It’s Summer! – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

summer campaigning

By now your campaign should be in full swing, and hopefully your family isn’t missing you yet, because it’ll be a loooong time before you can sit down and have a regular meal with them again.  July and August are fun on the campaign trail because summer is often full of fun events and lots of opportunities to meet people, which is pretty much the singular purpose of a campaign in summer.  You’ll need to be laser focused on voter contact while the weather is amiable.

  1. Door-to-door.  I hope you picked some really fun campaign tchotchkes, because this is when they’ll get the most use!  You’ll knock on hundreds of doors this summer, and run through at least two pairs of walking shoes, but think of how awesome your legs will look at the beach!  (Just kidding!  You don’t have time for the beach, unless there’s an event there where you can mingle with voters!)
  2. Events!  Parades, fairs, and festivals are my favorite summer campaign activities!  Tossing candies to the little children?  Love it!  Be sure to make the most of these, but don’t just attend everything for the sake of being seen.  It’s about actually meeting and greeting and discussing the local issues with voters.  If an event doesn’t give you much opportunity for that, ditch it and go back to door-to-door.
  3. GOTV groundwork.  As you go door to door, make your best effort to recruit volunteers, record which voters are supportive, and ask people if they’re willing to put a your sign in their yard.  You’ll need all this data in the future when you implement your 72-hour GOTV plan.
  4. Plan your communications.  You’ll need to make a concerted effort to raise your name ID and spread your campaign message through a formal paid communications and public relations strategy.  Are you going to do TV or radio?  What newspapers or other periodicals do you need to be seen in?  Should you buy print ads for that or initiate a letter-to-the-editor campaign?
  5. Plan to spend some money.  Along with planning what you’re going to do, plan what it’s going to cost, and when.  Make sure to plan ahead with your fundraising.  I like to pay early if I can, just so that the important things are locked in, and I’m not left with empty pockets when the bill comes due.  Knowing what you’re paying for next gives you a selling point in your fundraising efforts as well.  Saying “We’re planning to make a large placement in radio on WTOP next week and we need your help,” plays very well with donors.  They know exactly what their money is doing, and they like that (I do, too).

Now go get ‘em, Tiger!

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It’s May – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

May political campaign plan

May is quite possibly my favorite time of the campaign year; It’s warm and sunny but not blazing hot like mid-summer, and the campaignable (I totally made that word up) events are starting.  “But the Memorial Day Parade is weeks away,” you say, “what is there to do before then?”  Plenty, my friend, plenty!  And enjoy the sun while you’re doing it!  Because after May your entire life unravels….

  • Door-to-door!  Yay!  It’s finally time to start knocking on doors!  I know I said to do this in April, but April weather is hit or miss so you probably didn’t get enough time pounding the pavement, and people are much more likely to stand on their porches and chat in warmer, less rainy May.  Make this a fun activity and take a kid or two along.  This is the most important thing you will do in your whole campaign, so you have to make it enjoyable if you intend to win.
  • Get your campaign materials!  This is one of my favorite campaign activities, maybe because it’s kind of like shopping, or maybe because I have a hoarder-like obsession with collecting campaigning paraphernalia.  Be sure you order this stuff in time to receive it before you have any big events (parades, festivals, etc).  You also want to make sure your local GOP headquarters has materials available.  Read my post on the best and worst campaign materials to buy, it’ll steer you in the right direction if you don’t know where to start.
  • Parade prep!  If you live in America, and I’m guessing most of my readers do, there’s undoubtedly a Memorial Day parade in your town or district, and it’s very likely your local Republican group has a spot in it.  Get in touch with them and get on the list!  Get a banner, some T-shirts, and maybe even some of those awesome parade bags, and lots and lots of candy.  Get out and talk to your voters.  I promise, it’s fun!
  • Hold a fundraising event.  A barbecue themed Memorial weekend fundraiser is actually fun!  Friends and family can help out with food, decorations, and prep, making it a cheap and minimally time consuming way to get a fast infusion of campaign cash.  Just don’t forget to record any cash or in kind donations as well as your expenses for your campaign finance reports.
  • Enjoy your family a lot!  Ideally they’ll be running right along side you for the duration of your sprint on the campaign trail, but you’ll still spend a lot of extra time away from them.  May is likely your last opportunity to plan real, quality time with your spouse and kids without the stress of feeling like the clock is ticking and there are a million things to do.  Make. It. Count.  And for the love of Pete, do not forget Mother’s Day.

