Preparing to run in 2015

Three months out from Election Day there are a lot of important things you need to be doing to win your race. There are also a lot of things that you'll be too late to start doing. This series focuses on the latter. 

Candidates often think through a fraction of what they should when deciding to run for office. The only question many candidates consider is: Do I want to be a City Councillor? 

That's an important question to think through, and it's also one of the easier questions to determine. There are several more questions that candidates ought to consider before choosing to run for office. Here are a few areas I recommend you think through before choosing to run. I'll go into more depth on each of them over the next two weeks, so check back if you're thinking about whether to run.

  1. Preparing to run in 2015. Introductory post. (12/2)
  2. Are you a good fit for your district? Determine whether you can win. (12/3)
  3. Why are you running? You'll need to develop a message and - if your campaign is a few years out - begin tailoring your resume to that message. (12/4)
  4. What is the context of the race? Who else will be on the ballot, and is the national mood favorable or unfavorable to you winning? (12/8)
  5. Are you ready for the hard work of campaigning? Determine how much time it will take to win, and whether you're willing to put that time in. (12/9)
  6. Who do you know? It's not who you know, it's who you get to know. You'll need to build coalitions of supporters. (12/11)
  7. How do you run a campaign? Familiarize yourself with campaign process. (12/14)
  8. Who is going to help you? Put your team together - you'll need a group of initial supporters who know a little something about the community and about political campaigns to be your 'inner circle' that you can rely on throughout the campaign. (12/15)
  9. How are you going to raise money? Begin thinking about fundraising - who will give to your campaign? How much time will you put into fundraising, and what are you not willing to do? (tip: if you won't make fundraising calls, you should probably forget about running for office) (12/16)
  10. What will the campaign look like? Write out a campaign plan - a plan that's not written down isn't a plan. (12/18)

One of the races I've worked on that - years later - still drives me nuts is a city council race from five years back. My candidate, Dave, was running against a long time incumbent who wasn't doing his job. We had a great message - Dave had a solid resume and relevant positions we could point to that contrasted really well with the lazy incumbent. 

Dave chose not to make fundraising calls, which was a mistake. But he committed to put $10,000 of his own money into the race, which was all we needed to send out a few mail pieces and have a great opportunity to win the race. So we had a decent chance to win despite the lack of fundraising.

Two months out from Election Day, we got a huge break. We'd been talking about the incumbent being lazy, and a local newspaper reporter finally took interest in the story. We showed him the evidence that the incumbent wasn't present at work, and he wrote a story about it. We came up with a few creative ways to get it in the news again, and before long every time the paper covered the race it led with some version of "is the incumbent even showing up to work, and does that matter?" 

We couldn't have asked for a better narrative for the race. The incumbent was barely campaigning, so we had little work to do to show people why Dave was the better candidate. 

As we began designing our mail pieces and putting together our target lists, Dave dropped the bomb. He hadn't budgeted what he needed to do the mail pieces, and he and his wife had decided not to spend the money. Game over.

Despite the news articles, the independent voters we wanted to target never saw a mail piece or any other ad talking about the incumbent's laziness. And we lost the race. 

Candidates don't always think through what it takes to win - because they just don't know what they don't know. It's one of the reasons I decided to put this series together, and why I'll cover both fundraising plans and the need to do a personal budget before deciding to run over the next few days. 

There are hundreds of things to think through when running for office, and first-time candidates rarely know where to start. Check out this blog over the next few days for more examples, and feel free to shoot me an email to ask about your campaign or check out how Campaign In A Box can help you win your race. 

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