What is the context of the race?

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

You need to consider the external factors that affect Election Night before determining whether to run.

In the 2014 midterms, the maligned popularity of the President was an external factor that had a major impact on the elections.

The President's popularity was an important piece of the context of the race. The context of the race can hurt of help your candidacy - and it can be easy to predict or impossible to foresee. 

Alison Lundergan Grimes was the Democratic candidate for Senate in Kentucky this year. She ran against incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell. Had Grimes known when she kicked off her campaign that 16 months later President Obama would have a 30% approval rating in Kentucky, she may have reconsidered running.

That's why an honest evaluation of the external factors impacting your race are so important to consider. The climate in 2015 may be the best opportunity you'll ever get to run - or it might be the worst. Either way, it's important to know before deciding to run. 

Which environmental factors should you consider when determining whether to run? Here are a few:

How popular is the top of the ticket, and is that relevant to your race? If you're in a partisan race, no matter how local it is, the popularity of the President and of the Governor does matter. People will decide how to vote in your race based on their opinion of Governor. Many of them will even decide whether to vote based on that opinion. The 2014 midterms hinged in part on democrats getting their base to turn out when, even among democrats, the President's popularity was low. 

What else is on the ballot? You should know whether there's a Presidential, Gubernatorial, Congressional or high profile Mayoral race on the ballot. Those affect turnout and the type of turnout. Obviously you won't be unaware that those races are happening, but be sure to consider what they mean to your election.

What issues matter to voters? Consider which issues matter. Right now, jobs and the economy matter to many voters. But for your city council race, a new grocery store under construction down the street might be more important. 

What does the right track/wrong direction say? Check out the right track/wrong direction polling in your state. Pollsters often ask this question regardless of which race or issue they're polling. Search for recent polls reported in your newspaper or ask the local party if they're aware of any recent polling done. Remember, if you use numbers from a non-public poll, it may be considered an in-kind donation to your campaign. 

How has the incumbent performed? Know his record inside and out. Know the issues he's addressed and what he hasn't addressed. This should be part of a detailed research campaign early on in the process. 

How popular is the incumbent? Is the candidate you're running against popular or unpopular? Defining yourself as dramatically different from the incumbent works if he's unpopular. It's less effective if he's popular. 

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