One of the first things you should consider when planning a run for Congress is eligibility. Look into all relevant state and federal regulations and make sure you and your campaign have taken care of all the necessary work before you turn your focus to strategy and finance.
Keep in mind that a lot of the regulations you’ve got to comply with are specific to the state you’re running in. Sure, there are federal forms that need to be filed, but those local and state regulations are key. Here are a few things to think about at the outset of your campaign:
What Kind of Candidate Are You?
You have a few approaches when it comes to the ballot. You can always run as a write-in candidate, but your chances of being elected will be slim to none. You could also run as an independent. However, independent candidates often face hurdles that being part of a political party can help you overcome. This brings us to your best chance of going on to win a seat in Congress: winning the nomination of a political party recognized by your state.
The Federal Requirements to Win a Seat in Congress
While each state has its own regulations, there are also rules established by the United States Constitution. The Constitution states an individual must be 25 years of age or older, be a resident of the state they are representing, and have been a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, to become a member of Congress. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the agency that regulations congressional candidates and tracks campaign financing. Federal law mandates that candidates for Congress file their statement of candidacy within 15 days of receiving financial contributions or making expenditures in excess of $5,000. The statement of candidacy is the sole federally mandated access requirement for a congressional candidate to be on the ballot. The rest of the access procedures to get on the ballot are on the state level.
The statement of candidacy authorizes the campaign committee to both raise money and spend those funds on behalf of the individual running for the seat. A statement of organization must be filed with the FEC 10 days or less after filing the candidacy statement.
Signatures and Fees
Congressional candidates are required to demonstrate support by collecting petition signatures and filing them. There are often registration fees, as well. The specific number of signatures and the fee amount required vary according to state. The parties in each state may have their own rules for eligibility as well. Independent candidates, minority party candidates, and major party candidates may be required to meet different benchmarks in terms of signatures and fees depending on the state. It’s important to make sure you know the rules that apply to your state.
Size up the Competition
Once you’ve sorted out ballot access and all the relevant regulations, you can start to think about your strategy forgetting elected to Congress. Having a platform and a message are a great starting point, but you should also do a comprehensive analysis of the competition. If you’re running against an established incumbent, make sure you have a thorough understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Most members of Congress have a track record. You can highlight weak points in your campaign materials and during any debates. You should apply this same approach to any other opponents you might face during the campaign. Understand who they are, what they’ve accomplished and how you stack up against them.
FEC records will give you a sense of how much money it takes to win the congressional seat you’re going after. Understanding how much money you need to raise will help you set targets, plan events and focus your efforts as you start soliciting donations.
As you prepare a strategy, differentiate yourself from the competition. Review the opponents’ records, evaluate their stances, and determine what sets you apart from your competitors.
Listen to the Constituents
As a member of Congress, you will represent the hardworking men and women of your state. You should never assume that you already understand what these constituents are looking for, even if you have lived in the state your entire life. Reaching out to voters, hearing them out, and making your pitch are extremely important. One key tool to making sure you reach all the voters you need is a voter file.
The voter file is a database that contains information about individuals in your district. A voter file normally provides you with people’s party identification, registration dates, as well as a history of which past elections they voted in. Aristotle’s maintains a nationwide voter file, with information to help you reach your target constituency, regardless of what state you live in.
You can use voter data to shape your campaign ads as well as your inbound marketing materials, such as your website, blog, and social media.
Round out Your Team and Start Raising Money
You can’t win a seat in Congress all by yourself. Winning election to Congress is a team effort. Add a campaign manager, a treasurer, and a team of volunteers to help manage your campaign and get the word out to voters. It will also help to have a marketing expert on your side to develop your message with both inbound and outbound marketing materials. Above all, your team and volunteers will help you raise the money you need to spread your message.
Take Advantage of Aristotle Campaign Solutions
If you are planning on running for Congress or have already started your campaign, Aristotle is here to help. Tap into the power of our campaign solutions and we’ll make it that much easier to win office. Our software and consulting solutions help those running for Congress as well as local government offices and beyond. In particular, our cloud Campaign Manager software will help you overcome compliance, accounting and fundraising challenges. Reach out to us today to learn more about our tech solutions for political campaigns.