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Can I Win? Analyzing Voter Data

abeautifulmind002

Now that we know how to mine the data we need, it’s time to put it to work for us. Analyzing voter data is not much fun. It’s mind-numbing, in fact. But it’s the type of thing where if you stare at it long enough, eventually all the pieces fit together and suddenly you have a plan.

There’s no works-every-time system for analyzing voter data.  Every town is different, and every precinct within that town is different.  You may need to devise different strategies for different precincts depending on the demographic and political make up of the neighborhood.  Sometimes geography makes a big difference in how you approach campaigning, messaging, and grass roots / voter contact efforts.

Many, many political districts, especially at the state and federal levels (state representative or national House races), span both tightly packed city precincts and winding country roads.  You face very different challenges depending on where you are campaigning on a particular day.  Doing door-to-door voter contact in the city, you have to figure out how to get into apartment buildings that are locked to non-residents.  How do you get endorsements from local businesses? In the country you have to drive from one house to the next to go door-to-door; is there a better way? Should a local supporter hold a coffee with 10-15 voters instead? What message resonates with farmers and which with a small business owner? Career women and stay-at-home moms?

This is why in many cases you need to break out your voter data into individual precincts or groups of precincts and adjust your message and strategy accordingly.

So where do you begin?

Start with answering these questions about each and every precinct in your political district.

Are the voters heavily partisan or is this a fairly ‘swing’ precinct?

If it’s a strongly republican district, it’s ripe for GOTV and volunteer recruitment, and an especially important precinct during a primary. If it’s strongly democrat, you may not want to waste time there at all (although I very rarely advocate abandoning a precinct entirely. Every little vote counts.) Or perhaps there’s an issue that you believe will resonate well with Democrats that you can play up in this area.

How has this precinct changed over time?

Old voters die, neighborhoods gentrify, new people means new and different concerns. If you see an area, for example, that is gradually becoming more right-leaning, it could be that what once was a senior citizen neighborhood has been slowly taken over by new young and growing families who value keeping their tax dollars over social security concerns. That’s just one example. It helps to put boots on the ground in these neighborhoods and just feel out who lives there. Often a precinct is given up as “primarily Democrat” when, upon closer examination, it isn’t necessarily so.

What is the demographic make-up of this precinct? Race? Average income? Home-owners or renters? Religious, and what type, or unaffiliated?

Different groups care about different issues. It’s as simple as that. Tailor your message in that area to the voters who are receiving it.

Are the voters here voting in every election/for every candidate?

There are tons of people who go to the polls and simply leave blank the races in which they don’t recognize a name. This is a prime opportunity for voter contact! You know they go to the polls on Election Day, and getting them there is half the battle (the harder half). This is likely a place to show your face often.

Have voters favored different parties for different races?

Try to figure out why.

Some elected officials have such a hold on their electorate, or have just always been there, that everybody just continues voting for them, regardless of party affiliation. But they vote differently for other races with less familiar candidates. Maybe you can convince them to vote for you. Or maybe you can take a look at that “outlier” official and latch onto his positive qualities. Or if you’re actually running against that incumbent, it reveals to you how you should craft your message in regards to comparing/contrasting yourself with him.

How do the local issues affect this precinct?

Your district is unique and your message must match it. Focus on the things that matter to the voters here and now.

As you go through this exercise, you will probably come up with many more questions specific to your campaign and your district. You will also need to do additional research (think, microfilm newspapers at the library) to figure out what events and issues have affected past elections. As you put it all together, I promise, you will have an “Ah ha!” moment—or several, more likely—as you go precinct by precinct devising your campaign plan.

Rank your precincts

After you’ve done all that work, you need to prioritize which precincts are the most important, which you simply shouldn’t waste time and/or money on, and which are somewhere in between. You can throw them into these three tiers, or if you’re Type A like me, you’ll want to rank every single precinct in order, and maybe even have different ordered lists depending on the activity (communications vs. voter contact, for example).

