- Before you can pay them – don’t ever put your campaign in debt to a political consultant (or anyone, for that matter)
- Before you do your research. Get recommendations from other candidates who’ve won.
- Because you don’t know anything. Read a friggin’ book for pete’s sake! There are tons of campaigning books at the library for free. Guess what – they’re the same books the political consultant bases his ‘expertise’ on.
- Because hiring a consultant is what you’re “supposed” to do (it’s not).
- To make people take you seriously. This is ridiculous. If you’re on the ballot, you’re serious.
- Because of their “connections.” I have heard this excuse at least a dozen times, and yet never has the addition of a political consultant brought in more donors, media attention or voters.
- Because you want someone to do it for you. Face it, you are running for office. I hate to burst your bubble, but hiring a political consultant doesn’t put the campaign process on autopilot.
- Because your good friend is a ‘political consultant.’ If your friend is trying to charge you to help you with your campaign, they either aren’t that good a friend or aren’t that good a political consultant.
- Because they can’t get a job anywhere else. This is actually why most political consultants become political consultants anyway, and the really bad ones are the ones preying on small, first-time candidates. Steer clear.
- Because you don’t need them! As soon as you file for office you have a built-in support system through your local GOP and conservative interest groups like Right to Life, Right to Work, NRA, and many more. Reach out to them. They want you to win and they exist for the purpose of helping you succeed and champion their issues.
There it is, folks. The lip-smack heard ’round the world. Most people remember the media field day that followed this rather long kiss between Al and Tipper Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. People didn’t stop talking about it for days.
Some would probably vouch that the gentlemen of the Good Ol’ Party are more tight-lipped, but even a Republican candidate gets a little tongue-tied now and then. Here’s the thing – don’t do it in public.
Yes, voters and the media want to see a healthy and happy marriage between candidate and spouse. A hug, holding hands, a peck on the cheek, are all fine public displays of affection and highly encouraged during public appearances. Just save the rest for private time.
That being said, your spouse is the most important person in a political campaign, aside from the candidate. Running for office is a team effort for a married couple, so maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse is absolutely key throughout a political campaign. Campaigns have been known to strain marriages to the breaking point. Don’t let it happen to you. Make sure your spouse is on board and that you continue to be attentive, even when the campaign stress and schedule makes it seem impossible.
One of my favorite professors at Purdue University, Prof. Louis Rene Beres, has written a particularly thought-provoking commentary on the absurdity of American ‘freak show’ politics.
Read it here: American Politics Has A Fame Problem
And here’s an excerpt:
“Many of our national heroes were once created by commendable achievement. Today, the successful politician is fashioned by a system that is refractory to all wisdom, a system that is sustained by banality, empty chatter, and half knowledge. Now, at a time when leadership incapability could pave the way to bioterrorism, “dirty bombs,” or even outright nuclear attack, our relentless transformations of politics into amusement has become far more than a mere matter of foolishness or bad taste.”
Louis René Beres is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law and is a professor at Purdue.
- A candidate who’s shy about asking for money is a candidate who’s destined to lose
- The vast majority of your cash will come from individuals, PACs and organizations writing big checks
- Don’t spend a ton of money trying to put on a ‘ritzy’ fundraising event; pick a cheap theme and charge a lot to attend
- People attend fundraisers to be seen in the right circles
- An impressive ‘Honorary Chairman’ or ‘Guest Speaker’ will attract donors
- Always start with a fundraising letter, and continue to do them
- Don’t expect online donations to float your campaign budget in the least
- The candidate is ultimately responsible for raising funds
- Oftentimes a call from the candidate’s wife gets a bigger check than a call from the candidate himself
- Don’t ever put your campaign in debt; nobody donates after the election is over
Many first-time candidates and campaign managers think they have to hire a political consultant in order to seriously run for office. This is especially prevalent at the federal level. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Political consultants are expensive. Talking to a political consultant – many of whom are hacks, by the way – in the preliminary stages of a campaign will rack up thousands of dollars in debt for your campaign before you’ve even raised a penny. If you hire political consultants in the early stages, chances are good you’ll be fundraising your way out of debt throughout your entire campaign, making the experience of running for office entirely too stressful.
So when do you hire a consultant? Here are a few guidelines:
- Raise at least $50,000 before considering a political consultant. The dollar amount could be lower for small campaigns or uncharacteristically cheap consultants, but generally you should be able to fundraise $50,000 on your own merit. If the candidate, campaign manager and treasurer/campaign finance chair can’t drum up $50k in the first couple of months before you ‘go public’ with your campaign, you might want to reconsider running.
