Last year I ran for local government office. I have often said I ran “unsuccessfully”; however, I’m not sure that qualifier is entirely accurate since winning is not the only measure of success. Regardless of the outcome, I learned a lot and now can look back and see things I did well and areas in which I made mistakes — in some cases, lots of mistakes.
My thoughts below are designed to encourage more conservative candidates to run for office and to run with success. While conservatives will not win every election, they will lose every election in which they don’t run. The morale of the story then is to get out of our comfort zone and run. And by following a good plan, I feel that most conservatives won’t just run but will run well.
My Suggestions for a Successful Political Campaign
1. Know why you are running.
Running for office and campaigning is hard work. It’s very tiring, expensive, and emotionally draining and the race doesn’t end until the polls close on election night. With such a gauntlet to run, the candidate must remain confident in his or her reasons for running. Such confidence and the accompanying clarity of vision produces the steadfastness and resolve (and energy) needed to finish the race.
2. Differentiate yourself from your opponent(s).
If there is nothing different between you and your opponent then the race comes down to a popularity content. To avoid that potential disaster means you must find about three strong and compelling issues that you can promote and your opponent cannot. While this divides people along opinion lines, you need some division to gain supporters. Stay on message with those points and repeat them often — they become your brand that is remembered within the voting booth.
3. Be able to clearly articulate your vision in one sentence.
We only have one chance for a first impression with someone — remember, that someone is a potential voter. That first impression is largely formed with the first sentence they hear coming out of our mouth. Therefore a candidate must be able to demonstrate his or her strength quickly and confidently under a variety of scenarios including door-to-door campaigning, chance encounters, public speaking, and so forth. The first sentence is a good time to articulate one or more of the three points from #2 above.
4. Consistently set the agenda of the campaign.
A candidate must early on shift from a defensive position and go on the offense. That doesn’t mean name calling, mud slinging, and pointing out the personal weaknesses of your opponent. Instead, it means steering the conversation and the agenda of the campaign to your issues and vision. It means staying on point, articulating your vision clearly, and showing leadership. In time, chances are high you can convince many people that your position is right.
5. Run a clean, organized campaign.
I have a few suggestions about running a good campaign. Of course, all materials and the image presented should be high-quality and appropriate for your community.
- Get an ethical campaign manager you trust and who has good judgment.
- Develop a campaign strategy but adapt it as conditions change.
- Don’t run your campaign all by yourself — let your supporters help you.
- Have a substantive yet attractive website. When talking with the media and the public, offer just the broad points but refer people to your website for the details.
- Meet with voters — door-to-door, community events, public forums, etc.
- Present a positive vision and limit personal attacks.
- Create a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy and staff it with volunteers.
6. Never forget who you serve.
People don’t like arrogance, flattery, and lies. People know when they are being played and can smell a politician a mile a way so don’t be a politician — be a statesman. You work for the voters so ask them for their vote. Look them in the eye when you talk. Don’t rush away or treat them as unimportant. Don’t ever lie or just tell them what they want to hear. Admit mistakes and learn from them. Don’t become a politician!
Some Advice for Voters & Supporters
A campaign is a big personal risk for the candidate and his or her family. The entire process is difficult and it is emotionally painful to lose the election. Therefore, if you support the candidate and want to vote for him then be sure to take any chance to encourage him and show your support.
As a candidate it is hard asking for money but money is needed to run a good race. I challenge you as a supporter to give financially to your candidate no matter how small the amount. I’m convinced that in most races if each supporter gave just $5 then their candidate would be able to match or exceed the campaign funding of any other candidate in the race.
In my campaign I walked door-to-door a lot since it was a local government race. It was tiring and hot and I really appreciated the periodic supporter who gave me a glass of water (or lemonade) and a chance to sit down for a brief rest. I’ve heard other candidates express similar thanks and also note that bathroom breaks are much appreciated. It’s amazing how those seemingly little things can be so refreshing and encouraging.
With these thoughts I encourage conservatives to run for office and to run to win. I also encourage supporters to truly support them — by giving financially, by volunteering their time and skills, and, of course, by voting.