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.

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