- Shop around. The vast majority of information the typical political consultant is going to shell out is Campaign 101. In fact, you could save a ton of money by signing up for a campaign management boot-camp instead of hiring a political consultant (these are often run by state parties or national political groups). But if your campaign is too big for you to handle alone, do NOT take a consultant’s word that they’re worth what they are asking. Get references, compare prices, and be sure to set up a pay system that works well for your campaign.
- Find the hiring sweet-spot in your campaign. Some time after you’ve raised significant funds and after you have a cadre of advisors and a faithful following of volunteers, but before you do any serious media events or public speeches – that’s the time to bring on a professional.
- Don’t commit. Just because you call in a consultant in the planning stages doesn’t mean you need to keep them on retainer throughout the campaign, or hold weekly meetings with them, and for God’s sake, don’t pay them to be there every single day unless you are loaded with campaign cash and have bought everything else you can think of.
- Ask for professional certification. The National Institute of Politics and the American Association of Political Consultants both have professional certifications, as do some other political consulting organizations. It is not required to be certified in order to work as a political consultant, but it adds credibility. There are plenty of political consultants without certification that are totally qualified and quite competent, but for every competent political consultant there are at least five hacks waiting to pounce on you.
- Beware of vulture political hacks. As soon as you put your name on that candidate line, ‘wannabe’ political operatives will be knocking on your door, pretending that they love you, they believe in you, and they care about you – then they’ll ask you to hire them. Don’t. The real professionals don’t need to beg for work.
Volunteer [vol-uhn-teer] – noun: a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
By the very nature of the word, volunteers should NOT be paid. The ‘paid volunteer’ is a death nell for almost any campaign, most especially at the local and state levels. Going the paid volunteer route is simply a bad idea, and here’s why:
Paid volunteers don’t love you. A campaign volunteer believes in your candidate, often times to a fault. They would do anything to help you win, from going door-to-door to emptying the office trash. If you have to pay your volunteers, it’s because your candidate can’t rally the traditional campaign troops, so how on earth is he going to persuade the voters?
They don’t know you. Since paid volunteers are there for the money, they probably didn’t study your platform, they probably don’t know your personal biography, your experience, or anything else they’ll need to know when voters ask “Why should we vote for him?” All the coaching in the world can’t replace the genuine faith a true campaign volunteer has in a candidate.
They aren’t reliable. Paid volunteers show up when it’s convenient for them to ‘work.’ If $10 an hour isn’t enough for them to wake up at 5 a.m. on Election Day, guess what? You’re outta luck, pal.
You’ll be giving the same tutorial throughout the whole campaign. Since paid volunteers generally stick around for one or two gigs and that’s it, you’ll be giving the same crash course on your candidate every day from about May ’til November.
If you can’t get volunteers any other way than throwing money at them, you probably have a candidate issue or a leadership issue.
What’s the solution? Take whatever money you would set aside for paid volunteers and find ONE volunteer that is outgoing, energetic and extroverted, organized, enthusiastic about your campaign, and totally in love with your candidate (idealogically, not literally) and make them a paid Volunteer Coordinator. Even if it’s a small stipend, any amount of money will typically be incentive enough to work their fingers to the bone for you. Chances are they will be able to fire up 10-20 times as many volunteers as you would be able to drum up for yourself.
If you anticipate volunteer recruitment being a challenge, a Volunteer Coordinator should be the first person on payroll. If you are running in a large district or for a relatively high office, a Congressional office or statewide race, for example, you’ll need a Volunteer Coordinator from the beginning anyway.
Charlie Rangel hosts a “telephone town hall” on a pretty regular basis, allowing his constituents to voice their opinions and giving him an opportunity to sell his agenda to the voters. You don’t have to sign up to be a part of it, you don’t have to be a supporter. You just have to live in his district. If you do, and you have a landline phone, don’t be surprised if you get a call telling you to stay on the line to be directly connected to the town hall.
This is just one example of the number one reason certain incumbents stay in office for a lifetime – access. The voters have direct access to their Congressman! It doesn’t matter that the questions are all screened or that Charlie tightly controls the topics for discussion. A phone call is a very personal thing. If the Congressman calls you – not a recording, and not a paid telemarketing guy – that leaves an impression! Even if there are hundreds of other people on the line. Don’t be the jack@$$ who promises to represent the voters in campaign season then never comes back to the district after Election day!
Another thing good ol’ Charlie does well – take care of the constituency. It doesn’t matter what office you’re holding, if you’re an elected official, you can make things happen. So do it. A constituent complaining about getting evicted? Set her up with a good place with low rent. Someone upset because they got fired? See if you can find them some employment. If you can solve those kinds of problems, you can seriously change lives. That’s a vote you know you can count on no matter what.
Reason number three: they never stop running. Their campaign, that is. It’s hard work to attend every pancake breakfast, chicken dinner, local union meeting, etc. while you’re in campaign mode – imagine doing it when you’ve actually got the job! Regardless, it’s just another way incumbents must stay in touch with the voters.
