Running for Local Office For Dummies Cheat Sheet
You want to ensure that your run for office is successful. This Cheat Sheet provides some tips on campaigning including preparing for a local political campaign months or years by working on your name recognition, public reputation, and campaign finances. You also need to make sure that you have some important assets in place like a campaign manager, volunteers, and voter lists.
How to Prepare for a Run for Office
To get ready for your run at public office, ensure that you have some important items well before you file the paperwork and officially start your local political campaign. To best achieve your goal, start working on these items months, if not years, in advance.
The most important part of a political campaign is name recognition. The candidate’s name appears on flyers and yard signs and all campaign material. Connecting with the voter is key, and name recognition is the driver that gets voters to check your box come election day.
- Work on establishing your name recognition well before you start your run for office. Get your name in the paper, show up to meetings to let your voice be heard, volunteer, and put in the effort to get your name out there.
- People vote for names they know.
- Name recognition also runs in the other direction: You must know the names of key players in town. After all, it’s your desire to become one of them.
Along with your name comes your reputation as a public figure. You want people to not only recognize your name but also associate it with positive characteristics — or at least ones they can admire. Your desire is for people to hear your name and recall the things you’ve done for the community and the efforts you’ve made to make things better.
- Volunteer your time and effort at service organizations and nonprofits. Prove to be a capable worker. Your actions not only help build your public reputation but also assure the public that you’ll have the same attitude in public office.
- You need not sacrifice your integrity to build a public reputation. Communities have their cheerleaders, but you can also establish a reputation by publicly opposing a corrupt, entrenched status quo. The key is to remain positive, offer solutions, and stand your ground.
Some people run for public office on a lark. Successful candidates, however, know the position well. They’ve researched the political division where they seek office. They know the staff and other key people. They’ve studied the issues. When asked, they share a knowledge of the organization beyond the superficial.
- Start your government research early. Attend meetings. Review agendas and minutes.
- Know who’s who within the organization. Be able to identify key staff members and understand their roles.
Money is the grease the turns the wheels of politics. Your successful campaign for office needs funding. For a large district with high voter turnout, raising money is a priority. Your funding goal is to help boost your name recognition and get out your message. You want the public to know who you are and to be happy to cast their vote in your favor.
- Invest only a modicum of self-funding for your campaign, seed money, or quick loan (which you don’t expect to be paid back). Avoid fully self-funding your campaign: Only by obtaining contributions from individuals and organizations can you show wide support.
- The candidate (that’s you) is responsible for fundraising efforts. You must make the calls. You must ask for money.
- People donate money because you ask.
- Start your fundraising efforts as early as possible. Keep in mind that many states require you to file some sort of declaration before you can legally raise money for a political campaign.
Important Campaigning Assets
A campaign asset is something you need to help you make a successful run for office. Believe it or not, money isn’t the only — nor is it the most important — asset.
Here are some important campaign assets:
- Volunteers: Count among these people your close friends, advisors, and gurus and the hordes of people who you know are willing to support your run for office. Volunteers are more valuable than money. They can help you make a literature drop, stuff envelopes, attend functions, call voters, and so on.
- Campaign manager: This person acts as your campaign advisor. A good manager knows how to run a campaign, track important looming deadlines, prioritize your time, and offer insight into what’s a good move and how to stay ahead in the game. A good manager also knows how when to spend money and what to spend it on.
- Marketing person: A good marketing person knows design and can help you create a brand to help sell your name and ideas. Marketing people have connections with printers and bulk mailers and can get special rates that are lower than what you’d find on your own.
- Your message: To best communicate your intentions with the voter, you need a solid message. It says who you are and what you plan on doing in office. A marketing person can help you hone your message, making it precise, and bundle it as part of your campaign brand.
- Voter lists: From the election authority, obtain a list of voters specific to the district in which you’re running. Ensure that the list has a voter history so that you can separate frequent voters (those who vote in every election) from those who seldom or never vote. Craft voter lists for walking door-to-door, sending out mailings, and contacting absentee voters.
- Time: Be prepared for your campaign to consume your time from the end of the candidate filing period up to election day. It’s your full-time job. You must devote yourself to the campaign. Don’t try to take a break. Don’t make excuses for missing an event. If you’re serious about becoming an elected official, you must make the time.
- Money: Campaign funding is indeed an asset. Its primary purpose for a local race is to help get out your message. You spend money to communicate with potential voters. The more money you raise, the more communications can take place.
How to Prepare Voter Lists
You can’t connect with voters when campaigning if you don’t know who they are. Further, you don’t want to contact everyone living in the district, because many people aren’t registered to vote and even those who are don’t always vote.
To create the best voter lists possible, contact the election authority for your district. Obtain from them a list of registered voters. Ask that the list include only voters for your specific district. You also want a history for each voter so that the data shows in which elections they participated. If possible, get the list in Excel format. The election authority may charge you for this request, though often the information is available for free or even online.
After you obtain the list, your job is to massage it or to have one of your campaign volunteers who is adept at using Excel work the magic for you. Here are my recommended steps:
- Ensure that you work on a backup copy of the list.
Keep the original file untouched. You may need this file if you work with a direct mail outfit. They prefer to use the original, which their software can manipulate efficiently.
- Purge the list.
From the list of all registered voters in your district, remove anyone who hasn’t voted in the past few elections. Further, remove your opponents from the list as well as any of their known supporters. You need not contact those people, so off the list they go.
- Create a custom list for frequent voters, a chronic-voter list.
From the list, prioritize those voters who show up for all elections. These are your chronic voters — people who will cast a ballot in your election and with whom you must connect.
Also retain those who voted in the district’s last election or any special elections held by the district.
- Create a list of those who vote early.
If the voter list shows those who prefer to vote absentee or by mail, pull out those people’s names and create a special list for them. These are the people you must contact first. Prepare a special mailing for them so that they know about your campaign before they receive their early ballots.
- Create custom lists for specific areas.
If your district has wards or precincts that have specific issues, pull out those voters to create a custom list. You can send targeted mailings to those voters, informing them how you can help after you win the election.
- Create walking lists.
The voter database is designed for mailing, but you can work some Excel magic to create walking lists. Your goal is to knock on doors behind which you find an active voter.
Organize the walking list by neighborhood. Sort it by street. Your desire is to have a list you can use to effectively walk the area, one you use yourself or can hand to volunteers to help canvas voters.
Voter lists are an important campaign asset. They help you effectively run your campaign by connecting with active voters. And if you have the funding, you can widen the list to include infrequent voters. The goal is to make the connection without wasting your campaign funding.
Voter lists are temporary. If you run again, you must create new lists. Old voter lists have no value.