- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - It is not uncommon for John Pudner to work 18 hours during an average day_mostly from his home in Auburn_writing up political campaign plans for politicians and analyzing data.

However, it is this environment where Pudner seems to thrive, gathering statistics and using them to positive results through Concentric Direct, a firm he founded that does strategy work for political campaigns across the country and statistics work for sports teams.

“When I was doing campaigns in my first few years, I used to leave the office at 1 a.m. and I would always drive past the opponent’s headquarters to see if their lights were still on. If they were still on, I would turn around and drive back,” Pudner said. “They may be smarter than me, but they’re not going to outwork me.”

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Pudner excelled in math and statistics early on and initially studied to be a journalist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. His predilection for numbers was put on display one day during a math test in a journalism class, which he completed in seven minutes.

“When I came back, I found out that no one had finished the test,” Pudner said.

While working as a journalist in Virginia, Pudner realized a longtime dream to go into politics when he was offered a job as chief legislative aide for then-Virginia House Delegate George Allen in 1988. Allen later became a U.S. senator.

“My wife was a little shocked that I took the job, which meant I went from $13,000 per year to $10,000 per year,” Pudner said. “She thought I was a little crazy.”

Most recently, Pudner worked on Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District campaign for Tea Party candidate David Brat, who garnered over 55 percent of the vote and defeated seven-term incumbent Eric Cantor, who had a bigger campaign budget and was better known on the national political scene. Pudner said that issues aside, the key to Brat’s victory was gathering what the public in that district thought of Washington.

“People were feeling like the guys in D.C. are in it for themselves,” Pudner said. “That’s what we played toward and what we got out there.”

In fact, it was Pudner who encouraged Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, to run for office.

“When I asked him to run in December, I just felt like we had to have an economist in there because generally, you get someone in if he’s viewed as a Tea Party candidate and just taking shots at someone in there, they won’t have the credibility,” Pudner said.

Regarding his own political strategy, Pudner said he has always been focused foremost on grassroots campaigns.

“I feel like we pay all this money for research, but it seems you get a lot of research just knocking on several hundred doors for a few days,” Pudner said.

Pudner also said political strategy has come a long way in becoming more concerned with raw data and statistics in recent years.

“The biggest difference 20 years ago was that they wanted your intuition,” Pudner said. “People wanted to hire you to figure out ‘what do you think will make people want to vote for me.’”

In fact, Pudner remembers when people began to use more statistical analysis for political functions. In 2003, Pudner was working on a campaign to defeat the referendum vote on Alabama Amendment 1, a tax package by then Gov. Bob Riley to lessen taxes on the poor, but was argued as raising taxes on businesses and families. Leading up to the vote, Pudner and his team began using automated voice message systems to call people and collect data. The referendum was eventually defeated.

“Out of a million people, I think half were giving their opinion,” Pudner said. “Now, you might get maybe 20 percent answering one question.”

Although he is far removed from his initial career as a journalist, Pudner still credits his training for what he does now as a political consultant.

“The whole thing in journalism is about ‘How can I make the information understandable to all my readers, even if this isn’t their area of expertise,’” Pudner said. “I think there’s a lot of that on knocking on doors because you’re disseminating information, you’re trying to simplify why you like this candidate.”

Pudner said that numbers aside, politics should be about people and that from everywhere he has gone, most people are the same.

“There are political parties, but most people are worried about their lives and what is going on,” Pudner said. “It’s really not that different of an experience from upstate New York or Oklahoma or Alabama.”

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Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/

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