Communication and messaging is central to any campaign. Likewise, it’s vital after the election, too. Luckily once you’re elected, you’ve got several communication channels already available at your fingertips, and it doesn’t cost anything! Now obviously you can’t out & out campaign through an official newsletter or email, but you can continue to beat the same drum as on the campaign trail – remember the issues you ran on and keep sending the message to your voters. There is no such thing as too much communication from your elected official.
Finally, let’s not forget the obvious – most of these incumbents live in very gerrymandered districts, with upwards of 70% of the voting population being solidly one party or the other. Still, these guys are winning primary elections, or not getting challenged at all. They are obviously doing something right.
Morton Blackwell’s Laws
by Morton C. Blackwell
1. Never give a bureaucrat a chance to say no.
2. Don’t fire all your ammunition at once.
3. Don’t get mad except on purpose.
4. Effort is admirable. Achievement is valuable.
5. Make the steal more expensive than it’s worth.
6. Give ‘em a title and get ‘em involved.
7. Expand the leadership.
8. You can’t beat a plan with no plan.
9. Political technology determines political success.
10. Sound doctrine is sound politics.
11. In politics, you have your word and your friends; go back on either and you’re dead.
12. Keep your eye on the main chance and don’t stop to kick every barking dog.
13. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
14. Remember the other side has troubles too.
15. Don’t treat good guys like you treat bad guys.
16. A well-run movement takes care of its own.
17. Hire at least as many to the right o f you as to the left of you.
18. You can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent.
19. All gains are incremental; some increments aren’t gains.
20. A stable movement requires a healthy, reciprocal I.O.U. flow among its participants. Don’t keep a careful tally.
21. An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
22. Never miss a political meeting if you think there’s the slightest chance you’ll wish you’d been there.
23. In volunteer politics, a builder can build faster than a destroyer can destroy.
24. Actions have consequences.
25. The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure.
26. Personnel is policy.
27. Remember it’s a long ball game.
28. The test of moral ideas is moral results.
29. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.
30. Better a snake in the grass than a viper in your bosom.
31. Don’t fully trust anyone until he has stuck with a good cause which he saw was losing.
32. A prompt, generous letter of thanks can seal a commitment which otherwise might disappear when the going gets rough.
33. Governing is campaigning by different means.
34. You cannot make friends of your enemies by making enemies of your friends.
35. Choose your enemies as carefully as you choose your friends.
36. Keep a secure home base.
37. Don’t rely on being given anything you don’t ask for.
38. In politics, nothing moves unless pushed.
39. Winners aren’t perfect. They made fewer mistakes than their rivals.
40. One big reason is better than many little reasons.
41. In moments of crisis, the initiative passes to those who are best prepared.
42. Politics is of the heart as well as of the mind. Many people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
43. Promptly report your action to the one who requested it.
44. Moral outrage is the most powerful motivating force in politics.
45. Pray as if it all depended on God; work as if it all depended on you.
Morton C. Blackwell, President
This is an article by the great Morton Blackwell detailing the 10 worst mistakes political candidates make when planning and executing their campaigns.
Some candidates lose because they can’t fundraise enough money, no matter how hard or skillfully they try. Others lose because their election districts are demographically wrong, because the trend is against their party or because their views are not close enough to those of the voters.
But many losing candidates could have won, if they had avoided making one or more of the following common mistakes:
1. Failure to develop in advance a comprehensive campaign plan, including a timetable and a realistic campaign budget. In politics you can start late, but you can’t start too early. Losing campaigns almost always misorder priorities, putting too much effort on things which can have little effect on the election outcome.
2. Managing their own campaigns.
3. Spending too much time at headquarters rather than going out personally to solicit votes or raise money.
4. Hiring consultants who personally absorb too much of their campaign budgets.
6. Adopting (and sometimes changing) positions on issues because of pressure from major contributors or the results of public opinion polls. Polls can be useful to determine which of their personal positions on issues should be stressed in their campaigns.
7. Misreading public opinion polls, which usually measure preference but seldom measure intensity. Intensity, not preference, motivates people to act in politics.
8. Failure to stress properly the issues which motivate the core elements of their supporters.
9. Responding to every minor criticism rather than focussing on the carefully considered issue thrust of their own campaigns. Campaigns lose when too much on the defensive.
10. Failure to respond properly to continuing negative information, whether from an opponent, the news media or both. Ignoring a continuing negative issue won’t make it go away.
Copyright 2002, Morton C. Blackwell. All rights reserved.
— Morton Blackwell, founder and chairman of The Leadership Institute, has also served for nearly two decades as Republican National Committeeman from Virginia, has trained two generations of conservative activists, and is more responsible than anyone for the resurgence in conservative grassroots organization.
