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Bob Hertzberg's old-fashioned way to cut through campaign clutter

A hand-addressed letter? An old-school campaign tactic that actually worked

The state's primary election is less than two weeks away, and my mailbox is jammed with campaign mailers. They began trickling in last week and now I'm getting several each day, often from a single candidate.

They are all the same style: lots of photos of the candidate, standing with regular people, or sitting behind a desk looking serious, or posing beside another political figure. The mailers say the candidates will be watchdogs of government or fight to ensure that the San Fernando Valley, where I live, gets its fair share, or something like that. I admit, I've stopped reading them. The mailers go from the mailbox to the recycling bin.

So I was surprised recently when my mail included a standard white envelope with a Forever stamp, with my name and address written by hand. What's this all about, I thought? Inside was a typed letter from a fellow named Michael Bennett, who lives a few blocks away in Sherman Oaks.

"I'm writing to let you know about Bob Hertzberg, a good friend and a tremendous public servant, who is running to represent our neighborhood in the state Senate," the letter said.

I was surprised, and fairly impressed that this cleverly simple piece of campaign mail slipped through my political junk filter. I read the letter.

Turns out Hertzberg's campaign sent out 20,000 of these letters throughout the 18th state Senate District, which covers the East San Fernando Valley from Sherman Oaks north to Sylmar. The Democrat and former state assemblyman is running against a Republican, small-business owner Ricardo Antonio Benitez, and architect John P. "Jack" Lindblad of the Green Party.

Each of Hertzberg's volunteers wrote and mailed about 200 letters to registered voters in their neighborhood.

It's a new campaign tactic that's actually old-fashioned, said Jose Cornejo, Hertzberg's campaign strategist. Before there were slick mailers or television ads or email blasts, candidates relied more on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, neighbors and political backers.

Yes, Hertzberg, a former state assemblyman, has also sent out some slick mailers and some potholders, but the neighbor-to-neighbor letter can reach people in a way that the more typical campaign tool can't, Cornejo said.

"You're definitely going to open a letter that's addressed by hand," he said.

And he was right.

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