Political Campaign Strategy: Run a Campaign and Win
At any level, campaign fundamentals can mean the difference between building a winning or losing political campaign strategy. While much of this may seem like common sense (and it is), it's crucial to bear with me, as many of these essential aspects are often overlooked during campaign development. Essentially, a strong political campaign strategy (meaning, the overall plan to achieve an electoral victory) should rest on a foundation of some very basic building blocks and principles that will help carry you across the finish line.
Don’t run unless you have a chance to win. Running repeatedly is not a sound strategy when it comes to building name recognition or creating a road map to victory. "Oh, that person has run for office and lost nine times—they definitely seem like the right choice to solve my community's problems," said no one, EVER. In fact, the more times you run and lose, the less likely you are to win. Do the name recognition work in advance by building your credentials and credibility in your district. Before deciding to run, ask yourself, "Why do I want to run for office?" Take a hard look at what it takes to win (qualifications, political circumstances, fundraising metrics, etc.) and make an educated decision about whether there’s a real path to victory.
Have a good motivation to run. When you decide to run, the first thing everyone will ask you is “why are you running?” And what they mean is, what motivates you to jump into this race specifically? You should be able to answer this question clearly and succinctly, articulating your motivation, how it's connected to your community, and why you are the right candidate for this moment. Be sure to run for the right reasons. Don't run to help your insurance business or because you feel wronged by your opponent. Run because you have skills that can help your community achieve incredible things.
Know how many votes you need to win. Understanding the math and its impact on a particular race can mean the difference between running in the right race and wasting time on an unwinnable one. Vote goals don’t need to be overly complicated, but any political campaign worth its salt needs one. Creating a vote goal can save you a lot of time campaigning for a race that isn't the right fit. Your vote goal should undergird almost everything in your campaign plan, ensuring you spend your time, resources, and people power as effectively as possible.
Create a contrast. Politics is a comparative game. Any political campaign strategy should be predicated on a clear contrast between the candidate and anyone else in the field. You need to give voters a reason to choose you, and that reason should be woven throughout your campaign activities. If you don't offer voters a choice, they will assume all the candidates are the same and may not be motivated to cast a ballot. Give them the motivation to support you.
Approach your campaign with an equity and inclusion lens. This is not just about engaging voters from different backgrounds, although that's essential. It's about living our values as progressives and making equity and inclusion more than just transactional concepts. Beyond voter targeting and outreach plans, assess your entire campaign through an equity and inclusion lens. Think about hiring practices and who makes up your team, ensuring your preferences and requirements are clear and inclusive, avoiding accidental exclusion. Take the time to weave this into your campaign structure and strategy.
Know that asking people for things is part of a campaign. Candidates often express frustration with soliciting donations, endorsements, and support. However, if you're a candidate, asking people for things will be a significant part of your campaign activities. Embrace this reality early on, and your campaign will be better off.
Budget for a winning political campaign. Frequently, campaigns are surprised by the costs and the amount of money needed to run a successful campaign. Do your homework in advance to avoid surprises and make sure you have a viable plan to raise the necessary funds. Work with your team to get a real understanding of what a winning campaign will cost. Ensure your budget covers the expenses of executing your political campaign strategy effectively and getting you across the finish line.
Listen more than you talk. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the voters. Take the time to get to know the people you want to represent and what matters to them. You’re running to serve their interests and advocate for policies that will improve their lives—don't lose sight of that as you build your political campaign strategy.
A written plan is key. Write. It. Down. Seriously. Keep your campaign plan written down so that everyone involved knows where to find it and is committed to implementing it. A well-crafted campaign plan is your road map to victory. While it will evolve over time, having a written plan as a starting point ensures everyone on your campaign team is working toward the same goal with the same basic parameters in place.