First-Time Candidate? Get Critical

by Sophie Thurber (She/Her)

get critical

As a First-Time Candidate, You'll Need to Sort Facts from Wishful Thinking

As a first-time candidate, you’ll likely have a steep learning curve and a lot of information thrown your way.  Whether you’re still deciding if you want to toss your hat in the ring, or you’re just starting to get your campaign moving, it’s important to embark on this process with your eyes wide open.  Here are a few things you’re likely to hear that should cue you to take a beat and assess their accuracy.

  1. Fundraising is fundraising is fundraising.

Many a first-time candidate has learned the hard way that though they are powerhouses when it comes to raising money for charity, fundraising as a politician is a horse of a different color.  Fundraising for a political race is tough. It won’t be easy and it will take a significant amount of time and energy to achieve your goals.  Hiring a fundraiser can often be helpful, but it’s no silver bullet and it’s still more than likely that as the candidate, you’re going to have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting on this front.

  1. Independent expenditures are waiting to spend money for you.

Perhaps the biggest rule about political money is don’t count on it until it’s in your bank account.  You can certainly hope that an I.E. will materialize but your campaign plan should be formulated to exist independently of outside help.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best. What’s more, if you are not running in a high-profile race (and chances are, you’re not, despite what people may tell you), it’s generally unlikely that someone is going to spend their resources on an I.E.

  1. Endorsements will be forthcoming.

Endorsements are great, as they provide shorthand for informed voters about what you stand for and who stands with you. They also signify that reputable sources think you’re a viable candidate.  As a candidate, you’ll likely need to do a fair amount of reaching out to people in order to secure endorsements. It’s also important to be realistic – if you’re reaching across the aisle, that’s probably a tough sell.  If someone has supported your opponent in the past, chances are you’ll have to work pretty hard to move them in your direction.  Put together a list, make yourself a schedule for reaching out to people and organizations so that you have a complete plan, and know that you’re not going to get every single endorsement, and that’s OK.

  1. Endorsements will get you across the finish line.

As mentioned above, endorsements signify a few things about your candidacy. Endorsements are certainly an asset to your campaign, but they are not the sum total of your campaign and generally they won’t be what makes or breaks the election.  While it’s easy to get caught up in trying to secure notable supporters, your campaign plan should devote at least 70% of your resources to direct voter contact, and as a candidate, your focus should be on raising the resources required to make that plan a reality.

  1. Your inner circle is representative of voters.

Running for office, especially as a first-time candidate, is a scary business.  It’s important to have an inner circle that you trust and who will be there to support you through it all. That said, it’s easy to get caught up in the support and adulation that are likely to be thrown your way by those closest to you.  Don’t get swept up. Remember that there are still a lot of voters who you need to convince, and that running for office is never easy.

  1. You have to do X, Y and Z.

As a candidate, all sorts of people (including your inner circle) will come to you with ideas about what you HAVE to do in order to win.  It’s important to realize that there is no exact tactical formula for winning a campaign (though gathering as much money as you can is pretty much always a big help, no matter the circumstances). Campaigns are generally run with finite resources, which means you can’t do everything. It also means you need to make smart, sometimes difficult decisions about what you can and cannot do. Think carefully about who you need to contact and how best to do it (signs don’t vote!), and then develop a plan to cluster your resources so that where you do spend, you’re making an impact.

  1. All voices are valid and helpful.

In tandem with point 6, not everyone knows how to run a campaign. It’s that simple.  It’s more than likely that through the course of a campaign, you’ll hear from a few people who have strong, but misguided opinions about strategy. Obviously, you don’t want to alienate people who mean well and want to help, but you also don’t want to be in a position where time and resources are wasted. So come up with a plan for dealing with those situations in advance and think about ways you can effectively use their help without giving them access to the decision-making process.

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