one small check I'd gotten from the City Council race and booked my tickets. And I've never looked back.” 

In December 2009 Sam came to the Leadership Institute’s week-long Campaign Manager School. There, he learned from the expertise of 26 volunteer faculty along with 110 other attendees.

“The Leadership Institute brought in the best-of-the-best: real professionals who had run and won the big races,” Sam said. “Before LI, I was a social media infant. I had never given an interview or scheduled a press conference. I had organized volunteers, knocked on a lot of doors, made some calls, and written a bunch of press releases, but that was about it. I had no idea how to put those skills together, add the ones I needed, and turn the whole thing into a professional campaign.” 

Sam continued, “LI filled the holes and gave me the tools to match my strengths to the needs of the campaigns I've worked on. I took the models in my LI binder literally. I used the sample campaign plan the Leadership Institute gave me and pretty much just copied it. In fact, I stole every idea I could from the instructors at LI. Over time, I was able to start making my own additions and changes to the strategies I learned, but I would never have been able to do that without the foundation the Leadership Institute gave me.”

LI is offering the same campaign management training Sam took this February 4-7. Click here for more details and to register online.

“Just having that training from the Leadership Institute on my resume has opened a lot of doors,” Sam said. “Candidates and political organizations know that LI grads have the skills and training they need to be effective campaign staffers and managers from day one.”

“The professional contacts I made while I was at LI have paid off time and again over the last few years,” he continued. “I met and formed relationships with some of the best people in the business, relationships that have led to job opportunities, and given me the insights to find the right outside consultants when I need them.”

Please welcome Sam Stone as the LI’s Graduate of the Week.

“The Leadership Institute is the single best way for someone who wants to make a difference in electing conservatives to develop the skills and connections they'll need for a lifetime of effective advocacy,” Sam said. “LI will give you the tools; you have to put them to work.” 

To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate or faculty member to be featured as LI's spotlight of the week, please contact LI's External Affairs Officer Lauren Day, formerly Lauren Hart, at Lauren@LeadershipInstitute.org.