This post is part of a ten-part series on preparing to run for local office. For the rest of the series, check out the links in the introductory post.
Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest candidates we've had in American Presidential politics. He had a clear vision about making American great again. He communicated that vision in a way that made him connect with voters. He told stories that illustrated his points well - and he knocked out an incumbent U.S. President with relative ease.
Yet if Reagan had run for Mayor of Seattle, he would have lost by 40 points. To win your election, you have to be a good fit for your district. And if you're considering a run for public office, you should take the time to determine whether you are a good fit.
Every election cycle, candidates with inferior resumes and ideas win because their views are more in line with the voters views.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran for President with the theme "in your heart, you know he's right." Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide because telling voters that "you know I'm right" doesn't mean a thing to them if their values aren't aligned with your values.
You may have a stellar resume, you may know everybody in town and may have ideas your city desperately needs - but if you're not a good fit for your district, you've lost before the campaign begins.
So, before you choose to run, take a look at your district and honestly evaluate whether you can win. Here are a few ways to research your district to determine how you fit:
1. Look at the current and past elected officials who have held that position.
What was their background? Who endorsed them? If every winning candidate for the position over the last twenty years has been endorsed by the local union and you have a "Scott Walker for President" bumper sticker on your car, you might not be a good fit for that district.
Also look at what kind of legislation those officials have introduced. Few councillors or legislators introduce ordinances or bills that aren't consistent with the views of their constituents.
2. Do a precinct analysis
Find a candidate whose views are similar to yours who ran in the past. Then get the precinct level results for that election from the county clerk. If your "similar candidate" consistently gets 40% of the vote or less in precincts - and doesn't offset that with 60% or more in other precincts - you're going to have a difficult time competing in that district. [Note: precinct analyses can be pretty technical - email me if you want some advice on how to do it]
3. Ask people in the know for an honest evaluation
Who is the most plugged in political person you know? He will generally have a decade or more of institutional knowledge about candidates who have run and how they fared. He can also add some context to what you've already learned by telling you how hard a particular candidate worked, or whether a specific incumbent is vulnerable.
4. Read the editorial page of the local newspaper
Editorial pages tend to tilt one way or the other, and they tend to reflect the city they're in. Your views don't have to be perfectly lined up with the editorial board, but know what they've been saying. Also look at the letters to the editor on hot button issues and the comments at the bottom of the page. Check out the news stories on issues your desired office deals with - can you tell what the tone of the writer is?
There are a lot of factors that go into who wins on Election Day. None of these should be seen as an absolute disqualification, but it's a good way to judge how well you fit your district. Feel free to contact me if you have some specific questions about your district and whether you'll be a good fit there.
If you would like to get more campaign tips, you can check out "Running for Office" magazine, subscribe to the blog or connect with me on twitter or LinkedIn. You can also get an campaign tips emailed to you once a week by signing up to to the right of this post.