What I Learned Running for Political Office

My Political Campaign VolunteersYep, you read that right.  I, the behind-the-scenes political consultant type, ran for a local political office this past year.  And I learned a TON.  I also RELEARNED a ton as well.  I almost don’t even know where to begin.

I know.  I’ll just begin at the beginning.

So, we’re new-ish in town.  We moved from New York City (where neighbors rarely ever even look at each other) to suburbia (where people mostly gossip about each other).  One of the first things I tend to do in a new place is reach out to the local GOP group.  They’re always my type of people, obviously.  So my husband and I attend a few events, meet some new people, the usual.  It’s a nice way to get involved in a new community.

One day a couple years down the road, I get an email that the local party is a little hard up for candidates in my district.  Even though I’ve sworn I’d never actually put my name on a ballot, I felt a pull to at least respond with something like, “if you can’t find anybody else…”  Well, they didn’t find anybody else.

Now before I go any further, you should know that I can check off at least half the items on this list of reasons NOT to run for office.  I am a homeschooling, work-at-home mom of five (yes FIVE) kids ages 1-8.  You might say I’m a little busy.  I don’t have a lot of time to put into a campaign.  Who am I kidding?  I don’t have any time to put into a campaign.  That was definitely mistake number one.

Don’t jump into an election without rationally weighing the pros and cons.

Seriously, it’s one of the first articles I ever wrote on this blog.  Think it through thoroughly!

But here’s the thing.  I wanted to meet other people in my neighborhood.  For the first time in our married life, we lived in a place where a family can put down real roots.  What better way to meet people than by knocking on their door and handing them a flyer with your bio on it?

And that leads me to the next lesson:

Winning the election is not the only reason to run for political office.

I was already aware of this, and guess what?  When your aim is something other than winning, it takes a lot of pressure off!

Believe it or not, there are plenty of positive outcomes from losing political campaigns, not the least of which is lots of knowledge and wisdom.  Networking.  Laying the foundation for a future campaign.  The possibilities really are endless.

Now, I’m not most people.  Most people run for elected office to, you know, be an elected official.  But not everyone thinks that far ahead when they jump into a campaign.  Which leads me to this-

Run for a job you actually want to do.

A lot of career-politicians-in-the-making want to eventually be a Congressman, so they plot a course from city council, to clerk-treasurer, to mayor, to state house, and finally to Congress.  If you don’t actually want to be those first four things, don’t run for them!  It’s entirely possible to run for Congress right out of the gate and win.  The exceptions would be governor, senate, and of course president – those require some name recognition in advance, either from public service or some other notoriety (like owning and going bankrupt on a bunch of real estate, or developing ground-breaking medical advances in pediatrics…).

Okay, back to my campaign.

For my campaign, I was running for Town Meeting Representative.  A Representative Town Meeting (RTM) is a traditional New England form of local government that is basically is a modern version of the original town meetings that date way back to colonial times.  It’s really cool, but really confusing.

Which leads me to lesson #2:

Know your district and your race well.

I had familiarized myself with the RTM style government, but there’s a lot more I still need to learn.  It’s not as important for the campaign itself – that part is simple – but it’s nice to have a good handle on what doing the job actually entails when you’re talking to voters.

It took a while for me to mentally get into the idea that I was actually running for office.  Honestly, summer brought swim lessons four days a week for 3 of the kids, and we homeschool year-round, so despite the longer daylight hours, I simply didn’t make the time for ground work.  Then when fall came, school got more serious and the extra-curricular activities kick in, and I’m driving kids to sports/music/scouts when I would otherwise be working on voter outreach.

I did sit down at Starbucks one Saturday afternoon and draft out a brilliant campaign plan using my very own Campaign Planbook.  And it was a great, winning campaign plan, too.  I totally should I have won with that campaign plan.  If I’d used it.  At all.

I had some creative, out-of-the-box ideas for reaching out to voters.  Ideas that would work better for me as a super-busy mom of lots of kids.  Unfortunately for my candidacy, I second-guessed every piece of my plan.  That was a big mistake.  What was I thinking?  I was afraid to take risks.  I opted to fall back on the tried-and-true tactics that I know by heart, but that don’t really work for me as a candidate right now.  Which is the next lesson I relearned:

Don’t be afraid to try unorthodox campaign methods.

So reality really sank in the first time I tried to go door-to-door with kids in tow.  This was a serious bubble burster.  I think we made it halfway down one side of the street, maybe, before turning back for home.

