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Candidates Must Know

Running for political office is no small undertaking. In the excitement of launching a campaign, many candidates overlook the basics.

This article highlights twelve objective and subjective indicators (or data points) that candidates can use to improve their likelihood of success. I also embedded a bonus tip that guarantees candidates will save time and money.

The twelve data points fall into one of five categories: District, Money, Time, People, and Knowledge.

Category 1: District – The past is usually a reliable predictor of the future.

Districts vary in size depending on the level of office being sought: local, state, or federal. But, more important than geography, is understanding who lives and votes within the district. The first three data points can help candidates first understand district “composition”:

  1. What is the average voter turnout, per party, in the Primary?
  2. What is the average voter turnout in the General?
  3. What is the average margin of victory?

Past election information is available either online or by submitting public records requests to the appropriate election official(s). Election results differ year to year, so it is important to use multiple sets of results to identify averages and trends.

It is also important to know whether a district leans towards or is dominated by a particular party. High primary turnout and/or large average margins of victory by a specific party suggest more voters from that party reside within the district. This also serves notice to candidates from the opposite party that winning in that district might prove difficult.

Category 2: Money – Politics is not cheap.

The common denominator across every campaign is Money. The following three data points can help candidates forecast what will be required financially:

  1. How much money did previous candidates for the same office raise and spend?
  2. Does the candidate have access to funds?
  3. Who is the candidate facing: an incumbent or a challenger?

Candidates should know whether they need to raise $10,000 or $10,000,000 or where exactly in between. Candidates can get comfortable with the fundraising process by “pre-raising” –  i.e. obtaining verbal commitments from donors before filing for office.

Challenger candidates often need to raise more money than their incumbent opponents to overcome two assumed disadvantages: (i) name identification, and (ii) voter turnout.

Category 3: Time There are only 24 hours in a day.

Raising money and managing Time are the two most important factors within a candidate’s control. The following data points can help candidates manage their time efficiently:

  1. How much time can the candidate dedicate per day? per week? per weekend?
  2. Who will hold the candidate accountable?

In the early stages of the campaign, candidates need to build a campaign calendar and distinguish between weekday tasks (e.g., phone calls, fundraising, etc.) and weekend responsibilities (e.g., attending high school football games, summer socials, etc.).

Also, someone needs to be the “bad guy.” Candidates should task one person with the sole responsibility of holding them accountable for accomplishing tasks.

Category 4: People – HELP WANTED!

Unless they are alone on a desert island, candidates need help from other People. The following data points indicate whether a candidate has the requisite supporters needed to survive a long campaign:

  1. Did the candidate receive his/her significant other’s blessing to run?
  2. Does the candidate have friends who will help for free?
  3. Was the candidate recruited or did s/he decide to run independently?

Support from one’s family is a non-negotiable. Similarly, candidates must identify their “Kitchen Cabinet”; i.e. three to five friends who will contribute in different ways and who are okay working for free.

Only candidates who are recruited can rely on third party resources for providing volunteers, staff, etc. As such, family and friends are central to the success of the majority of campaigns.

Bonus tip: to learn quickly many of the data points listed so far, candidates should start by talking with other candidates, specifically those who ran for the same office previously. There is no substitute for experience – and certainly no need to try and reinvent the wheel.

Category 5: Knowledge – Is it meant to be?

The final category is Knowledge, and it boils down to a single data point:

  1. Is the candidate prepared personally to seek public office?

Only the candidate can determine preparedness. That said, the following questions are directed towards candidates and intended merely to help with this decision:

  • Are you motivated by the “right” reasons?
  • Are you an effective communicator one-on-one? in public settings?
  • Do you like being around a lot of people you do not know?
  • Do you have any skeletons in your closet?
  • Can you remain positive even if you are criticised publicly?
  • Will you be okay if you lose? What if you lose badly?

As a final point, running for office is not supposed to be easy. In fact, many candidates run as a means of earning or maintaining full-time employment. The twelve data points herein are not meant as litmus tests for seeking public office; rather, they should be used to calculate whether or not campaigning is a worthy investment.

Adam H. Berry and his PoliticalBank co-founder, Frank T. Short, have forty-five years of grassroots political experience between them. Learn more about PoliticalBank’s nonpartisan platform that helps candidates and informs voters.