Campaign Training: 7 Questions with Kelly Dietrich, NDTC

by The Campaign Workshop

A group of people in a room raising their hands.

Campaign Trainings: 7 Questions with Kelley Dietrich 

Kelly Dietrich is the founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee, the largest organization in the country singularly focused on providing free campaign training for Democratic candidates, staff, and local leaders. He’s spent more than twenty years in Democratic politics working campaigns all across the country at every level of government. His specialty is new campaign creation, strategy, and fundraising. After getting his start on a congressional campaign in Kansas in 1997, Kelly went on to work and advise dozens of candidates for U.S House, Senate, governor, mayor, and more.

Why should someone who’s thinking about running for office go through campaign training?

There are best practices for just about everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s neurosurgery or bagging groceries. There’s a reason we know to not put eggs at the bottom of the bag. Countless others have tried, experimented, and realized eggs are least likely to break at the top of the bag. 

The same is true for politics. Campaigning is a science. At NDTC, we’ve gathered the experts who have experimented, failed (often many times), and finally succeeded. We know what works and what doesn’t. 

In politics, you don't get a second chance to run your campaign. Your campaign can't afford to take time to figure everything out through experimentation. We've failed so you don't have to. Campaign training allows you to start following best practices from the start. 

How far in the planning process should a political hopeful be before registering for a campaign training?

It is never too early to start. Likewise, it's never too late to learn more and improve. That's why we have resources no matter where you are in the process. NDTC courses are designed to help you every step of the way. 

In our  So You Think You Want to Run course, we walk you through the early stages of your political life. Do you need help deciding to run? How do you talk to your family about running for office? What is the commitment like? We’ll help you answer these questions.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we also have courses for the week before Election Day. Do you need to make sure voters show up and vote? Our GOTV course is a perfect fit.

And then, for along the way, we have courses to support your political campaign fundraising, learn how to use important campaign tools like Votebuilder, and craft a message that resonates with voters and supporters.

It’s never too early to start, but it’s also better late than never.

What is the first thing a potential candidate should know before they decide to file to run for office?

It’s going to take A LOT of time.

Campaigns require a huge amount of work in a very short window. You’ll probably still have a full-time job during the campaign. You’ll have responsibilities with your family. You will need to spend every spare moment on your campaign, and it’ll feel like you’re working another job. There’s no way around it.

There are certainly a lot of training resources out there for people who are looking to run for office. How can folks determine which training is right for them?

Thankfully, there are quite a few really solid resources out there. This wasn’t the case just a few years ago. At NDTC, we are cooperative, not competitive. Other organizations have great programs, and we highly recommend them.

So, how do you figure out which training is right for you? You dive in. You have to do some research on your own. Which training speaks to you? Which met your goals? Be honest with yourself. If you find a new training, try it out and see if it’s right for you.

At NDTC, we know it’s a difficult process to figure out where to start. We developed a short survey to ask you about your campaign. Based on your answers, we give you our suggestions for what we believe is the best place for you to start. We’ll also suggest partners of ours who we think can help you, too.

The National Democratic Training Committee offers online trainings for potential Democratic candidates. How are online trainings and webinars changing the political landscape?

Just a few years ago, online trainings didn’t exist in politics. Unless you could afford expensive consultants, it was incredibly difficult to break into politics at any level. That wasn’t right, and it needed to be changed.

NDTC was built on the idea of empowering every Democrat, everywhere. Whether you’re a teacher in Oklahoma, a pipefitter in Georgia, or a salesperson in California, we want to help you. Online trainings give us the chance to do that. We can reach you wherever you are. We can reach you whenever you are available. And we can reach you no matter how much money you have.

Thanks to free, online trainings, politics is no longer exclusive to just those who can afford expensive political consultants. Online trainings make politics more accessible to everyone. If you’re willing to step up and run for office, we’ll have your back. Online trainings allow us to fulfill that promise.

What is the biggest challenge Democratic candidates will need to overcome in the next election cycle?

Every Democratic candidate is going to be asked about Trump. He’s going to command the news cycle. He’s going to be the centerpiece of the next election cycle.

The biggest challenge any down-ballot candidate will face is not letting Trump become the focal point of your election. If you’re running as a Democrat, everyone knows you probably don’t like Trump. You don’t need to spend time talking about it. Focus on what matters to your voters.

In a school board campaign, voters are not going to vote for you just because you posted a tweet on the absurdity of Trump’s desire to buy Greenland. They’re going to vote for you because you will work to get updated textbooks for the district.

Focus on local issues. Don’t let your campaign become distracted by the national news cycle.

You designed the DePaul University course “How to Get Elected.” What is the most important thing you tell students interested in campaigns or politics to do? What is the one thing you tell them to not do?

The best thing you can possibly do is volunteer.

Get experience working in and around campaigns. You’ll meet a lot of people and will learn more than you could in a classroom. When you enter the job market, nothing is going to be more valuable than any campaign experience you can bring to the table.

On the other side, I tell my students they shouldn’t feel as though they have to study political science. Political science is great if you want to study politics, but it doesn’t directly translate to campaign skills. Learn how to communicate. Learn how to manage people. Learn how to bring people together to work on a shared vision. There are a lot of majors that can teach you those things.

Bonus: What are some podcasts, books, or movie recommendations you have for those interested in the world of politics?

A common joke in politics is The West Wing is what government should be like, but Veep is what it's actually like. Either way, I recommend both of those shows. I'm also a big fan of Parks and Rec. 

Watching The War Room is my ritual for the night before Election Day. As for books, I recommend The Political Brain by Drew Westen. It’s a book I assign in class. But, the best thing you can do if you’re interested in politics, is to volunteer your time to work on a campaign.

Thank you Kelly Dietrich for answering our seven questions!