I haven’t been boots-on-the-ground campaigning since I was single and child-free.  After meeting several strained families of campaign professionals, I had decided before I ever had children that if I did, I wouldn’t put them through that crazy lifestyle.  You basically might as well be deployed overseas for the bulk of heavy campaigning season, because that’s how often you’ll see your family.  That’s why I write this here blog instead (for now).

My feelings haven’t changed.  I don’t want to spend my evenings and weekends knocking on doors and attending public events and community functions while my spouse is left single-parenting it and my kids have forgotten what I look like.  But since I’d abandoned my campaign plan I was left with traditional campaign tactics that don’t fit my current lifestyle.  Lesson learned:

Once the campaign plan is in writing, STICK TO IT!

Sure, there will be adjustments.  But by and large, the main content of the campaign plan should stay the same, and be followed!

Speaking of campaign plans…I used the Campaign Planbook to whip my plan together in about 2 hours.  Pick up yours here.

Post to Twitter

5 Great Posts About Running for Office

political campaigning articles

Good Reads.

I’ve seen other bloggers do these ’round up’ thingies, and since I read a lot of good stuff, I figure I ought to do one as well, so that you, too, can benefit from the work of others that are out there keepin’ it real (or whatever).  So here goes!

The Art of Manliness

This blog is totally awesome in its own right.  It is exactly what it says it is: a blog devoted to helping men be manly.  And it just so happens they covered manliness in the form of running for political office.

Morton Blackwell’s 45 Laws for Political Campaigns

I wrote this post when I first started this blog because at the time these laws weren’t available anywhere else I could find online.  And they are gold.  Read the 45 Laws for Political Campaigns.

 The Strenuous Life

I’m a liar already.  This isn’t actually a post.  It’s a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt about embracing the struggles in life and becoming stronger through them.  This speech is just one out of a handful collected in a book by the same title.  Many run along political themes and are excellent reads for anyone, but most especially for the political candidate.  Read the rest of them here.

 Abe Lincoln’s Response to Political Smear

Also not a post (sorry, y’all, there just aren’t a whole lot of other good campaigner/bloggers out there).  This, however, is the very first recorded Republican “Oh, snap!” or “Oh, no he didn’t!” moment, written by none other than the founder of our Grand Old Party.  Check out how Honest Abe responded to a back-handed attempt at mud-slinging, and take notes.  This is how it’s done, people!

 Candidate College: Tips for Running for Office

You’ll quickly realize that this post is very urban-campaign centered, but that doesn’t mean the principles can’t be applied anywhere.  In fact, it’s a heck of a lot easier in suburbia that in the cities.  So read Candidate College’s 10 Tips for Running for Office.  It’ll do you good.

Post to Twitter

How to Form Your ‘Inner Circle’ When Running for Public Office

Your inner circle is a group of close friends and family that you bring into the discussion very early in the decision-making process when you are considering a run for public office.  These are folks whose opinions you hold in high regard.  They don’t have to be in the district you plan to run in, or even in the same state, but they need to be close to you in an emotional or spiritual sense.  Obviously they need to be people who care about you and want the best for you, and want to see you fulfill your calling in life, whatever that may be.

Your inner circle should be limited to about 4 or 5 people other than yourself.  Luckily, most of the decisions will be easy.  One important note before we start – these 5 people should not also be your top 5 volunteers/staff.  The purpose of the inner circle is to be representatives of common sense in the interest of the greater good and of your personal well-being, not representatives of what’s best for the campaign.  That’s not to say they can’t be involved in the campaign side of things, but that isn’t their primary role.  Remember, these are the people you talk to about running before you even decide whether or not you’re going to.  They should be people with whom you have deep, meaningful relationships that can’t be shaken by political disagreements or power struggles.

Here are my recommendations/qualifications for filling this group.  Feel free to tweak as necessary.

  1. Your spouse (or a serious significant other).  This one is mandatory (unless of course you’re single).  You could also include your grown child that you trust.
  2. Your best friend or close sibling.  And when I say ‘best friend’ I mean someone who knows the twisted story about how you got that suspicious scar, or someone you want in the delivery room with you, or someone who was there 20 years ago when you got that ridiculous tattoo you now go to great lengths to hide.
  3. The person you would choose as your campaign manager.  Most likely this is someone who is politically minded, perhaps already involved deeply in local politics, and hopefully someone you definitely trust.  I know I said your inner circle shouldn’t be campaign people, but this is the one exception, because this person needs to be able to step back and get a bird’s eye view of things when necessary.  They may be the only person present to pull you back from the edge of a precipice at some point in the campaign.
  4. A pastor or other spiritual leader type that you are close to and trust.

