Running for Local Office: Top 5 Tips for Campaign Success
So you want to run for local office? Aspiring to public service is always commendable, but there are some very key details you should not overlook before you traverse the campaign trail. We’ve taken the time to identify the 5 most important tips for campaign success when running for local office.
Keep an eye out for some super-helpful "hot tips" you can use to give your campaign that little extra “something!”
In her best-selling book, Run: Your Personal Guide to Winning Public Office, former Massachusetts State Senator Marian Walsh writes, “Running for and holding public office requires little more than making informed decisions based on the facts, your values, and getting to know your fellow citizens. You’ll need the courage to be yourself, and a desire to do the right thing. Chances are you’re doing that already.” Ms. Walsh would know, as she never lost an election over her 30+ years in public office.
“You’ll need the courage to be yourself, and a desire to do the right thing. Chances are you’re doing that already.”Marian Walsh
Ask questions and be willing to learn
One of the most important factors in effective governance is developing your ability to ask questions and listen effectively. A politician who doesn’t truly hear his or her constituents is not going to be able to represent them in the way they deserve.
In the same way, a huge piece of your campaign prep should be asking questions of your predecessors, contemporaries, and the everyday people involved in the election process. How much money did they raise? Which neighborhoods/communities provided the most support? How did they put together their campaign team? What would they do the same/differently? Soak it all in with a humble heart.
You may also find some value in checking out one of the campaign boot camps and candidate workshops offered by a variety of organizations across the US, such as Run for Something, The Campaign Workshop, and Veterans Campaign. These organizations (and many others) can also be a great resource for your questions along the way.
HOT TIP – Count the votes!
Remember, to win the race you don’t have to win every vote. You just have to get more than the other candidate. To find the magic number, you’ll have to do a little bit of legwork:
- First, find the voter turnout percentages for the last few elections and average them out.
- Next, track down the number of registered voters in your district (this is a number you should always know!).
- Then, multiply the two numbers together to find your projected turnout for this election cycle.
- Divide that number by 2 and add 1 to find the number of votes you’ll need to win.
- Your vote goal should be at least 50% of projected turnout.
NOTE: Make sure you’ve done your research and know how to get on the ballot. Methods vary by jurisdiction, but the first place to look is the Secretary of State’s website for your state or your county or city elections offices. They should be able to point you in the right direction so you can download the appropriate forms and filing requirements. Don’t overlook any deadlines!
Build Your Campaign Team
Running a successful campaign includes recruiting and curating an effective team. You’ll want a team made up of a balance of both people who know YOU and people who know campaigning. Identify your campaign manager, then fill in the rest of the team. Depending on the individuals you find, you’ll likely want a people person to manage volunteers, someone to hold the purse strings, and a pro to run all your communications.
Grassroots help is also essential, so never turn down an offer of assistance. You’ll need people to hang signs, hand out flyers, knock on doors, and make phone calls. When people who support and believe in you want to share that with others, there’s no better testament to your character, so put them to work!
HOT TIP – Track the help!
Developing an organized system of keeping track of contact information for your supporters and volunteers is key at every step of the process. There are a huge variety of apps and strategies available, depending on the scale of your campaign – create your own spreadsheet or database, utilize a group communication tool like Slack or GroupMe, or invest in a heavy duty contact management system. Do what works best for you!
Marian Walsh created her own postcards with space for volunteers to share their contact information and check off jobs they wanted to do. You can take advantage of this simple strategy by customizing one of our campaign postcard templates with the same information!
Don’t be afraid to ask for money
You may not need to fill up a campaign war chest, but you should not be ashamed to seek out the funds you need in order to run your campaign. Before you start, take the time to work out a rough budget of your potential expenses – website design and hosting fees, postage, printing, office rent, staffing, etc. – and come up with an overall fundraising goal.
While you may receive some unprompted donations, most of your supporters will wait to be asked before they contribute to your campaign. If asking for money feels uncomfortable to you, try to remember that the money they give will help to affect change that both you and the donor believe in. Their donation connects them to you AND the change they want to see. As a result, you’ve got nothing to lose!
Hot Tip – Know the law!
Campaign finance laws and requirements vary from state to state, so make sure you have a full and complete understanding of what you can and can’t do and accept. As the candidate, it’s YOUR responsibility to know what’s allowable – not just the person handling your books! Check out your secretary of state’s website or local elections office to educate yourself.
Go TO the people
Personal contact with registered voters can make all the difference. They need to see your face and hear your voice! Take the time to get in front of your constituents by hosting speaking events, appearing on a local radio show, or joining the morning TV anchors for a chat. Going door to door in areas where people are supportive and likely to vote for you is always a smart move, because they get to see your face and connect in real time.
You can add value and build name recognition with every knock by carrying a stack of custom door hangers or other print materials with you. Not only can you hand them to the people you visit with, you can also leave them at the doors that go unanswered. MyCreativeShop offers a wide variety of customizable campaign door hanger templates that can easily be edited to share your platform and story effectively.
HOT TIP – Find your people!
Make good use of your limited time and resources by focusing on those most likely to vote for you. Not sure how to find them? Head to your local elections office to request the party registration and street addresses of registered voters in your district. There may be a charge for this information, but it will also allow you to campaign more effectively.
Mobilize your voters
Finally, be creative in the methods you use to remind your supporters to go to the polls on election day. Whether you hit the phones, walk the streets, or throw candy in a local parade, keeping your name in front of the public is absolutely necessary to getting out the vote.
Voter mobilization is a great task for your grassroots volunteers, too. They can also make reminder calls before the big day and do one last “Get Out the Vote” push within their spheres of influence.
HOT TIP – Print can make a difference!
Customizing your own print marketing materials can do wonders for your name recognition and voter mobilization during the campaign. Handheld print (postcards, flyers, door hangers, and more) can be kept and shared by prospective voters, while more passive print media forms (posters, yard signs, billboards) build name recognition by simple repetition. MyCreativeShop offers a variety of political print templates you can easily customize to help you get out the vote. Our campaign yard sign templates are especially effective in mobilizing passersby!
Power to the people
As Larry J. Sabato writes in his book, Pendulum Swing, “Every election is determined by the people who show up.” The truth in this deceptively simple statement cannot be ignored. As a candidate, it’s your job to educate prospective voters on why voting for you will make a difference in their lives. Communicating honestly and effectively, to the right people at the right time, is what can turn the tide in your race. However, in the end, your fate is always in the hands of the voters, as our sixteenth President so eloquently put it:
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”Abraham Lincoln