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Experts dish campaign advice for future political contestants

Before he had reached age 13, Roger Stone rode his bike to work on his first campaign -- the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.

"I went to the headquarters every day after school to lick envelopes, and boy, was I surprised when he lost. I had no idea he was going to get crushed," Stone said.

And, at the the urging of his mother at age 16, Jerry Skurnik first volunteered for Ted Weiss, the longtime New York congressman who came out on the losing end of a campaign in 1966.

"My mother knew I was interested in politics but knew I was too shy to go volunteer myself," Skurnik said. "We lost but I got the thought that I liked politics."

Stone, a celebrated political consultant who worked on several Republican presidential campaigns, and Skurnik, a partner in a leading political consulting firm in New York, were the star panelists of Candidate College, held Saturday in the YWCA on Grant Street in Buffalo.

Candidate College, designed to serve up information to those interested in running for public office, was held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offered expertise on how to be a winning candidate, fundraising, media and campaigning. The final panel discussion of the daylong event was "Lessons from the Pros."

Joining Stone and Skurnik as panelists were Carl Calabrese, who served as Erie County deputy county executive from 2000 to 2005, and Doug Forand, founding partner of Red House Strategies in Brooklyn.

The four told more than 50 gathered that not everyone is cut out to run for political office. And losing is nothing to be embarrassed about.

"To run for office, you need to not be afraid of losing," said Stone, who worked on the campaigns of presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. "If you can't take defeat, don't even do this."

Stone, like the other panelists, said that although candidates run to win, a loss can serve as a building block and a learning experience for the next race -- as long as you have the temperament for it.

"There's nothing wrong with running and losing, as long as you can handle it financially and psychologically," said Skurnik, who was the first paid employee for Ed Koch when he first ran for mayor of New York City in the 1970s.

Stone said he believes a successful candidate needs to be disciplined and an extrovert.

Candidates also must see their campaigns through to the end and remain bullheaded, the panelists said.

And no campaign will succeed without the use of the Internet and social media.

While it used to be important to get mentioned in media publications, candidates can now get information out cheaply and repeatedly via the Internet, which has recently become crucial for Stone, who is working on the presidential campaign of Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

Stone, who announced in February that he would become a member of the Libertarian Party, said he relies on the Internet because the pollsters and mainstream media continue to ignore the former governor of New Mexico, which he calls a mistake.

"I'm not arguing that he's going to win, but I am arguing that he's going to take enough state votes and a handful of states to determine who does win," Stone said.

Neither Stone nor Skurnik would predict who will win the 2012 presidential election.

It's far too early, they say.

email: jharris@buffnews.com