The rest of your campaign strategy will grow organically out of this analysis.  These numbers will reveal if your campaign has a chance at winning, and what path to take to get there.  It’s important that you stick to it, because though current events, candidates, and circumstances chance, the numbers won’t. These are the hard facts upon which your campaign should be built.

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Why You Should Campaign Like Neel Kashkari

Guest post by Matthew P.

Today, the GOP candidate for Governor of California, Neel Kashkari, released a documentary video and accompanying WSJ op-ed detailing his experiences as a homeless man in Fresno.  He stepped off of a Greyhound bus, clean-shaven and presentable, with $40 in his pocket, a backpack with some supplies, and the clothes on his back. His goal was to spend a week living the life of a homeless man, in search of a job. Some people journey overseas on a mission of self-discovery; Mr. Kashkari didn’t have to travel as far.

Mr. Kashkari’s journey stands out as a supreme example of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, complete with some reflections about what he has taken for granted over the years.  To his credit, this is not the first time he has embraced the poor.  Throughout the primary campaign, he slept in homeless shelters and worked picking produce.  He also paid numerous visits to churches and schools in poor neighborhoods. Many credit this unconventional approach for his come-from-behind primary victory.

The video and op-ed document his undercover experience, complete with his sleeping on park benches, eating at a church mission, and relying on the goodness of strangers to sustain him. The video is worth a watch, and I encourage you to read the op-ed as well. Much of it is oriented toward California’s current economic disorder, but the lessons are palpable.

In the course of writing this blog, we see many examples of good things candidates are doing. Earlier, we praised Rand Paul’s speeches at historically black colleges and universities, along with other efforts to take his message to ears who wouldn’t necessarily hear it in their normal course of life. That may require a few visits to hostile territory, but we encourage you, dear reader, to try it. Respectfully engage people who you may not agree with. Spend less time at Lincoln Day Dinners and more time speaking to ordinary people.

Athletes say, “practice like you play,” and we say, “campaign like you would govern.” It will help you build empathy and credibility among people you will one day serve as an elected official. Here, we roundly discourage the divisive “rile your base with red meat, and turn ‘em out” style of campaigning simply because, while it may win you one election, that model is very bad for your long-term prospects of governing.

Much criticism has been piled on Mr. Kashkari for his background in finance and his wealth. Sometimes candidates counter this kind of criticism de rigeur by discussing their charitable activities, and by doing community service on the campaign trail.  And, if you are the kind of person who has a charitable background and have legitimate involvement in community service organizations, then by all means let that part of your character shine. Mr. Kashkari has a strong history of service, but by taking some time to experience the hardships of poverty, he took the opportunity to build a better sense of the daily lives of these he would like to serve. Plus, he can legitimately build credibility while learning.

Now, we do not expect you, dear reader, to try homelessness for a week. But we do encourage you to take some time and reflect on how your past hardships have helped you to become the person you are.  If your background contains periods of hardship, dredge up those memories, as painful as they can be, and use those episodes to help explain your positions to the voters. Let your human side show. Voters yearn for authenticity, and have richly rewarded candidates who deliver.

In the end, half of all candidates end up losing. Perhaps this isn’t the time for Mr. Kashkari. But he, and you, dear reader, should take a longer view.  Campaigns are long and grueling. Campaigning takes you from your family, and saps your finances and energy. So, please take your time running for office seriously, and do your best to make yourself a better person along the way. It will pay dividends once the voting is done, win or lose.

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How to Run for City Council – Know Your District

City Council District Map

Guess what!  It’s time for a geography lesson!

Clearly, you need to know where your district actually is if you are going to run and win a political campaign there (duh).  But district boundaries can be tricky!  Often, you’ll find that the streets at the perimeter of your district may be split – perhaps the east side of the street is in your district, but the west belongs to a different one.  You certainly don’t want to waste precious door-to-door time talking to people who can’t vote for you (although if they’ll stick your campaign sign in their yard, it’s not a total loss).