Post to Twitter

10 Primary Election Facts and Tips to Consider

  1. Primaries are significantly more intimate than general elections.
  2. Primary voters are very loyal and reliable poll-goers.
  3. Don’t court swing voters before the primary.  Focus on known Republican primary voters.
  4. Use your primary campaigning time to build up your GOTV database with names, addresses and voter and issue data.
  5. Many candidates worry that a heated primary campaign will “divide” the party.  I’ve never seen this really happen.  In the general, primary voting Republicans will vote always Republican, even if it’s not the Republican they originally backed.
  6. It’s always nice to be cordial and on good terms with your opponent when he’s in the same party.  That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical and point out flaws.
  7. Your number one weapon in a primary election is your opponent’s voting record – out the incumbent on liberal votes and tax raises and you’ll win tons of conservative voters over.
  8. Many primary challenger campaigns are ‘out with the old, in with the new’ campaigns – point out examples that the incumbent has grown more complacent, compromising and comfortable in his elected office over the years, and is no longer true to his original conservative positions.
  9. Always show respect and gratitude for the incumbent’s time and service in office.  This is nice even in the general as well.
  10. Do everything in your power to get your primary opponent’s ringing endorsement after the primary election – this will go far in the general if your opponent is a well-established incumbent.
  11. Bonus!  Local, county or state Republican Parties should NOT get deeply involved or ‘take sides’ in a primary election.  This often happens anyway.  Whether they want you to run or not, prove to them throughout the primary that you are a true conservative and an electable candidate.

Post to Twitter

Politics And Parenting – Are They Mutually Exclusive?

I recently read this Washington Post article about Rick Santorum and his daughter Bella that compares his parenting situation to Sarah Palin’s and analyzes the media reaction to both.  It’s a good read, especially for a parent of young or handicapped children, and it certainly gives a candidate pause when thinking about his own campaign.

One of the most important factors to consider when deciding to run for office is the effect it will have on your family.  Your children will see a lot less of you (especially hard for daddy’s girls and mama’s boys) and your spouse will have to pick up a lot of slack, and you may have to lean on extended family to help fill the gap as well.  And as the above mentioned article points out, dealing with family issues while standing in the media limelight can be a tricky game to play for both mothers and fathers.

So how do you decide if running for office is right for your family?

  1. First and foremost, talk to them.  Even your smallest children should be in on the discussion.  Explain to them what running office will mean to them and why you want to run.
  2. Make them a part of the campaign.  Presidential candidates may be walking a tightrope with this one, but you don’t have to.  By all means have your kids with you when you go door-to-door or to public events.  Chances are they’ll love the activity and the attention, and real voters (not journalists and political commentators) will identify with you as being down-to-earth and real.  Bringing your family along says ‘hey, I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to want the best for my kids – I want the best for yours, too.’
  3. Set up a support network, both within the campaign and within your family.  There are going to be sick days, dance recitals, and other special circumstances.  There are also going to be evening debates, candidate meet & greets and Lincoln Day dinners.  Enlist your children’s godparent to be that special someone in your stead for a few family things, and tap your campaign staff and supporters to speak on your behalf at the Republican Women’s Club Luncheon.  Be sure to talk to these people well in advance of the campaign and make certain they know how important they are in your support system.
  4. Be completely honest with your constituents.  If you can’t someplace for family reasons, say so.  Voters will understand.  They really will.
  5. Build in some spa time for your spouse periodically to relieve the extra stress you’re putting on them.  Since my husband’s much more likely than I am to be a candidate again I thought I’d throw that one in.  But it’s a good idea, right?

Warning:  Tangential Rant Below

The Rick Santorum article mentions this Post article by Sally Quinn, who writes the thinly veiled left-leaning “On Faith” blog, where posed this somewhat naive question shortly after Sarah Palin was chosen as McCain’s running mate, “When the phone rings at three in the morning and one of her children is really sick what choice will she make?”

I hate idiot rhetorical ultimatum questions like this.  It makes me want to answer them.

When your kid is sick and the phone rings at 3 a.m. with Putin or Cameron on the other line, you do the same thing you would if you crashed at midnight after a 20 hour workday and your kid wakes up with a nightmare:  You get your butt out of bed and deal with the monsters.  

Or at least Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum would.  I doubt I can say the same for Sally Everything-Is-Black-And-White Quinn.

Back to Parenting and Politics

Despite what the television wants you to think, campaigning and parenting are actually quite symbiotic.  You’re showing your children how to lead by example.  You’re teaching them core principles by living them, voicing them, and hopefully protecting them with your vote in office.  You’re teaching them the importance of serving, giving back, and supporting your community and the democratic process.  Your children will potentially gain loads more from the experience of tagging along on the campaign trail than they could ever lose.

