Becoming a Political Candidate Is No Small Undertaking
Before any runner steps up to the starting blocks, there are months and months of preparation done to ensure they are ready. The same goes for a political candidate deciding to run for office. Here’s a self-assessment guide that’s a follow up to our e-book Are You Ready to Run for Office? and can help potential first-time candidates make a thoughtful decision.
We admire anyone who is willing to consider becoming a political candidate and running for public office. On one hand, it provides you an amazing opportunity to serve and make a difference in your community, state, or even country. On the other hand, it does have a substantial impact on your life and lives of the people close to you. Once you’ve decided you’re in, you should know why you’re running and start building out your lists.
- Are you sure you want to be an elected official? Public service is not for the faint of heart. In fact, some candidates say campaigning is easier than serving in public office. Try talking to those who have been in office and their families to make sure you and your family are willing to make the sacrifices public officials have to make before you run.
- Have you talked to your family and friends? You aren’t running alone. You need the support of your family and friends. Most of your fundraising and volunteers will come from your inner circle. If you don’t have their support and buy-in, you’re unlikely to find it from the wider public.
- Do you have a track record of achieving positive change in your community and/or throughout your career? A political candidate gets elected because voters think they will be a good advocate for them. For the most part, voters choose a political candidate that they think will get things done once elected. Make sure you have a plan to build or rebuild your public profile. Can you show that you get things done in your community?
- Do you have a support network? You should ensure that those closest to you—your family and friends—are in complete support of you. These people will be your first supporters, donors, volunteers, and reality checks to keep you grounded. Build a list of the people who can help you. You should also create a detailed assessment of how the people on your list can help you. This assessment will be the backbone of your campaign and fundraising plans.
- Have you done your politics? Talk to the leaders and activists in your community and your local political party. It should not be a surprise to these folks when you announce your run. In most cases, you will build your own organization, but you’ll need to rely, in part, on the existing establishment in order to move forward.
- Have you gone through a campaign training? Many groups conduct trainings that you and close members of your team should attend, ideally a couple of years before you run. They will teach you how to plan and prepare for a campaign.
- Do you have the time and capacity to run? You will need to make fundraising calls for 3-4 hours a day and knock on doors for 3-4 more hours. Canvassing and campaigning is not for the faint-hearted, and the middle of a serious campaign is not when you want to discover any health issues. There are also seemingly endless meet-and-greets, coffees, events, rallies, local fairs, debates, debate prep, and much more.
- Have you saved up money? Running is not just for the rich, however there are personal costs associated with running for public office, and once in office you will likely not be making as much money as you had in the past. Most campaigns take singular focus. Even in a down-ballot campaign, you will need to talk time off from your job. You will need to have a plan to take time off to campaign especially at the end of your race.
- Can you win? Don’t run for office if you don’t have a path to victory. Instead, wait for a different opportunity, or find another race where you’ll have better odds of winning. There is no point in wasting the time and money of your friends and family on a race you have no chance of winning. Winning should be thought through before launching a campaign. Have an understanding of what voters consider makes a political candidate qualified for this office. Make sure you take a good look at what your weaknesses are, not just your strengths. With proper planning, you may neutralize your weaknesses or turn them into strengths.
- What does the political landscape look like? Lastly, make sure that you are getting a full picture of what is happening, not just with your race but the whole election. What else is on the ballot? Is this a Presidential election with high expected turnout? Is it a special election in which turnout may be low? You will need to take all things into consideration when deciding to run and building your campaign.
Being an elected official can be a great opportunity and an amazing experience, but in order to get there you need to be elected first. So, make sure you know all the facts about yourself, your district, and what it will mean to be a political candidate.
So, do you think you’re ready to run?