There are over 500,000 elected officials in the USA. Now that you have decided you are ready to become one of them, how do you know which office to start your soon to be illustrious political career with? As with many things, start with the basics.
Do your research!
Once you discover the basics of who is already running for what office, there are a few more considerations. Since over 90% of incumbents are re-elected, choosing to run against a popular (or even semi-popular) incumbent may be a bit much for your first go. Running for an open seat, or against a new-comer may increase your chances of success. Don’t forget to check on the basic requirements of the office as well!
Next, it is all about the numbers. How many people vs. voters are in the area/district? How many of these voters must vote for you to win? Where are the boundary lines for this district and how many of your contacts lay within? What are the statistics of the district? How many party line voters? Tax brackets, age, gender affiliation and race also need to be considered.
Finally, make sure you can afford this race. Find out how much has been spent in the past to WIN. Simply ask yourself if you have it, and are you willing to raise it? Are there any restrictions on your money vs. donations vs. large gifts? All the information in this section can be easily discovered through your City Hall, local Board of Elections and Secretary of State’s Office.
Do you have support?
Now that you have researched your best opportunities, it is time to start reaching out. This is a great time to start talking with local leaders - business, civic and political. What topics are they talking about – what is important to them? Are you also passionate about these things?
Nothing will test your passion like gathering some people together to pitch the idea of a run. This Exploratory Committee should be made up not only of friends and family, but people that will be crucial and critical. As a potential candidate, you will want to hear it all. People should be prepared to ask tough questions that will allow you, the potential candidate, the opportunity to impress them, and for them to then express their enthusiasm for you. These people took time out of their day to attend and listen to what you had to say, so if they are hesitant or disagree, listen to that even more!
Don’t be afraid, before the gathering breaks up, to ask each person, “Do you think I should run?” and “Would you be willing to make a commitment to the campaign?”. Remember, you won’t just need financial assistance, you will need volunteers – and only about half of the people that say they will, will – life happens and things come up. Just don’t lowball the number of people you may need. Your volunteer base starts here and now
Now, it is time to widen your circle. Open that Rolodex (or for those under 40 – your Contacts app). It would be helpful right at the beginning to start a database to collect emails, volunteer opportunities, financial contributions, etc. Who are the top 50-100 people you need to reach out to first – make sure they are highlighted and you start either contacting them directly if you know them. If you don’t, who on your list can make that introduction? You need the influential people on your team early in the race.
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Do you have a message?
Finally, these people are going to want to know why they should support you – what is your message? During your investigation process and at your exploratory meetings, you learned what causes are important to the voters and what brings out your passion. Most importantly, these must correspond. They must be true to your core.
People do want to hear what you have to say, but they won’t give you long to say it. So, you will want to be prepared with your message so you can get it across in as little as 30 seconds. You will want to perfect delivering your message in 30 sec, 2 minutes and 10 minutes. During each of those versions, you will want to make sure you can point out the difference between you and your opponent.
Last thing on message – practice! You cannot practice enough! Record yourself and listen. Practice in front of a mirror, family and friends, your dog. Practice, Practice, Practice. You have to be used to saying the same thing over and over – with emotion. This is sometimes your only chance in front of a voter.
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Now that you have done your research, gathered support and finalized your message, it is time to file and make it official! Welcome to your new life as a political candidate.