If you’re considering a run for political office, I’m sure there are a lot of sirens calling you: the limelight, the paycheck, the posh office, the masses of partisan hacks treating you like a savior, and of course, the opportunity to ‘do good.’ But there are a ton of things that can easily make throwing your hat into the ring the worst decision you’ve ever made. Review this list (in no particular order) carefully and make sure none of these apply to you before you put your name on the ballot.
- Your spouse. A political candidate must spend every second of every day working, campaigning and fundraising. Plan to spend most dinners without your husband if he’s running for political office.
- Your kids. Unless they’re very young or in high school or college, you better put off running for office until they’re less likely to feel totally abandoned when you don’t show to the recital/school play/baseball game/spelling bee.
- You like the attention. Nobody can stand the guy who runs just so his name will be in the papers. Don’t be that guy.
- You don’t like the attention. The media always puts the candidate’s feet to the fire (especially if you’re Republican). If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
- A party hack is pushing you into it. If you can find no solid, logical reason to run for office, but the chairman of the county GOP is promising you the moon and stars and tons of campaign funding if you run, you’re probably just a sacrificial lamb. Often times the local party simply needs someone to fill the GOP slot on the ballot, especially against impossible-to-beat opponents. If you think that may be what’s going on, don’t risk your reputation on an impossible campaign.
- You might just win. Don’t forget, if you win, you actually have to do the job. That will mean (more) time away from family, lots of travel, and lots of listening to everyone else’s problems. And unless you’re running for a national office, the pay is probably not worth it.
- You have an ax to grind. You hate the incumbent with a red-hot passion, or you have a particular bone to pick with the Democrat party for one reason or another. Whatever the case is, if you’re holding a grudge, it’s too emotional for you.
- It’s an easy win. It’s a slam-dunk Republican district and nobody else has applied for the job. Sure, it’s nice, but if you don’t have the genuine desire to do the work, you’re doing the constituents a disservice and wasting taxpayer money.
- You’re in it for the money/perks. The money is NOT worth it. Even if you’re running for POTUS. Seriously.
- You want to change the world. So, so many politicians run their first campaign on the “I’m going to fix (insert capital city here)” platform. You think you’re the fresh face who’ll really shake things up. Oh, you sweet, naive candidate; instead of running for office, preserve your innocence and become a Tea Party activist. You’re much more likely of succeeding there.
- You’re only really interested in one issue. If you’re the ‘pro-life’ candidate, the ‘traditional marriage’ candidate or you want to run on the issue of the day and not much else, you won’t last long – probably not even throughout one whole campaign. If you can’t delve deep into a myriad of political issues, stick with a activist group for the issue you care about.
- There’s no one else running. Nobody likes to ‘settle,’ and you certainly don’t want to be the one they ‘settle’ for. “Because you can” is not a good reason to become a candidate.
- It looks good on a resume. This is probably only true if you win.
- You have to quit your day job to do it. Never, ever quit your day job to run for office. Ever. Quitting is only an option if you’re already a politician and planning to run for a high profile office.
- You have to spend your own money to run. Don’t go into debt for your campaign. Ever. No exceptions.
- You’ll run your own campaign instead of enlisting a campaign manager. This is the worst thing a candidate can do to himself. Candidates that try to manage their own campaign usually drive it right into the ground.
- You’re special because you’re different. You can not base an entire campaign platform on the fact that you’re a Republican woman, a black conservative, a pro-gay rights Republican or a pro-life Democrat. If you are one of these things, just ignore it, unless you want to be the flash-in-the-pan ‘token’ candidate.
- You’ve been behind the scenes and now you want to be in the limelight. You’ve worked on campaigns in the past and boy, the grass sure looks greener on the candidate’s side…I assure you, it isn’t.
- You think everyone cares as much as you do. Unless you are actually in the business of politics in one way or another, nobody really cares about politics. The ‘average voter’ is thinking about 765,493,910 things before they are thinking about you, your race, or your issues.
- You owe back-taxes of any kind. They WILL find out.
- You’ve done drugs or have been an alcoholic. See 20.
- You’ve had an affair or other sexual misconduct. They will find out, and so will your spouse and kids. You’ll lose a lot more than a campaign.
- Your dad/grandfather/great-grandfather held political office. Political offices are not family heirlooms. At least, not so much, any more.
- You just want to be a politician. There are actually college majors designed to groom people to run for office. This is the most disingenuous approach to political candidacy I’ve ever seen. ‘Political official’ is not a career!
- You like power. You’ll actually have a lot less. Especially if you win.
- You don’t like asking for money. Political candidates spend half their time begging people for money. If you can’t look your friends, family and total strangers in the eye and ask them for $1,000, forget running for office.
Political campaigning is not for the faint of heart. Think twice before you sign on the dotted line and become a political candidate!