Your first order of business, if you didn’t pick it up on your initial filing trip, is to stop by the voter registration office and request copies of a map of your district.  Some counties actually have them online now.  Hopefully the maps are of a good enough quality that you can take them to Kinko’s or Staples and get a good blown up copy to hang on the wall.  You’ll want to have several copies on hand to mark up and use with volunteers as well.

For a city council race, you’ll have one to ten precincts within your district; most will have about five.  I recommend you grab some highlighters of various colors and choose one to outline your whole district, then pick a different color and outline each precinct.  Or if you want to get super fancy, borrow your daughter’s glitter markers and color code each precinct.

If you can’t make up your precinct maps from the district map available at voter registration, you can make up your own at the American Fact Finder website.  It takes a little time of playing around to get the hang of it, but once you’ve got it figured out, this website has a wealth of information beyond precinct boundaries.

After you’ve made up your maps, you’ll want to do some research using the census data available on American Fact Finder.  You should be able to get a pretty good idea where in your district seniors live, what areas have kids at home, you can break your district out by race, household income, education level, etc.  This information is invaluable, because these factors influence the issues that will most likely resonate with your voters.  For example, young families will care a lot about the local schools, seniors might care about a proposed community center, etc.

Once you have your maps in order and have studied them well enough to have a solid lay of the land, you’re ready to move on to the second (and even more complicated) piece of the data mining process: deciphering past election results.  We’ll get to that next.

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It’s March – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Right Now

march political cartoon irish st. patrick's day

Top o’ the month, to you, my faithful politicos! I’ve got another monthly update for you. Let’s touch base with what your campaign should be doing now that spring is nearly upon us…we hope.

  1. It’s time to put the pedal to the metal on planning your campaign strategy!  If you’re running for city council, and even if you’re running for something else, take a look at the first couple of posts in my Running for City Council series.  They’ve covered the steps preceding and up to this point – be on the look out for another post very soon that delves into campaign planning a little deeper.  You can also check out the campaign planning posts in the get started section, and it’s a good time to get the Campaign Planbook if you haven’t already.  Between now and a week or two before Memorial Day is the last opportunity you have to really sit down and put together a plan and schedule before things get crazy.  The earlier you plan the campaign, the sooner (and better) you can actually start campaigning.
  2. Attend city council meetings.  One would think this is a no-brainer, but I know plenty of candidates who don’t bother to attend current city council meetings.  This is not a place for campaigning, but for learning.  You’ll pick up on the issues that are important.  You’ll see how the current city council members interact.  Maybe you’ll even make a few friends.  Get yourself ahead of the curve and start picking up the councilman lingo now – it’ll make you a more confident and prepared candidate and elected official.
  3. Attend community events, if there are any.  March is the beginning of springtime and the excitement of Easter is mounting.  St. Patrick’s Day is a huge event in some communities.  In some places Dyngus Day is big.  Is there a Maple Sugar Festival in your neck of the woods?  Conversely, some communities are still totally dead in the early spring, and don’t have any big community events until Memorial Day.  If you are lucky enough to have these springtime activities in your town, they are great ways to get your face out there in front of potential voters early in the year.
    *Important Note* Sometimes these events are politician friendly, and sometimes it’s poor taste to wear your campaign pin and pass out campaign literature.  Throw your campaign gear in the trunk just in case, but assume you’ll just be gathering the family and enjoying a good time with friends and neighbors.  Feel free to talk about your run for office with others – get opinions, rouse excitement, but don’t feel like you have to be Mr. Candidate just yet.
  4. Expand your horizons.  You probably decided to run because you feel passionately about a handful of key issues affecting your city.  But there are probably many, many more issues out there that perhaps you never even knew existed.  Scour your local paper for public meetings of special interest groups in your area that are discussing local political issues that are new to you and attend those meetings.
    Don’t worry if it’s hosted by a traditionally anti-Republican organization.  The point is to open your own mind, exercise your ability to discuss issues with people who may disagree with you, make connections with activists in the community, perhaps build some unlikely alliances, and take a chip at the giant wall separating Us and Them.
  5. Do some legitimate campaigning!  When the weather allows, that is.  In much of the country, March is half winter and half early-summer.  Of course, you never know which days will be which!  However, take advantage of the cold days to focus on planning, planning, planning.  And when a warm day hits, take a walk around the neighborhood and actually knock on some doors!  Maybe practice on some neighbors you already know, and then branch out to a few streets that are new to you.  You don’t have to have your shiny campaign button or a slick brochure, but if you can print up a professional looking flyer on your home computer it’s a plus to bring it along (remember to put “Paid for by Committee to Elect John Doe” – or whatever your campaign’s name is – at the bottom).

