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Ten Questions to Ask Before You Run for Office

by Kenneth J. Drum

Too often local candidates have entered into campaigns where they failed to consider the difficulties of running. Campaign and Elections magazine has interviewed a number of political and media consultants on the subject. The article written by Dave Nyczepir and Shane D'Aprille sums up the consultants' responses into ten questions. Here are the questions with some commentary.

1. Is my family on Board?

You might want to think about putting your personal family life on stage. A candidate needs to count on their family, especially if the campaign heats up and a lot of time is spent away from the home campaigning. Also, campaigns can hit close to home. Negative campaigning is present in almost every election. Candidates need to consider what negatives the other side may raise and their impact upon family and friends.

2. Are my finances sound?

Every campaign needs money. Each candidate needs to assess the financial needs of their campaign. Running for office is not a job. It pays nothing. If you're the owner of a small business campaigning will take away time normally spent on earning a living. Support at home is crucial to staying in the campaign.

3. Do I have the stomach to ask for the cash?

Many qualified candidates lose elections because they are unwilling or uncomfortable asking people for money. As a result they become non-competitive. Normally a candidate starts by asking their family and friends first and then branches out. First time candidates running against an incumbent have the biggest challenge. Unless a campaign is funded by the candidate it will take many hours of work to raise enough money to be competitive. If you're not willing to spend the time and effort this might not be for you.

4. Do I have the stomach to go negative?

As a candidate in a competitive election you will be expected to draw a contrast between you and your opponent. If the campaign gets aggressive and you can't "approve this message" then maybe politics is not for you. You don't have to play dirty but if you don't define yourself and your opponent to the voters you can bet that your opponent will do it for you. Your opponent's message might throw you off your campaign plan. Before you become a candidate consider whether you have the stomach for contrast.

5. Do I understand my own values?

Every candidate must be able to express why they are running for office and why voters should vote for them. Voters are not as interested in credentials as they are in the values of a candidate. A candidate must be able to express them in language the voters understand and relate to.

6. Do I understand my constituency?

One of the major differences between large campaigns and small local elections is candidate visibility to the voters. Candidates in local elections often see their voters as they go about their daily life. It's not unusual for voters to see a local candidate in the grocery store, at a sporting event, at a PTO meeting, at a religious gathering or similar places. Local candidates are on display where voters can ask direct questions. Larger campaigns are more media driven and more removed from the electorate. Larger campaigns are more able to 'stage' their public contact.

7. Can I really win the support?

A candidate can never assume that any group of voters will support them. One of the worst things a candidate can do is to take their support for granted. Every candidate must run from a base. Solidifying a base of support should be one of the first objectives of a campaign. The campaign should project the number of votes it will take to win. The next step is to begin to identify supporters to reach that goal. The final step is getting them to the polls.

8. What if my opponent finds out about . . . .?

You can expect that everything in your public record will be unveiled to your friends, family and the general public. If you've been arrested for a DUI or other offense, have ever been late in paying taxes, hit with a restraining order or endured an acrimonious divorce proceeding it may become part of the campaign narrative in some form. If a candidate expects it will happen it is always better to get out in front of it rather than have it dragged out little by little during the campaign. If not responded to properly these issues tend to take on a life of their own which in the end will damage your candidacy.

9. Can I trust a campaign manager?

Be honest with yourself about how you work best and the types of people you're most comfortable around. It's not always best to have a friend or relative run your campaign. A good campaign manager will tell the candidate to the best of their ability what they think. Close friends or relatives might avoid saying things that might make the candidate feel uncomfortable. Above all, a candidate needs to know the campaign manager has their best interest at heart, won't get them into trouble and can effectively manage volunteers and vendors while remaining an advocate.

10. Is the timing right?

Plenty of candidates who look good on paper lose by choosing the wrong time to run. At a particular moment a district's demographics, politics within a party, or opponent's approval ratings might not work in a candidate's favor. In that instance it might be better to wait until next time. In politics losses do matter. However, if a challenger loses by a close margin it may improve their chances the next time if the circumstances remain mostly unchanged. Incumbents win election about 85% of the time. The electorate usually has to have a good reason to remove an incumbent. Unless a challenger can show the electorate that they are a better alternative than the incumbent they will lose. A challenger has a better chance running for an open seat.

QUESTION: Campaigns usually have a kickoff rally.  What are some suggestions to consider?

Some good thoughts by others about campaign announcement events...

This is a kick-off rally, not a policy speech. Don’t bore the crowd with details. Instead, give them a motivational talk, like a coach to his or her players before the biggest game of the year. Tell the crowd why you are running, and why you know you are going to win. Get the crowd excited about your campaign.

While your campaign kickoff may not be the single most important event in your campaign, it will set the tone for your candidacy in a variety of important ways.

A campaign kickoff announcement should be done well if it is going to be done at all. Many candidates simply file for office and send out a one-page press release announcing their candidacy and why they believe they are the best person for the job. Although this approach may conserve resources, it deprives a candidate of the benefits of staging a media event.

If you plan to publicly announce your candidacy, then you should do it right. Although your campaign kickoff may not be the single most important event in your campaign, it will set the tone for your candidacy.

A campaign kickoff should fulfill the following set of objectives

It should send a clear message to the media and political insiders that you are serious about running a professional campaign. This will go a long way toward convincing these audiences that you are a viable candidate and help attract vital contributions and media attention. Generally, people like to support winners, and it helps to look like one.

Points to make: (in no particular order)

• I've decided to seek election (or re-election) as your commissioner
• Over the past several months I have been encouraged by the number of supporters that have encouraged me to stand for election
• This district needs a voice that listens to voters (cite several projects that need attention)
• Commission needs a steady hand in these times of uncertainty
• Negative political climate causes distrust and confusion in the minds of voters
• "Bad things happen when good people do nothing"
• My campaign will be positive and I will take the high road
• I will respond vigorously to untruthful negative attacks

This article was reprinted with permission of Kenneth J. Drum & Associates, 8404 Mallow Lane, Naples, FL 34113. Copyright 2013. Kenneth J. Drum & Associates. All Rights Reserved. For more information about the author go to: http://kendrum.com/

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