- Grooming. OK, let’s get it out of the way. All candidates need to pay attention to their personal image. Men with frayed shirts and food on their tie are no more appealing than women whose lipstick is smeared or hose is unraveling.
- The other extreme. Because women often feel they must be tough to make it through a campaign and be taken seriously, they sometimes go to the other extreme. Severe haircuts, button shirts and rigid posture. They won’t crack a smile for fear of seeming frivolous or seeming to trivialize important issues. Men can come off as arrogant or posturing and people tend to forgive them as long as they like their message, but women do have to walk a finer line.
3. Issues. Don’t go out of your way to look for “women’s issues,” but don’t shy away from them either. You may find that your primary issue, while important, is not the main one your constituents are talking about. Don’t be afraid to switch gears when need be. In a recent local representative seat race, the female candidate, a nurse practitioner, was focused like a laser on single payer health care; that was her passion and that got her into the race. But the main issue turned out to be protecting a large tract of open space land and wetlands. Her slogan “for our health, community and quality of life,” fit this new issue perfectly and allowed her to run with it while keeping access to health care on her list of top bullet points leading to a win and a second term without challengers.
4. Going negative. It’s still true that women are more reluctant than men to “go negative,” that is until their opponent does it first. A popular city council candidate feared being perceived as a word that rhymes with witch if she went after her opponent. That is until he attacked her for a minor inconsistency in her material. Then off came the gloves; his background working for developers was unmasked and she sailed to victory. It’s not negative if it’s true, relevant and fully documented.
- When women run against women. Increasingly, the races are between two women. This new trend makes for interesting campaigns. Women can still be “good ol’ boys” and when you are the underdog, a newcomer or a progressive taking on the system, you need to be prepared to point that out. If your opponent is someone you personally like, and it is just on some key issues that you differ (and you probably wouldn’t be in the race, if these issues were not very important to you), remember, a campaign is not personal. You can point out the reasons voters should vote for you and not her, without turning into a pit bull.
- Your opponent is the “good ol’ boy.” He’s taking you to task for inexperience, seizing on trivial inconsistencies or gaps in your resume. Don’t be afraid to point pout how you juggled home, family and your ambitious husband for those missing years, and all that volunteer work you’ve done? Tout it. Then use your best advisors to craft a message that shows you know policy and can deliver as well or better than the man.
- Raising money. This is something I have found women are reluctant to do. It’s an ego thing. That is, they often feel it is egotistical to ask for money for their own campaign. (Ironically, women make tremendous fundraisers for non-profit causes and even other candidates). They are running out a deep sense of altruism and wanting to make the world a better place for future generations. This is why groups like Emily’s List have popped up. Women often need some extra prodding, and training, to start raising the necessary funds to get elected. Remember if you can’t raise enough money to get your message to the voters, the best intentions won’t help you on election day.
- You’re the boss. I have found that women candidates hate to say no. When spouses, relatives and their hair stylist tell them what their message ought to be, they listen. And of course they should. But they also need to listen to their own conscience and the experienced advice of their campaign consultant. Men also have this problem, but they tend to pick out one or two self-described “experts” and demand their consultants take the advice offered.
- “When women run, women win.” (Slogan variously attributed to Emily’s List, National Women’s Political Caucus and Yale Women’s Campaigns school among others) Things have changed over the years. Many of the misconceptions about women’s chances at winning politics office are just that: misconceptions. Once true, perhaps, but as we see more women professionals generally, we will continue to see more women politicians. The sad thing is many women themselves have bought into these misconceptions, making the decision to run a more grueling one than it needs to be.
10. Your special positives as a woman. Stereotypes can help the woman candidate, in being seen as more compassionate, honest, even “liberal” in a time of corruption and lack of confidence in government generally. A Democratic woman taking on a Republican man has several built in advantages, if she knows how to use them. Again, raising money, not being afraid of “going negative” and emphasizing your real life experience, can all help a new comer to local politics.