Here’s a bonus tip for those of you working on your Campaign Planbook right now:  If you’re struggling in an area, use the GOPCampaigner.com search bar – there’s a good chance there’s already an article about it on the site.  Additionally, do not hesitate to ask a question in the comments or email me at GOPCampaigner@gmail.com.  I love questions from campaigners ‘in the field,’ because if you’re wrestling with something, there’s a good chance other candidates and campaign managers are dealing with the same issue.  It helps me to better serve the rest of the GOPCampaigner.com community when I have specific issues/topics to discuss.

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How to Run for City Council – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

how to run for city council choosing your campaign team

Chandler for Borough President!

Now that you’ve gotten your paperwork in, you’re really running for city council!  Except not really, at all.  Anybody can slap their name on some forms and drop them off at the city building and get their name on a ballot as city council candidate.  Now you’ve got to prove to the voters–and yourself–that your heart is in it.  This is where the rubber really meets the road.

The Campaign Plan

I’m not going to cover the entire task of putting together a campaign plan in one post; that would be a disservice to you.  You can expect to see the various parts of the campaign plan systematically detailed in the coming posts, but if you’re really ready to hit the ground running, buy the Campaign Planbook, which will walk you step-by-step through the process of putting together a fully fleshed out, slam-bangin’ campaign plan in very little time.

The first step to writing a campaign plan actually has nothing to do with writing, yet.  You first need to gather together your gang/posse/crew – essentially, your ‘campaign team.’  There is a strict rubric you must follow when choosing people to be on this very short list.

  1. Do I really trust this person?  They will be keeping ALL your secrets.  You need to know they are telling no one.  Literally, no one.  You wouldn’t believe how much info I can milk out of your buddy’s 10 year old daughter’s classmate.
  2. Does this person have valuable input?  Just because Joe Shmoe is your best friend doesn’t mean he has anything meaningful to say about the city’s political affairs.  Additionally, just because some muckety-muck is the county representative to the state GOP doesn’t mean his opinion is worth two cents either.  You want to tap people who are close to you that are also actively engaged citizens.
  3. Does this person have the time to dedicate to this campaign?  Ideally, they should be able to put in as much time as you.
  4. Does this person have a talent or skill that is critical to campaign success?  If they are an accountant they’d make an excellent treasurer.  If they run a small business or manage a franchise (well, they’re probably too busy, but…) they’d likely make a good campaign manager.  Do not bother inviting people into the ‘club’ that don’t have anything to offer but moral support or a duplicate of someone else’s skill.  Pick the best man for the job and go with it.

Other things to consider: Will this person tell me to slow down when I’ve run myself ragged?  Will she pick up the slack if I need a break?  Will he tell me when I’m just plain wrong about something?  Will he put the well-being of my family/marriage ahead of the campaign?  In other words – is this person a true friend?

Because as a candidate you will likely give in to the temptation to believe that you are some sort of demi-god and the world revolves around you, or you will spend so much time going door-to-door that you miss every little league game of the season, or you will get so narrowly focused on what you think is important, you’ll forget to consider what the voters in your city think is important.  These people in your core campaign team are not ‘yes men.’  They need to be the ones that smack you in the face when you’re being dumb.

Once you’ve narrowed your group down to 3-5 individuals, then you’re ready to call a meeting and bust out the pens, the paper, and of course your brand new copy of the Campaign Planbook.

I should also mention here that spouses play a pivotal role in the development and implementation of the campaign plan.  I’ve been re-reading my favorite campaign planning book of all time (besides mine, of course) and it actually recommends keeping your spouse out of this group, citing that they’ll have the chance to help out by “putting up yard signs, answering phones, passing out literature, etc.”

