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.
As a candidate you'll need to build coalitions of supporters. Building those coalitions can't start too early, and ideally it starts before you decide to run.
You start to build coalitions by developing relationships with those "grass tops" folks who have influence in your community. But candidate beware - you need to genuinely care about your community to build effective coalitions. Otherwise, people will see right through you.
Chris Matthews' Hardball is a great read for anyone interested in politics. It is especially valuable for someone considering a run for office.
Matthews begins the book with a chapter titled "It's not who you know, it's who you get to know."
In the book, Matthews writes about Lyndon Johnson and his savvy at retail politics.
Where the modern, wholesale politician has a tendency to broadcast to those he is addressing, as if each human being were a particle of some great undifferentiated mass, Johnson kept close track of the differences among people. He always made a point to know exactly whom he was talking to. Like the future Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill and others of the old breed, he tried to be a kind of political traffic controller, always aware of the direction not only of his own vector but of all the other little dots on the screen. It may seem all the more surprising that a man with his towering ego should have climbed to such heights by studying the inner as well as the outer needs of others. Yet it was his willingness to focus on other people and their concerns, no matter how small, that contributed to the near total communication Johnson sought to influence.
It's not just who you know, it's who you get to know. Johnson built a network that eventually made him President, and he did it by focusing on others.
We're all aware of the opposite version of this. You can picture the guy who is looking over your shoulder at the next most important person to talk to while you're having a conversation at a business networking event. You've probably got the connection on LinkedIn or Facebook that has thousands of connections but doesn't actually engage with anyone.
Simply connecting with people is not enough for a true connection. As a candidate, you need to go the extra mile. If people can easily spot "that guy" at a networking event, they're surely going to see through a political candidate who is only looking for a campaign donation or a few votes.
I had a fun conversation about this the other day. A colleague and I joked about how often a candidates final tweet was "please get out and vote today!"
Then there isn't another tweet until they announce their next campaign. For months candidates ask for support, show up at every event, engage with the community and make promises about how dedicated to that community they are. Then when the election passes, they're MIA.
It's not enough to make quick connections and then ignore them when you're building a coalition of supporters for your campaign.
Here's one more example, pulled from Harvey Mackay's Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty, a great networking book.
Our foursome had finished the usual Saturday morning round of golf. We were in the clubhouse doing the postmortem when Jerry said, "Last night I got a call. It was two in the morning. I won't tell you who it was because one of you might know him. He was semi hysterical. His accountant had called him that afternoon and told him he was broke; his company couldn't make payroll, and if he didn't retrieve the checks he'd written, there was a good chance he'd go to jail. The guy needed $20,000. The strange thing is, I hadn't talked to him in over ten years. He said the only reason he called me was that I used to be a close friend and that I knew he was trustworthy guy. Well, I offered to lend him a few thousand dollars, but I didn't give him what he needed even though I could have.
"It got me thinking though," Jerry added. "What if it had been me? How many people could I realistically count on to bust a gut to help me out if I'd called them at 2 A.M.?"
To be a good candidate, you need to have a deep commitment to your community and the people in it. That brings us to coalitions. Building coalitions of supporters is important to your campaign.
Coalitions are groups with unique interests that bind them together, and you develop a connection with them by developing one with their leaders. So as you prepare to run, begin meeting with these folks.
If you haven't decided whether to run, meet with them anyway to ask for advice. Should I run? What do I need to know? Who do I need to know? Tell me about the issues your organization cares about. They'll be happy to tell you, and they'll appreciate that you asked.
These organizations can help with fundraising, volunteers and earned media. They'll be happy to if you do a good job of cultivating a relationship with them.
Here are a few coalitions you can get started with, and give you some ideas:
Business community (rotary, chamber of commerce)
Downtown business associations
Intramural sports organizations
Temporary issue-based groups (for/opposed to a new Wal-Mart)
Real estate developers
Former elected officials
Local political parties
The list could go on, but this will give you a good start. Begin with this and the folks you already know, and you're off to a good start.
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.