5 Mistakes People Make When Deciding to Run for Office,
And How to Avoid Them
By Matthew Samp
1. Organizing a “committee” to run your campaign.
A “campaign by committee” is often a loser. (GASP!) This mistake usually occurs when well-intentioned people decide a candidate needs help or when a candidate thinks their race is too small to pay for any assistance, or doesn’t want to hire a professional campaign advisor or manager. It also occurs when stake-holders want to ensure their candidate wins. Campaign committees spend hours and hours in meetings. Everyone has an opinion; everyone wants to be heard. Unfortunately, if the committee members were good enough to run campaigns, they’d probably be in demand, professionally.
Instead, create a “kitchen cabinet” which helps recruit and organize volunteers, help create positive chatter, help with door-to-door canvassing and assists with small fundraising tasks. While a kitchen cabinet can be a huge help, they shouldn’t make important strategic and issue decisions for your campaign. If you are sitting in a campaign meeting talking about what colors your sign should be – you’ve already made this mistake.
2. Asking the wrong people for opinions.
People start asking opinions when they are thinking about running for office. And of course, everyone has an opinion. Most often, people will give their honest opinion, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct.
Certainly family members need to be consulted. After all, they’ll be directly affected by your decision to run. However, asking arm-chair pundits or Monday morning quarterbacks their assessment could plant very inaccurate misconceptions about a certain race or set of issues.
Instead, before you start “asking around,” talk to a qualified political consultant – even if you do not intend to hire one (but be upfront with them). Good political advisors will meet with any serious candidate and be happy to give you more information than you could ever find by “asking around.”
3. Choosing to run for the wrong office.
With dozens of seats open each election cycle, there are always people who decide to run for the wrong office. In their mind, they may be best suited for the office they choose, but that may not be the case. Other times, people choose to run for an office because they think it comes with power and prestige. Running for a political office will be one of the hardest endeavors you’ll ever undertake. The money you’ll earn (if any) will be very little. You’ll have to attend more meetings than you can imagine, and you’ll have to meet and listen to a lot of people’s opinions.
Instead, think through your skill sets and what office best suits your talents. It’s important to run for the right office for the right reasons.
4.Assuming buckets of money will appear on your doorstep, droves of volunteers will show up to help and everyone who “owes you one” will come through.
The idea some benevolent donor, a busload of experienced and dedicated volunteers and all your friends (with whom you’ve created a large favor bank) will rally around you and make sure you’re elected is just plain wrong. Running for office is a tough and lonely task. You’ll have to make lots of calls asking for money, knock on hundreds of doors, learn dozens of issues and a host of other things you’d never imagine. Unfortunately, there’s less money and fewer volunteers than ever. Assuming help and money will just show up is a setup for failure.
Instead, understand early on that you’re in this nearly alone. You’ll have to work hard for every campaign dollar and every volunteer hour. Support must be built one voter at a time. Money must be raised one ask at a time.
5. Not Creating a Budget
Creating a campaign budget is a simple thing to do, which means it’s also a simple thing not to do. Without a campaign budget, your campaign cannot be organized. And, organization is the key to winning. Unfortunately, most candidates massively underestimate what it takes to get elected. With no written budget, a campaign
Instead, create a plan for how you’ll win your race. Decide what activities you’ll do in your campaign, then figure out what money it will take to fund those activities. Make sure it’s written out so you can refer to it throughout the campaign. You can certainly make changes to the plan as your campaign progresses, but having your budget on paper will help you keep on track.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time, money and energy it will take to run your campaign. Winning a political office is hard; that’s why it’s called a race. So when you decide to run for office, run hard and run to win. Be in top mental shape and in good physical condition. There’s no reason to run and lose, so that extra effort – every day of your race – can be the difference between winning and losing.
Matthew Samp is the Senior Campaign Consultant at CandidateSigns.com, where he helps candidate get elected. He's a 20-year veteran of the political and direct response marketing industries and is a nationally recognized leader in political, art and legal marketing.