Thinking of running for office and don’t know where to start? National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a Podcast (as part of NRP Life Kit) on what first time candidates need to know. They featured interviews with successful candidates and American Majority. The biggest mistake a candidate can make when running is not being prepared. Flying by the seat of your pants is very much NOT a recommended way to win! Here are seven tips from the Life Kit podcast:
- Caring wins. If you are passionate about people in your district and care deeply about your cause, people will follow you. Get out of your own way and realize you have a lot to offer. When people know you care about them and their concerns, they will vote for you. Get straight to the voter’s concerns, motivations, and sympathies.
What do you hope to achieve in the office you are running for? You’re asking for support, contributions, and votes – so what do you want to accomplish if elected? Again, this may take a few iterations, but think about it and jot down any and all ideas, what motivates you, your general vision for public service, and any specific fixes or programs you’ve come up with. The key is to think creatively but also find realistic solutions.
- Ask questions. Be a sponge for information from all sorts of people, people who’ve run before, people have done the job and people who know how the process works, and ask them for advice. Talk to former campaign volunteers, friendly elected officials, and retiring incumbents.
Also, do your research. Find out: what the past three election results for your race were; what the voter turnout percentage was for those; the most important issues in your race; the important issues you will have for your race; the number of registered voters in your district; what the expected base vote is, and what the persuadable index is.
- Build your network. When you meet interested people, be sure to get their contact information and follow up! Don’t assume they’ll be the first to reach out to you. Get to know them and their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest.
- Find your vote goal. To understand how many people you must touch (via phone, mail, or in person) before the election, you must figure out your overall vote goal and win number. You can do this by using American Majority’s Campaign Vote Goal Worksheet. Finding this number is crucial to planning your weekly campaign goals. For instance, if your overall vote goal is 6,500 votes, and you have 10 weeks before the election, you’ll need to hit 650 voters every week (if you plan on hitting them once) or 1,300 a week if you want to hit them twice by door. Now depending on whether you are in a very rural area or the suburbs, typically in suburbs, with the right lists and maps, a typical canvasser can hit 10-15 doors an hour. The right canvassing plan can win or lose your election.
- Put together a campaign team. These are people who know you but also know how to win an election, and tell them to never say no to help. Think of them as your very own political Special Forces, a group of activists who will charge up a hill, rain or shine.
You’ll need folks who will phone bank, go door-to-door, and recruit volunteers to do door-to-door work on the weekends. It is essential that you have a small group committed to winning your precinct as well because it is not simply about party governance—it’s about hard-wiring and winning your precinct for every election, local, state, or federal.
- Elections are won in person. The person to person, face to face conversation will humanize an issue and connect with a voter. Personal conversations about local issues and concerns, from the cost of trash pick up, road construction and closings, to schools and taxes, can have a huge impact on a person’s decision to get involved in their community and get out to vote. That single knock on their door builds a trust that many have lost and gives hope to the voter who may feel the issues we face today are out of their control and the powers that be aren’t listening. When your campaign is the caring face that listens to their concerns and really connects, you have a great chance of earning that person’s vote.
- Fundraise with a plan. Running for office doesn’t have to be expensive, nor does it require any special expertise. If you have a team of committed volunteers, a well developed platform, and a couple of meaningful stump speeches, you can win a local election. Even if you run a low-budget campaign, there will always be expenses like phone lines, palm cards, and gas. Bottom line: your campaign will always need some money, and it has to come from somewhere. The vast majority of people hate asking people for money—yet this is a crucial part of any candidate’s success. Fortunately, if you are a little bit apprehensive about asking people for money, you can overcome that fear.
Political fundraising has been around for a while. Ask candidates who have done an outstanding job at fundraising how they did it – don’t talk to the underachievers or the mediocre. Read a campaign fundraising book, research articles from experts, reach out to your state political party for guidance, and engage a campaign fundraising consultant if your budget allows. There’s nothing new under the sun, so find the knowledge already available and apply it your way.
Want to learn more of what you need to do? American Majority has a wealth of resources to help you. Request an in person campaign training or take an online course or webinar. See our list of current trainings. If you don’t see a training in your area, and you have a group who would like to have training, request an in-person training by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.