“Um, excuse me?  So you’re basically saying my opinion means nothing to you but you still want me around for the grunt work, is that right?  Pfft!  Hope you like the couch, honey, because that’s what THAT conversation just won you,” is exactly what I would say to my husband if he relegated me to yard sign coordinator.

Chances are great that your wife couldn’t care less what’s in your campaign plan.  But you’re dragging her into this year of craziness right along with you.  It will affect her life tremendously.  And your actions as a public figure and political candidate will reflect on her public image, too.  That’s why I start every campaign plan with an agreement between candidate and spouse, so that all the cards are on the table, and both parties completely understand what’s expected of the other during this time.  Trust me, you need the support your spouse provides for you.  Additionally, you do not need the marital discord political campaigns can cause.

And if you need another reason: lack of communication can lead to major campaign faux pas in the future.  Let’s say, for example, you’ve decided you’re anti-spinach.  You’ve positioned yourself as the no-spinach candidate and the voters love you for it.  And then a reporter calls your wife and asks how she feels about spinach.  “Oh I love spinach, in fact I’m making creamed spinach for dinner tonight!”  Tomorrow’s headline: So-Called Anti-Spinach City Council Candidate John Smith Eats Spinach Twice a Week!”

Replace “spinach” with your town’s most recent fringe issue, and kiss your political aspirations good-bye.

Before you sit down with your team, you need to sit down with your spouse and determine how they would like to participate in the political process.  If she doesn’t want to be involved that much, that’s totally cool.  But if she wants a ‘seat at the table,’ I say give it to her, and take what she says seriously.

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How to Run for City Council – Paperwork

Ah, the bane of my existence, paperwork.  I hate the seemingly endless stream of paperwork that accompanies running for office.  The good news, if you’re running for city council, is that the train-wreck of federal campaign finance laws don’t apply to you.  However, your city, county and state will likely have it’s own requirements.

The first and most important thing I must mention up front – there is no way I can write a post detailing every piece of paperwork you will be required to do because each town and state will have its own particular procedure.  Therefore it is imperative that you march yourself right down to your local city building and ask them to have mercy on your soul and help you out.

A few tips on interacting with the friendly folks in the clerk’s office:

  • Always kill them with kindness. Clerk is also an elected person, which means this is a partisan office, despite needing to serve candidates from both parties.  Generally they are open and helpful to everyone (it would be unlawful if they didn’t help you because you were from the opposing party), but sometimes you run into employees with a particular ax to grind.  Simply be sweet and persistent with these folks until you get what you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask ‘stupid’ questions.  Government forms are rarely easy to understand.  If you have any question at all about what’s required of you for a particular form, ask for clarity.  Make sure you are 100% sure of what’s required, because if you screw it up, it could be disastrous.
  • Always be very grateful for their help!  Friendships formed with the people in the Clerk’s office are priceless.  I am not above bringing them treats and sending thank you cards to these fine folks!

Unfortunately, the paperwork for running for local office is not universal – every municipality will have its own requirements, but luckily there is a basic framework that most towns and cities adhere to.  Here’s a list of the common forms and paperwork you’ll likely have to file:

  • Declaration of Candidacy or Nomination Papers – the first form you must fill out, your declaration that you intend to run for city council.  You may or may not be required to collect signatures in order to officially get your name on the ballot.
  • Bank Account – this isn’t one for the city clerk’s office, but you’ll need to open a separate bank account for campaign related fundraising and spending.  I put it here because you’ll want the ‘name’ of your campaign and the ‘name’ on the bank account to match, to avoid any confusion.  I recommend a simple “John Doe for City Council.”  Don’t try to get fancy, you don’t want to make writing a check out to you more difficult than necessary.
  • Campaign Finance Reports – these will likely need to be done before and after the primary election, and before and after the general.  It could also be on a quarterly basis.  Ideally some math whiz kid is tracking every dollar raised and spent in an Excel spreadsheet and can do the majority of the work on these forms for you, but you need to make sure you are aware and in agreement with the final numbers (because it’s your butt on the line, no one else’s).

All in all it’s pretty simple, and yet still so easy to screw up.  Don’t be afraid to ask the folks at the Clerk’s office to look over your paperwork before you officially turn in it to verify you checked all the right boxes, signed in all the right places, etc.  Make extra certain everything on the form is 100% accurate.  You want to catch any errors before your opponent or the media does.