Post to Twitter

Why I Love Politics…And Why I Hate It

I love politics because…

  • All politics is local!  I love the community building aspect of campaigning, going door-to-door, meeting new people and finding folks that are as passionate about my most important issues as I am.
  • I find like-minded friends.  Whenever I move to a new community, which I’ve done 4 or 5 times now, I know I can instantly make friends by attending the next county GOP function or Young Republicans event.  Big city or farmland, I have always have lots in common with fellow Republicans.
  • Everyone in politics, Republican or Democrat, loves America.  As a Soldier and a citizen, I have a deep appreciation for that.
  • I love winning.  I love competition.  And 9 times out of 10 it’s friendly competition.  I strive to make it clear to opponents that my campaigns want to be friendly and the competition is solely in the ballot box.
  • It has a greater purpose.  Maybe it sounds hokey, but I try to maintain the perspective that my work should be first and foremost to further political principles in line with my moral principles.  I seek out candidates that are truly trying to ‘make a difference.’  That’s why I have a special place in my heart for first-time candidates.
I hate politics because…
  • Okay, actually legislation makes me fall asleep.  I really don’t like anything on C-Span.  I have zero desire to work as a legislative aid or chief of staff for a candidate I’ve elected.  I will get you to the statehouse, but please don’t make me go inside.
  • I hate politicians.  It takes about 12 months for freshly elected officials to become conniving, compromising politicians.  It’s really disheartening to see this happen to a candidate you used to believe in whole-heartedly, but the ‘system’ really does corrupt everyone.  That’s why I’m a big supporter of term limits, for the constituency’s sake as well as for the candidate’s soul!
  • Negative campaigning is increasingly being used as a first resort rather than the last resort.  I hate, hate, hate negative campaigning.  If you have to play that trump card, you’re already out of luck.  I also hate that it ruins so many would-be fantastic candidates.
  • I hate political consultants.  I know, I sort of am one, but I hate most of the rest of them.  They’re like vampires or vultures, feeding on the unprotected, ignorant green candidates that haven’t got a clue what they’re doing.  The whole reason I’m writing this blog is to arm those candidates so that they know better, without suddenly accruing  thousands of dollars in campaign debt.
  • I despise party in-fighting.  Yeah, we have to have primaries.  I absolutely hate it, however, when GOP leaders endorse one candidate (usually an incumbent) over another (challenger) well before the primary is over, especially when primary endorsements are specifically prohibited in organization by-laws and constitutions, which it usually is.  It bastardizes the political process and sways would-be donors away from supporting high-quality, often more conservative challenger candidates.  Plus it’s just so conniving.  Not a good leadership play.

Post to Twitter

Political Communications: What Is Earned Media?

Hat with Press tag political campaign earned media

“Earned media” is the campaign equivalent of public relations.  Getting earned media simply means attracting the attention of reporters and journalists and getting your name or a story in the papers or news.  The best ways to attract earned media is to create media opportunities within your campaign.  This can be done through:

  • Press releases – a one-page document distributed to local news outlets outlining whatever information you wish to impart.
  • Press conferences – an event held specifically for the press, inviting them to cover information you’ll announce at the event, usually a candidacy announcement, a major platform initiative, a response to an opponent’s attack or a bomb-drop of negative information about your opponent.
  • Campaign events – you can send political beat reporters your schedule and hope that they’ll cover things like town halls, meet & greets and the like.
  • Attending community events – often times TV or radio news-folk will attend major community events and give you an opportunity to give a sound bite.  They may or may not use it.
  • Participating in civic organization events – things like debates or ‘meet the candidate’ events are often well-attended by the press.
All of these should be seen as opportunities to get your message out to the voter through a trusted, credible source – the news.  It’s terribly important, however, to be ready for absolutely any question a reporter may throw at you.  You never want to lose your temper or stumble over your message while the cameras are rolling.  Make sure you are prepared and ready to flash a winning smile and your 30 second campaign ‘elevator pitch’ at the drop of a hat.
Also make an effort to be friendly and get to know the journalists that cover politics in your area.  The idea behind public relations is to build relationships with these people.  You will reap dividends by being exceedingly sweet to reporters.

