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

Political Campaign schedule june

June is the eye of the political hurricane in most parts of the country.  Up to now, it probably feels as though your campaign’s momentum has been steadily building, excitement is bubbling, the volunteer list is growing, and campaign funds are beginning to flow.  After the thrill of Memorial Day, however, many communities experience a lull in activities, since July and August are the hot and happening summer months, kids are still wrapping up school, and there aren’t any major holidays to celebrate.  Your campaign, too, will have a sort of plateau in June.  So what do you do?

  1. Family first – take advantage of the break in events and plan a couple of long weekends with your spouse and kids.  Take off early on a Thursday and escape everything for just a few days before crazy time in July, especially if you started to feel the heat with all the hoopla at the end of May.
  2. Door-to-door – You should still be pounding the pavement!  Go talk to voters.  It’s lots of fun, and keeps you in tune with what issues resonate in your community.
  3. Fairs and Festivals – In some parts of the country, county fairs and 4-H events are in full swing in June.  Your local Republican Party will likely have a booth where you can hang out and greet voters, and you may even be able to participate in some publicity – goat milking contest, anyone???  In other parts of the country, festivals are big fundraisers and there’s a new one every weekend, all summer long.  If there’s an opportunity to meet and greet voters at any in your district, you should be there.
  4. Fundraising -The need for campaign cash grows ever greater as Election Day looms.  Fundraising is something you’ll have to continue throughout the duration of your run for office, so you might as well get used to it.
  5. Start working your PR.  That’s Public Relations, in case you didn’t know.  This can be as simple as writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper (or newspapers if your district is big enough to cover multiple papers’ areas) about current issues, or it can mean holding an official press conference to “kick-off” your campaign and layout your agenda for the media and the public.  Whatever fits the bill in your district, you need to get started on it to build name recognition and lay the groundwork with reporters for future communications.

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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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Hat in the Ring, Not on Your Head!

Political candidates should not wear hats.

Apparently, this is a thing.  I’m amazed I made it this long without discovering this hard and fast campaigning rule.  But really, it’s probably rarely an issue in local campaigns.  How often do local elected officials or candidates get asked to wear hats, really?

At the higher echelons, however, this is a rule you’ll need to be aware of. To prove the point, politico.com has provided a brief history of this rule:

And–this is the best part–a little tidbit from the Nixon Campaign Plan Book:

“The 37th President of the United States of America NEVER WEARS HATS…no honorary hats…no protocol hats…no “great photo” hats…no “the law requires” hats…no “it’s the custom” hats…no cute hats…no beanies…no stovepipes…no firehats…no captains hats…no caps…no Indian headdress…no feather hats…no hard hats…no soft hats…no ladies hats…no mens hats…no fur hats…no paper hats…no grass hats…no thorn hats…no “Nixon’s The One” hats…no nothing.  HATS ARE TOXIC–AND CAN KILL YOU.”

Even if you’re the President of the United States, standing in the middle of Ground Zero among hundred of other people wearing protective hats…

no hat bush

NO.  HAT.

I can understand how a presidential candidate could easily be made to look foolish by wearing inappropriate headgear.  Now, the chances of a hat bringing an equally devastating effect upon a town or county campaign are probably slim, but…why risk it?  Besides, City Councilmen become Mayors, State Representatives become Congressional candidates…do you really want a picture of you in a dorky hat surfacing during an election for higher office down the road?

Leave the hats at home!

Try a lapel pin instead.  Those never go out of style, am I right???

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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 January – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Right Now

Running a campaign in the new year

Happy New Year!

Welcome to a brand new election cycle.  Even though the national media has already completely blown off the 2014 elections in favor of covering the eating habits of every potential 2016 presidential candidate in the country, here at GOP Campaigner we care more about who’s running for town council.  And with that in mind, I’ve decided to start the new year with a post that will hopefully get you focused on your goal for 2014 – winning your political campaign!

So what should you be doing right now?

  1. Decide.  I mean really decide.  Get introspective, and deep, and truly determine whether you’re ready for this monumental challenge.  How to do this?  Here are some questions you need to answer for yourself:
    • Why do I want to run for office?
    • Do I want to be mayor/city councilman/state representative because I really want the job?  Or is it because I don’t like how the incumbent does it now? (Hint: Running just to unseat a jerk is not a good reason!)
    • What do I want to accomplish in this elected position?  What issues are important to me?
    • Is my family prepared for a run for office?  Remember, it’s not just your life that will be in upheaval.  Your wife and children will definitely be affected, and will suffer if you don’t prepare.
    • Finally, search your heart.  Sit in silence in some peaceful, spiritual place, and just wait.  Do you feel excited at the prospect of running a campaign, like you’re starting a great adventure?  Or do you feel apprehensive about your ability to handle the attention, the work, the upheaval?
    • Is your spouse on board?  Because it’s never worth it if you don’t have full spousal support. 
  1. Mentally prepare yourself for losing.  Yes, you could lose.  That’s always a possibility, even in races that seem a sure bet.  So make sure you’re emotionally capable of handling a loss.  Too many candidates put their whole self worth into the voters hands on election day and let me tell you, the voters do not care about your ego.
  2. Consult the family.  This is the time for scheduling out the important parts of your life so that later you can schedule campaigning around your family life, instead of the other way around.  All too often soccer games and dance recitals and supporting your wife’s interests and hobbies are an afterthought, after you’ve already set up a campaign schedule that dominates your evenings and weekends.  If you’re in a stage of life where you’re raising a growing family, they should always come first.  Always.  The voters will forget about you by December, whether you win or lose.  Your kids will never forget that you missed their biggest events of the year.
  3. Figure out your one big reason.  When someone says, “Why are you running for county commissioner?”  You should have a simple, heartfelt, one-sentence response that lines up with both your values and the community’s needs.  It needs to be genuine, not strategic.  It needs to be specific, not vague.  Make it universal and personal at the same time.  You’ll know it when you find it.
  4. Paperwork.  You’ll have to go to the courthouse or voter registration office in your town (or county seat) and file documentation stating that you intend to run for elected office.  You’ll also have to open up a business bank account for your campaign.  Now before you go running to the city building to sign up, you should know that it’s not always in your best interest to file on the very first day.  There are plenty of reasons you may want to wait and file as late as possible.  Usually, however, just making sure you get the paperwork done in a timely manner is good enough.  This is the first official step you’ll take as a candidate for elected office.
Here’s some further reading to help you through this process:

That’s pretty much it for now.  Don’t worry about talking to voters, getting the media’s attention, or pulling your campaign team together for recurring meetings.  It’s way too early for that.  Enjoy the rest of January, because when spring rolls around, the crazy starts, and it only grows from there until you’re barreling into November at break-neck speeds.  Now is the time for a calm, peaceful, family-filled start to the new year.

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