How to Run for Political Office
Running for public office is something people do for many different reasons. Some candidates want to help their community. Others have one issue that really matters, while others want to enact broad, sweeping change. Some are individuals who shun their party (or have none at all), while others are party operatives who know how to best work the system. Whatever type of candidate you are, it is important to keep some of these tips in mind.
Figure Out the Best Office to Run For
A brand new candidate might not have much of a chance at winning a Governor’s race, and a sitting Congressman can probably aim higher than his local city council seat. Knowing what office to run for is a vital first step for your candidacy. To figure it out, think about why you are running. If you want to change the educational system for your kids, the local school board might be a great fit. If you are tired of potholes or noise complaints, city council might be perfect. If you know a lot about state issues such as transportation, healthcare or natural resources, your state legislature may hold the most promise. Depending on where you live, you may also want to talk with your local party chair and party activists to see where you are needed most and where you could avoid a primary race. You also need to check with your county or state clerk so you can fill out all the appropriate paperwork to run.
Forming Your Core Committees
Once you have decided on what to run for and which party (if any) you are going to run under, you need to take the first basic steps of campaigning. Two committees that should exist for virtually every campaign are a steering committee and a finance committee. A steering committee should include your significant other, your party chairperson, your best volunteers and your best friends who are going to support your campaign. A steering committee can delegate responsibilities such as planning fundraisers, figuring out a budget, recruiting volunteers and testing out different messages.
The finance committee should be comprised of many of the same people, but also of local donors who don’t have the time to volunteer but still have money. A finance committee should be made up of your “maxed out” donors, people who have given the largest legal campaign contribution, and the goal should be for each committee member to find 5-50 other friends, associates or family to also max out to your campaign. The finance committee should meet monthly to check progress and to schmooze with your donors and ask their advice on the campaign.
Picking Up the Phone and Asking for Money
This is every candidates least favorite part of campaigning: call time. Call time is when you go through your personal phone list, and then any additional donor lists that your party or previous office-holders have given you, and ask them for money. You need to be diligent and keep calling until they give you either a commitment or a solid “no.” You should send out letters explaining why you need money and when you need it by, and then you should call the people you sent letters to and follow up with a personal ask. Many candidates prefer to have volunteers or paid staff do their call time. This is not a good idea. Even the President makes phone calls asking for money, and on a smaller race people may feel snubbed if they get a call from a volunteer. However, you should use either paid staff of volunteers to help you with call time, use them to make notes, dial phones and send out thank you cards so that you can focus on making the calls.
Figure Out Your Message and Take it to the Voters
Once you have money and volunteer support, talk with your committees, find out what message you want to spread, and get it to the voters. Use a print shop (many parties have these resources) and get walk cards that you can spread door-to-door. If it is a bigger race, you can even mail correspondence that discusses your stance on issues to constituents you think might vote for you. And once you are close to election day, and you have knocked on doors and sent mail, go chase people you know are going to vote for you to the polls. This is one of the most important parts of the campaign that is often overlooked, if you don’t get your voters to the polls, all that hard work will be wasted.
Running for political office is no small task. It requires dedication, passion, and sacrifice. But it can be a very rewarding experience, and it is the all important first step for someone looking to start a political career. If you are interested in doing so, make sure you read our guide on becoming a politician.