Post to Twitter

How to Be The Candidate’s Wife

candidate's wife run for office
Obviously, there are candidate’s husbands, too.  But you’ll very rarely see them.  Most everything still applies.
  • Don’t talk about issues unless you’re actually qualified to (a teacher/parent talking about education, a nurse/doctor about healthcare).
  • Don’t ever presume to speak on behalf of your husband when it comes to political issues.  Be your own person here.
  • Dress well (a.k.a. permission to shop for new clothes)
  • Be there for photo ops.  Don’t be camera shy.
  • Smile all the time.  All the time.
  • Be involved in the campaign, at whatever level you can afford to be.
  • Deal with your candidate-spouse’s new schedule.  Don’t buck it, embrace it.  Bitching about it doesn’t change it and adds stress for both of you.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to go out to fun and fancy events and meet cool new people.  Please don’t be a homebody who leaves her hubby alone on the campaign trail.
  • Don’t emasculate your husband.  It’s good to be a strong woman, but tone it down if you seem like you over-power your husband.
  • Make sure the campaign respects private family/spouse time.
  • Don’t believe everything the papers say about your spouse.
  • Most importantly, don’t let being in the public eye affect personal decisions.  Your life and your family is your business.
  • Get to know – and be one of – the ‘big players’ in your spouse’s campaign team.  You should be on a first name basis with the campaign manager.

Post to Twitter

15 Tips for Handling Candidate’s Wives (for Campaign Managers)

Jackie Kennedy Campaign Wife
  1. Do not – I repeat, not – accept an offer to work on a campaign without meeting and getting the approval and full support of the candidate’s spouse. Ever.
  2. Develop a relationship with the candidate’s wife in which you are comfortable calling and emailing each other directly.
  3. Make sure the candidate’s wife is at all top-level-only meetings and her opinion is weighted as heavily as yours.
  4. Find out what sort of events the candidate’s wife wants to be included in and be sure to include her.
  5. Always profusely thank her for taking time out of her busy day to help the campaign.
  6. If you sense the slightest bit of marital distress between candidate and spouse, immediately give the candidate time off strictly for the purpose of spending time with his family, short of major fundraising and media events only.
  7. Use her, if she’s willing, to make fundraising calls – she’s often better at it than the candidate.
  8. Voters like candidates with a visible family so beg her to attend public photo ops and walk in parades.
  9. Ask for her help if your candidate’s being stubborn.  She can use more convincing tactics than you can when you need to win the candidate over on an idea.
  10. Use the candidate’s wife on the campaign trail.  She is virtually a carbon copy of the candidate during grassroots efforts; a call or visit from the candidate’s wife is as effective (if not more so) than one from the candidate himself.
  11. Write thank you notes and emails when she participates in campaign events.
  12. Send her flowers from the candidate for no reason, (let him know so he’s not caught off guard).  Don’t ever let him slack on anniversaries, birthdays and special holidays.
  13. If you are a woman (and even if you’re not) keep your relationship with the candidate at the highest level of professionalism.  Never go out to dinner with the candidate without his wife right next to you.  There is no reason for you to be alone with a candidate – always have a volunteer or staffer with you that can verify your activities.
  14. CC the candidate’s wife on schedule-related emails for events that will take place outside of office hours.  Always reschedule if at all possible if she alerts you to a family event that should take precedence.
  15. If there are skeletons in the closet that your opponent will reveal, do not let her find out about it in the newspaper.
There is a very good reason that the Spousal Agreement is the very first section of my Campaign Planbook.  A candidate’s spouse can make or break a campaign, therefore she should be viewed as a very important piece of the campaign.
Buy The Campaign Planbook

Post to Twitter

10 Rules to Govern Your Candidate’s Temper

  1. Don’t be a jerk, to anyone, including your opponent, your campaign staff and your wife.  It will always bite you in the ass.
  2. Turn the other cheek.  Don’t retaliate to baseless attacks.  It just gives your opponent’s story legs, and then they’ve framed you in the public’s mind.  Retaliate to serious attacks with tact, calm and lots of facts.
  3. Don’t underestimate the value of a Christ-led campaign.
  4. Won or lose, maintain your integrity.
  5. Maintain your ‘military bearing.’  In other words, “don’t get mad except on purpose” (and get mad ‘on purpose’ very sparingly).
  6. Too many campaigns have an ‘eye for an eye’ mentality.  Let the little stuff go.  99% won’t stick, unless you give them a reason to.
  7. Rise above the fray, then if your opponent attacks, he’s attacking a moral superior.
  8. Smile.  All the time.  You never know when someone could be taking a picture of you, and the worst one is the one that usually gets in the paper.
  9. Always be disgustingly nice to journalists.  If you can’t be nice, pretend you can’t hear them (it worked for Ronald Reagan).
  10. Remind yourself daily that you are not God.  You are just a man.  The last thing campaign staff want to deal with is a candidate’s over-inflated ego.

Post to Twitter