Case Study

Steve Mulroy for DA

Progressive law professor uses ThruText to unseat an 11-year Republican incumbent.


In an unrelenting 24-hour news cycle flanked by a heavy fistful of social media platforms with no shortage of hot takes, it can be easy to miss the stories that aren’t urgent or full of spectacle. Political advertising faces a similar issue — voters are routinely served a barrage of ads and mailers putting a “worst case scenario” on display.

How they respond to that is a great question, as engagement on mailers and TV ads is notoriously difficult to measure.

However, in a win for both progressives and P2P texting, a District Attorney campaign in Memphis, Tennessee, discovered that voters respond well to peer-to-peer conversations about the issues in a no-nonsense, compassionate manner. 


The Mulroy campaign faced a few challenges:

  • Turnout: The most populous county in Tennessee also has historically low voter turnout. There were additional factors this cycle that was set to ensure that trend continued in this election. The General Election for this county position was on a Thursday in August, a day and month in which Shelby County seldom holds elections. The County Election Commission had also changed or eliminated some polling locations, and the polling places of many voters had changed. There were no widespread efforts to communicate this. The campaign had to lay the groundwork for widespread voter education as a priority.
  • Volunteer Training & Engagement: While the diversity of the campaign’s volunteers and supporters was a critical component of its success, it can still pose a challenge to scale a county-wide voter contact operation when most of your volunteers have never sent a single text message using anything but their personal phones.
  • The Incumbent:  Defeating an incumbent is an empirically difficult thing to do in politics. Incumbents are traditionally higher profile than their challengers, have equity in their name recognition, and are constantly fundraising. Would-be challengers have to have a plan to scale affordably and sustainably to succeed.


We won’t bury the lede — Steve Mulroy won his election by 12 percentage points, defeating his Republican opponent 56-44. Even for a campaign that garnered national attention and had the support of coordinated campaigns across the country, this is an impressive victory for a progressive challenger. Here’s how they used ThruText to do it.


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Voter Identification

The campaign expanded its universe to include not only reliable Democratic voters but also swing voters and voters with a less-than-ideal partisanship score in VAN. In doing so, they were able to identify volunteer recruits, new donors, voters unlikely to support, and voters on the fence. Using ThruText’s two-way VAN sync, this became powerful data not only for the state party but also allowed the campaign to use ThruText’s Follow-Up Feature to take the appropriate next steps with volunteers and donors without launching an additional campaign. For the voters unlikely to support, they were marked as such using ThruText’s Survey Questions feature and removed from the campaign. The voters who seemed unsure of their choice were moved into a separate list and contacted by more experienced volunteers, staff, and even the candidate for more in-depth policy discussions to gain their support. Scaling their universe bigger from the beginning allowed them to quickly segment their audience, tailor their communications, and make the most efficient use of voters’ time and the campaign’s budget.

Voter Education

In addition to follow-up campaigns with voters to ensure they had the most up-to-date information on how to check registration status, polling location, and Early Voting dates, the campaign went a step further by contacting voters when a critical vote came before the County Commission that could impact election security.

While the candidate’s desire was only to make sure voters were aware of the situation and had the tools to make their voices heard, qualitative data from the campaign’s ThruText account shows that voters across the political spectrum exhibited increased trust in the candidate for communicating the issues using plain-language and agnostic of partisan rhetoric.


Fundraising is a tough job, but a campaign’s got to do it to keep the lights on — and it’s easier with ThruText. The Mulroy team was able to send follow-up texts to likely donors that included a secure link to donate, giving supporters the opportunity to send a few dollars over in about the same time as it took them to read the initial text. While call time for candidates remains a non-negotiable, it’s hard to beat reaching 5x the amount of potential donors in the same time it takes to call just a few.


Turn on the news or open a networking app, and you’re likely to see narratives about resistance to change, resistance to reform, and impending doom. There’s no value in glossing over the exigent times we live in — but when there are bright spots, when there’s a reason for hope, we should be equally as loud about that too. Criminal justice reform is winning in the voting booth, and change is coming, one text at a time.

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