It’s kind of important that a candidate for office being thinking about and preparing for a campaign long before they actually jump into a race. A candidate who hasn’t prepared for the race before filing their candidacy is almost certainly going to lose. Key things that you have to do before running…
1. Establish a massive network. If you don’t have a extensive network of political activists, interest group operatives, party members, family, friends, coworkers and social media contacts, winning will be almost impossible for you. I personally don’t think I have a big enough network to run for office and I have over 4000 Facebook friends and 2000 Twitter followers. My personal network of people I can get on the phone is smaller than that. None of these is big enough to run for a significant office. If your network is smaller than mine, then you haven’t done enough work to be running. In certain circles and if you have enough money, you can be plugged into pre-existing networks, but they aren’t nearly as good as networks you establish on your own and have earned. Long before you run for office, you need to have a business card and social media profiles and you need to be constantly expanding them, gathering business cards from others and making as many serious connections as possible. You need to treat everyone you meet as someone that you will have to ask for money, volunteer hours and other important things because they all are. That’s the life of a candidate.
2. Consult with family and work. I’ve seen marriages break up over political campaigns. If your family isn’t fully on board with you running for office, you have a legit chance of not only losing the election, but alienating and possibly losing your family. Is it worth it? Similarly, how are you going survive financially while you are campaigning? If you can’t take significant time off from work, then you can’t win. If you think you can work a full-time job and do a good job as a candidate, you don’t understand campaigns.
3. Do your homework on the job you are running for and the district you are running in. I don’t mean, by this, that you should gather up a bunch of research in the few weeks before you declare and cram. I mean that you need to spend a significant amount of time — years even — to familiarize yourself with the community and the job you are running for. Effectively a campaign is a job interview and you aren’t likely to get the job if you don’t understand what it is. If you are running for county commissioner, you should regularly be attending the meetings, getting to know the issues, the people and the procedures that are relevant.
4. Establish a public presence in the community long before you decide to run. If you declare you are running for office and then you suddenly start showing up at community and activist events, people will see through it and think you are pandering to them, which you will be. You need to establish yourself as a person of interest in the community (or, more accurately, communities) that are relevant to public office long before you decide to run. You need to honestly participate in those communities and then they will support you. People don’t like being used, so don’t use them and don’t wait until you need them to offer them your service.
5. Do your homework on the issues that are important to the district. Again, I’m not saying campaign research here, I’m talking life research. You need to know what’s going on in the district — the issues, the history, the scandals, the players. Be certain that voters will know a lot of this stuff and if you don’t, they’ll think you aren’t serious and haven’t done your homework. Voters, generally speaking, what to know that you know more about what’s going on than they do. If not, why would they vote for you? If you are going to represent a district, you need to understand it from years of participation and study of that district.
6. Do some serious soul-searching on your values and issue stances. The most important thing for a candidate to win over a voter is that the voter trusts the values of the candidate. Even if they don’t agree with them, they will vote for someone who they feel the understand and know where that person stands. If you don’t know what your own values are, how can you expect voters to know? And you can’t take a list of issue stances and have that substitute for your values. You have to know what your values are, you have to have conviction in them and you have to be able to communicate those values to a variety of different people. If you can’t do this, you might as well not run, because it’s going to be hard for you to win.
It’s possible that you can win public office without doing any of these things, particularly if you have a lot of money. But most candidates, particularly early in their career, don’t have a lot of money. And, more importantly, why would you want to be in office if you didn’t care enough to do these things in advance. Grassroots candidates — who I guess I’m more addressing in these diaries — need to actually be a part of the grassroots, which isn’t something you can buy and it isn’t something you can do overnight.