Friday, August 12, 2016

Running a Campaign? Seven tips for Success

After the Democratic National Convention, a number of Bernie delegates decided to put their money where their mouth was, and get the political revolution going, by running for office themselves. Here are some tips for those of you who are in that category or any new candidate taking the plunge:

1. Be sure the office you are running for is the one for you. It's too late now, because for any office with an incumbent in it, today's the day to sign up. (If there's no candidate, you until the 16th to make that fateful decision.) Either way, you need to research the office. Is this the right one for you? Does the office match your skill set and interests? If you are a parent with small children, a school board seat may be more suited to you than the City Council, at least as a starting place. Running for County Supervisor or State Assembly member, takes a lot more know how and financial wherewithal, than a smaller office, such as community service district, sanitary district or water board. But serving in on of these small offices can equip you with the tools and understanding to move up in your next race.

2.  How much will this race cost and how will I raise the money needed? Look at past races. What have people paid to win these elections? Can you raise the money needed from your circle of family, friends, colleagues, political connections?  Start making a list of who you can go to first to get the early money needed, for the filing statement , for a handout that lists your main talking points and issues in the campaign. Look around for who has given before. You can get that information on the campaign financial statements on file at the local elections office, or at cal-access, the Secretary of State's financial disclosure section. You may be shocked to learn how much your particular race will cost. And remember, you will be spending a lot of time asking for money. Start practicing now.  It's the personal touch that counts, not so much a go fund me page. People want to hear from the candidate, to ask their questions and satisfy themselves you can do the job, before they commit their cold hard cash.

3.  Know the competition. Is there an incumbent? If so, make sure you can tell people why they should fire that person and hire you for the job instead. You must do your homework, and know why you are the better choice, and be able to convey that message in 30 seconds. That's your elevator speech. If there's no incumbent, your job just got easier, but if there is any opposition at all, make sure you can convince people you have what it takes to do the job you are asking them to vote for you to do. And do it better than the other guy.

4. How to answer that often asked question: "Why are you running for [this office]?" The question really being asked is "What can you do for me?" That's what the voters, and any potential endorsers and donors, want to know. It's not a matter of quid pro quo. You wouldn't want people to vote for you so you can do them favors. But how is your election going to make life better? Improve the school system? Keep water rates low and quality high? Keep County or City government accessible and listen to their concerns when meetings of public importance are held.

5. Seek out competent staff and volunteers. You will at the very least need someone to help you keep track of where you have to be when, who has donated, getting those thank you notes out in time, remembering names of voters and important people you are interacting with, and raising money.  Ideally you will have a Kitchen Cabinet, those experts who can keep you informed on issues that you will be asked about; someone to create your handouts and mail pieces; volunteers to walk precincts and make calls on your behalf. No matter how many great ideas you have for getting things done, you need to let the voters know, and this all costs money. Social media is great, but even that must be kept up to date and someone must ensure your email blasts and news is getting out to right people.
6. Engage the help of a campaign consultant, even if it's just a short workshop to make sure you have all your ducks in a row, you aren't reinventing the wheel when there are tried and true methodologies of running a campaign. My firm GreenDog Campaigns often holds workshops with candidates just to get them launched with the tools needed to be competitive. Ask others who have run before for referrals and suggestions.

7. Plan to spend the next three months in campaign immersion mode. Go to every event you can. Plan a kick-off. Start calling people for money and for endorsements. Get someone to set up a good website, have pictures taken of yourself, with family, with voters, in the environment. Get a good pair of walking shoes, and plan to eat a lot of pizza.  Good luck with your first campaign, and even if you don't win this time, if you lay a solid foundation, and make a credible showing, you'll be a good position for another run in the future. Good luck!

Some resources: Besides archives of this blog, there are a few online resources that have articles and tips for the new candidate. Try some of these:   

Down Ticket Dems
DYI Campaigns
Campaigns and Elections Magazine
Winning Elections Magazine