The first step (after reading this article) is to do an internet search for “file to run” or “candidacy” or some similar key words with the name of your town.  Chances are the information you need, and maybe even the forms, are available online.  You’ll find out exactly where you need to go and who you need to shmooze to get your paperwork through without hassles.  If you can’t find info online, it’s time to pound the pavement.  Start at your town’s Clerk’s office, as that’s very likely where you need to file, and if it’s not, they can tell you where.  Sometimes filing to run for city council requires a trip to the county voter registration office, but not in most cases.

What are you waiting for?  Get going!

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How to Run for City Council – Get A Grip

How to run for city council

NYC City Councilman Christine Quinn – I just like this pic of her. She doesn’t actually look much like this in real life.

Running for city council is a lot like running for any other office…and yet different.  If you know nothing about political campaigning and this city council run is your first foray into the election process, keep on reading – I’ll walk you through the steps of designing a successful campaign over the course of the next few days/weeks.

Get A Grip On Your Mindset

There are a few different approaches to framing a political campaign and it’s very important that you choose the right one in order to create a winning ‘tone’ for your campaign communications.  Keep in mind, this isn’t about why or how you’re trying running.  You may seriously hate the guy currently representing your city council district, and want nothing more than to beat the pants off him in an election, but you can’t write a great, winning campaign plan with in that state of mind.

You need to approach this city council race in a way the voters can relate to it.  Every elected office has its own flavor.  You have to identify the flavor of yours, and go with it, at least on the surface.  This will be a key piece of putting together your campaign message. Think about it this way:  If you were running for mayor or governor or some other executive branch office, you would basically be auditioning to be the star in a one-man show.  Think about the presidential nomination process.  On both sides, candidates are selling their own life/personality/résumé, and making campaign promises like they can just wave their hand and make all your dreams come true (some of them really believe it, too).

Running for a state or congressional representative seat is a different story.  In these campaigns we see more of an “us” verses “them” mentality, and candidates running at this level tend to plan their campaigns like they’re running to be Team Captain for “Our Team.”  Imagine campaign slogans like “Joe Smith Will Fight for You” and “Jane Johnson Leads Us to Prosperity.”  These are the types of campaign messages that play well for representative elections.

Running for city council is a different animal all together.  In this scenario, you’re simply a freshman at tryouts, hoping you make JV and not even dreaming about varsity.  You just want to play the game.  No one expects their city councilperson to be argumentative, pushy or divisive.  They envision a city council full of ‘team players’ working together in very droll, drawn-out meetings to determine if this building or that one should be re-zoned.  Using a campaign message that suggests you’re a ‘fighter’ or ‘the leader’ is not going to fit with that picture in the voters’ heads (whether the picture is accurate or not is irrelevant).

Does that mean you have to run your campaign like you’re simply a follower?  No!  Pick some important city issues and promise to give them a voice (and keep that promise) – but do it in a manner that tells the voter you’re running to do your part so the whole team to win, not just you. Now go brainstorm some campaign slogans for your city council race!

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It’s February – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Right Now

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  1. Make reservations to have a romantic evening with your sweetie.  Check the Planbook, man, and keep your priorities straight!
  2. File for office if your deadline is in February – you should have checked on this in January; if you didn’t, go look it up real quick!  Remember, it’s usually better to wait.
  3. Start forming your ‘inner circle.’  These are people who are close to you and believe in you.  These are not necessarily people who are big-time politicos in your area or high dollar fundraisers.  If those groups overlap, great, but don’t mistake the party chair who’s pushing you to run for city council for your political BFF.  He may want you to think he is, but he isn’t.
  4. Draw up a rough outline of your campaign plan.  Now would be a good time to get the Campaign Planbook if you want a fill-in-the-blank easy, simple, straight-forward campaign planning solution.
  5. Breathe.  It’s still flipping cold outside.  There are no worthwhile public events on the horizon for months (unless the Knights of Columbus throw an awesome St. Patty’s day party like the one in my hometown).  So don’t stress about being “the Candidate” just yet.

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