Candidates Must Follow Logical Steps

Originally posted on and written by Holly Robichaud

This article originally appeared in Winning Campaigns Magazine.

Every year campaigns start earlier and earlier.  The 2006 mid-term elections were not even over and we had presidential candidates crisscrossing the country meeting potential voters and donors.  The 2008 elections have already seen causalities. 

Senator John Kerry has apparently ended his chances of a comeback with a “botched” joke.  Sen. Evan Bayh announced the end of his candidacy. Others will fall by the wayside after the exploratory committee route they start with shows the route is closed. So it is not premature for many to think about running for re-election to the office they seek to move from or, for some, to run for elective office for the first time. 

Campaigns in this modern age of electioneering have to start early due to the expense in running.  The earlier you start the more likely you are going to be able to raise the necessary funds to win. 

The first steps you take as a candidate are crucial.  The voters, press, party officials, volunteers, and donors will closely judge your initial candidacy.  Following is an initial list of steps for any candidate to take to kick-off their campaigns with momentum.

Step 1            Discuss it with your family.

You need to discuss your potential candidacy with your family.  If they are not on board, you will never win.  The impact of a campaign can be devastating on family life both financially and emotionally.  Once you throw your hat into the ring, your family will be living in a fishbowl.   Be prepared and have them prepared. 

Step 2            Can you afford to run?

When you run for office, your mind is no longer devoted to outside of politics efforts, including your job or your business.  If you are self-employed or a business-owner be certain you can afford the time away from your office financially.  You don’t want to be writing bad personal checks.  News like that travels quickly through the political world..

If you are an employee, you discuss your political ambitions and the time for campaigning with your employer.  Will they let you take a leave of absence?  Can you have the time off?  Will the paychecks continue? Hopefully, they will be supportive and even become major donors. 

Step 3            Make a good decision to run.

Here are a few questions to consider: Can you win?  Can you raise enough money?  Is this the year?  Is the incumbent vulnerable?  Can you devote the time to do this?  Analyze previous voting patterns.  Does the district vote Republican or Democrat?  Is there a large swing vote in the district?  How many votes will you need to win? 

Depending on the size of your race you may want to consider doing a poll.

A poll can tell you what issues are hot in the minds of the voters,  the biggest liability for your opponent, your potential negatives, and what voters you may be able to swing into your camp.

Time is the most valuable resource in a campaign.  Don’t waste too much of it making your decision to get in or stay out.  Candidates who wait too long to enter a race can often jeopardize valuable early support.  However, making the final decision to run does not mean you have to announce immediately.  It only means you need to get organized. 

Step 4            Update your resume.

Much of a campaign’s written material includes personal and professional data from the candidate’s background.  Therefore, you should update your resume.  It will make designing commercials, mail pieces, press packages, and other campaign literature much easier. Your resume must be completely accurate because the press will certainly scrutinize every detail.  Exaggerating your background will be a costly mistake. 

Step 5            Decide why you are running.

What is your rationale for seeking the office?  Does it make sense?  Can you make a difference?  How can you interest people in your campaign?

The best example of a candidate not knowing why he was running is Ted Kennedy when he decided to campaign for the presidency.  His campaign for President never got off the ground, because he failed to articulate why he was running.  Know your reasons for running. 

Step 6            Find the key team members

The first persons you need to join you on the campaign trail is a treasurer and a lawyer. Often they can be one and the same person.  But, this legal member must know or learn the campaign and finance laws.  Missing a filing deadline can be not only embarrassing but also illegal.  When can lawn signs be put up?  Do you need to collect signatures?  Is an ethics report required?  When can you raise money?  When are signatures due?  Not meeting all of the legal requirements can end a campaign before it has started.  How can you make laws if you don’t obey them?  Furthermore, you cannot start raising money until you can deposit it into the appropriate account.

Step 7            Raise seed money.

Now that you know the rules you can start asking for donations. It is a given fact that no campaign can sustain momentum without money.

This is one of the most important steps.  As it has been said over and over again –money is the mother’s milk of politics.  No campaign can get off the ground without the seed money to buy office supplies, signs,  bumper stickers, rent office space, etc.. 

You will be able to “test the waters” by raising funds.  The best way to raise the first dollars is to make direct solicitation calls to your friends, family, and business associates.  Candidates who cannot create a list of at least 100 people to call for money should probably not run.  You need friends and family to invest before strangers will.  Don’t count on PAC money in the early stages.  It comes much later in the campaign.

The amount of money you will need will depend on the size of your race.  For example, for the first reporting period a Congressional candidate should raise at least 6-figures to be competitive when an overall budget is expected to be over $1 million.

Step 8            Go to a campaign school.

Whether you are a first time candidate or have run before attend a campaign school.  Learn from experts on how to run a successful campaign and how to be a good candidate.  These courses will save you valuable time and money by preventing you from having to reinvent the wheel.  If you are starting your campaign early enough, you should have the time to attend.  Also when you hire a manager have him or her attend as well.

Step 9            Organize your Brain Trust.

Don’t operate in a vacuum.  You need a sounding board for your ideas and to troubleshoot potential problems.  This group will help keep you grounded and allow you to discuss options frankly.  They also tend to hear the “whisper” campaign.  This is your kitchen cabinet. Schedule regular meetings to update them on your progress.

Step 10           Hire the Right Manager.

Every campaign needs a manager.  A candidate who manages his or her own campaign will certainly lose.  There are two main responsibilities for a candidate; meeting voters and asking for money.  The manager handles almost everything else.  Choose someone that has lots of energy, able to organize, is determined, and has experience.  Be sure to check the manager’s references.

Step 11           Write a campaign plan.

Develop a plan starting with Election Day and planning backwards.  Make sure to include key components of a budget, fund raising plan, organizational chart, earned media strategy, and implementation timeline.  Set goals that are realistic. 

Step 12           Go for it!

Once you have made your decision, involved others, raised money and started your campaign, be determined to stay the course. Your opponent will comes out swinging against you, friends and family will be dismayed at some things that will be said about you and the road to victory will be filled with many unforeseen potholes, but victory at the end is sweet.

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