This is the time of year where we get calls from prospective candidates. Oftentimes, they don’t know how to start putting together their campaign.
Here are some questions we’ve compiled to help candidates think through a political campaign.
Who are you and why are you running?
This is the single hardest question to answer in politics- but probably the most important. Before running for office, it’s essential you know who you are and the values you stand for. If you cannot answer this question, then you cannot expect others to jump on your bandwagon. Very good politicians have had their candidacy sunk because they couldn’t answer why they want to run for office — believe it or not, we have people call and say they want to run “because it’s their time.” Don’t be that person. If you don’t have a compelling answer to this question, take some time to think about it before you throw your hat in the ring.
What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Voters need to know what sets you apart from the other candidates in the field. Is it your stances on the issues that are completely different than other candidates? Your background and life experiences? Your track record of results? What makes you stand out?
Are you ready to ask your friends for money?
Campaigns need money. Many prospective office holders have failed because they either couldn’t – or more likely, refused – to spend the time and energy necessary to raise the money to run a competitive race. Oftentimes, we see progressive candidates really hung up on fundraising, and struggling to ask their friends and family to support their campaign financially. Most people want to donate money- you just have to ask.
What do you need to raise?
This can be determined by looking at past competitive races for the office you seek. It’s important to look at several past election cycles since sometimes races aren’t competitive and candidates don’t raise much money. Every year we see more and more people donate to political campaigns, so we assume you’ll need to raise more money for your race than the last competitive cycle. It’s also important to consider what type of voter contact you think you’ll need to do to win – and what they cost. If you want to go on broadcast TV, you’ll have to raise a lot more money than if you only need to send a mail piece to 10,000 households.
How much can you raise?
It’s important for candidates to do a personal assessment and get a sense of your network. Take everyone from your contact lists – social media connections, people in your phone, email contacts, LinkedIN, people you went to school with, people who attended your graduation or wedding, etc. and assign a dollar figure next to each name. Of course, during a campaign you’ll be reaching out to new supporters (standard Democratic donors, labor unions, PACs, etc.), but the first money will have to come from within your own network. If you’re running for local office, this number will need to be anywhere from 20%-35% your overall budget. Some places have public financing, vouchers, matching money or other ways to finance races that need to be taken into account.
These questions are particularly important for younger candidates. Many of us don’t yet have decades long resumes and deep personal networks to fall back on. But knowing who you are, what values you stand for and the commitment to raise money, will set a candidate of any age up for success.