Over the last week of campaign season I wrote about a number of Senate races and how you can learn from them.
Of all the lessons we can take away from the 2014 midterms, I think learning to break free of the top of the ticket might be the most relevant. National Journal covered the topic on November 3rd: "No Matter How Well They've Run, Senate Democrats Can't Seem to Break Free of Obama."
I want to discuss it from another perspective: what can you learn about breaking free of the top of the ticket for your local race in 2015?
You'll first want to determine who the top of the ticket is. The "top of the ticket" is simply the most watched race that's going to be on the ballot. If you're in a state with a gubernatorial election in 2015, that race will be the top of the ticket. If you're running for city council, it's likely the mayoral race will be the top of the ticket. If you're running for state legislature, it will either be the governor or the party in control of the House or Senate. Pull up your local newspaper's "politics" section and see which race gets the most coverage - that's the top of the ticket.
Voters dedicate limited time to consider who they want to vote for in an election. One way to make that decision easier is to simply group candidates together and choose a group you like better. If you were a Republican running for U.S. Senate this year, that worked pretty well in your favor. If you were a Democrat, it didn't work so well.
The same phenomenon occurs in local races, even when they're non-partisan. You'll often see a group of city councillors knows as the "pro-growth" candidates and another as the "anti-growth" candidates. Or the grouping could be based on incumbents versus challengers. If you're an incumbent and the voters aren't happy with the direction of the city, you'll want to differentiate yourself from your peers and avoid being part of the "throw the bums out" sweep.
Breaking free of the top of the ticket is simple, but not particularly easy. The way to differentiate your candidacy is to define yourself independently from other candidates.
You do that by building personal relationships with voters through "retail politics." Here are a few ways to build that personal relationship:
1. Door to door campaigning. Develop an aggressive grassroots campaign plan that focuses not only on door to door, but also on following up with voters over the phone or through a post card.
2. Coffee meet and greets. If you're going to run for office, you should already have some connections in the district. Ask your friends and family to host meet and greets and invite their friends and neighbors over.
3. Attend every community event you can. I've had candidates which kind of events they should go to, and the answer is everything they can find. Go to the local summer concert series, attend a community yard sale event and meet folks at their homes, attend a fundraiser for a cause.
4. Get creative with volunteers. As you increase your volunteer base, you build a coalition of people who have a serious stake in your campaign. Volunteers talk to their friends about helping your campaign, so get creative. Think of ways people can volunteer, from the traditional door to door help, to hosting coffees, to phone calls and baking cookies for the campaign volunteers. There are dozens of things volunteers can help with if you get creative and then ask them to help.
By the time the campaign ends, you shouldn't be able to go to the grocery store without being stopped by someone who recognizes you and wants to talk. That's how you become a staple in the community and a candidate with his own identity, who can run independently of the top of the ticket.
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