Which 2016 candidate is the absolute worst ever, at email marketing?


U.S. President is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Between overseeing a $3.9 trillion budget and commanding the world’s largest military, the only thing harder than being moral leader of the free world is running an effective email marketing funnel.

First of all, several of the candidates currently in the race — who include Hillary Clinton, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul as of this writing— are unable to get their email messages past standard Gmail spam filters. Even Hillary Clinton, well-known for wily hacks as Secretary of State, cannot manage to send most of her campaign emails into my Primary tab. Instead, updates from John Podesta — former White House Chief of Staff, Georgetown Law professor and now Chairman of Hillary’s 2016 campaign— languish in Promotions with the likes of Jess at Contently, Rue La La and “yapta”, which is some company imploring me to explore Ohio.

You’re better than this, Podesta

Hillary is not the only offender in this category. GOP Candidate Ben Carson, neurosurgeon from Michigan, wants you to know that he can heal America the same way he has healed various congenital disorders.

But did no one tell him that image-laden emails, particularly when they lack a personal salutation, activate spam filters — rendering your beautifully formatted emails all but irrelevant in certain email systems?

Even worse, some emails — like from Mike Huckabee’s daughter, Sarah — are banished to my actual spam folder, where they mingle awkwardly with pill peddlers, Local Milfs and those phishing emails that pretend to be from WhatsApp.

In Spam, I also found emails from a Gmail account supposedly belonging to Rand Paul and sent through an email client called Paramount Communications, which sources other forms of conservative political spam attacking “The Homosexual Lobby” among other alleged syndicates.

Thanks for clarifying

I spent a few minutes puzzling over whether or not Rand’s was an official campaign email. Other than a misplaced apostrophe, it was properly written, and bore official campaign insignia at the signature. But why make it look spammy? Does anyone ever fall for the “Re: 2016” gambit?

Rand’s father Ron Paul, who owned a newsletter business in the 1980s, ran a campaign that was once linked to botnets based in Ukraine. The elder Paul’s email outreach was so aggressive that it eventually ran afoul of even his Reddit supporters.

Nonetheless, it is surprising that the heir of a direct-marketing empire can’t figure out how to reliably get his emails seen and read — only one message (from Chip Englander, Paul’s campaign manager) has made it to my Primary tab. One wonders if Rand is paying for the email sins of the father.

One solution to evading spam filters is to harvest the names of your supporters, then commanding your email client to insert the first name into the greeting. A personal salutation makes an email less likely to trigger a filter.

But sometimes this can backfire. Signing up for the email list of someone like Carly Fiorina shouldn’t feel like registering for a Macy’s card. Since Fiorina asked for my full name, zip code and phone number — unlike other candidates — I wondered why, and then clicked on her privacy policy.

Fiorina’s privacy policy. Check it out if you have a spare 4 hours.

Among other details, the policy allows their campaign to sell your personal information to whomever they want and to disclose your identity to third parties. I’m no lawyer — but since Fiorina’s main brag is having led a company known for wiretapping its Board of Directors, I made a split decision not to provide her campaign with my identity. Sorry, Carly.

Candidate with the strongest record on spam filtering so far? Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is 3 for 5 on emails going to Primary as of this writing! Certainly beats Hillary Clinton, who sends out emails at a much higher volume but few of which land in the right box. (And like Hillary herself, they reveal little.) Great job, Ted! That magna cum laude Harvard JD finally paid off.

Ted Cruz‘s resting face

Cruz’s problem is — all campaign emails are basically the same: They talk about what the candidate has been up to, feign outrage over the status quo, and then ask you to donate and share some stuff with all your friends. So with that in mind, subject lines — which induce people to click — are very important, and Cruz is the height of mediocrity at this particular task.

Ted: cool it with the exclamation points. We can tell that you radiate joy from every pore. But ending every subject line with a Shift+1 runs the risk of sounding desperate — as if you’re pretending that everything is totally fine! When you’re polling at 1% in South Carolina! And the only website that gives you favorable coverage is Newsmax!

Plus, it is better to be specific rather than generic in subject lines. When was the last time you clicked on an email advertising a general update on the week’s happenings? No one reads those.

Marco “this week’s picks” Rubio suffers from the same affliction. What kind of picks are we talking about? Are these interesting links hand-selected by Marco Rubio himself? Who signed off on this subject line? Maybe it was the same person who came up with the slogan “A New American Century” in the year 2015.

At least Bernie Sanders lets you know what form of media can you expect to find in an email. Granted, Sanders faces bigger problems in his candidacy — such as an anemic Twitter presence and the fact that he’s running against a Clinton— but let’s save that for another blog post.

However, each of the candidates could learn a thing or two from Mike Huckabee, who leads into his emails with a creepy visual of tiptoeing out to the woodshed, carefully sharpening an axe, and using it to hack the IRS into a pile of bloody stumps.

I’ll admit it — I clicked.

Huckabee also knows how to make money. Fox News host, author, and wielder of folksy charm, Huckabee has built a large following as an aw-shucks Arkansan who just wants to be President and/or sell you diabetes cures based on cinnamon.

1 Wierd Trick to ruin your chances of ever being President

It’s one thing to appear in an infomercial for a bogus “Diabetes reversal” system, but Huck is also known to rent out his email list to a company peddling a cancer cure “encoded in the Bible”. That company is called Health Sciences Institute, and below is the header image on their website:

In addition to working as a video spokesman with Barton Publishing (creator of various “natural remedies” for everything from bad breath to herpes, at $20 a pop), Huckabee sells space in his emails to a company that even Yahoo! Answers knows is a scam.

A few of HSI’s products

Like Health Science Institute, maybe Huckabee’s master plan is to frighten and/or confuse people into buying his message. After all, this is a candidate who includes a “print” option on his website for the call-to-action buttons. Granted, no one ever said the President needs to be a user experience whiz.

Print this handy reference sheet of the website buttons you can potentially click on

However, the next President should know how to reach his constituents. Are annoying junk emails the fireside chats of the modern age? Much like chowing down on a corn dog at Iowa state fair, maybe emails are a way for politicians to show they’re one with everyday Americans — every Local MILF, “John at the pill_store”, and Linkedin Influencer that you completely ignore most of the time. Or maybe Presidential candidates should just hire better interns.