Running for office is a long and arduous process. Politics can be messy. Candidates can encounter numerous landmines. One misstep can sink a campaign.
With that in mind, here are eight steps integral to a political campaign:
Talk to people. Family, friends, neighbors. Make sure those closest to you are on board and willing to help. But don’t stop there. Attend neighborhood and civic group meetings. Listen to the issues that come up. Establish yourself as someone who cares and wants to help on those issues.
Visit with the political party of your choice. Ask if endorsement and resources are a possibility. An endorsement can be the difference between failure and success. Resources help you tell your story and generate support.
Do Your Research
Talk to people who have run for, or held, office, especially the office you are seeking. How did they build their campaign? How much help did they need? How much money did they raise? What did they learn – good or bad? Are there local “bootcamps” that can help you learn how to campaign?
Figure out how to get on the ballot. What are the requirements for the seat and do you meet them? What is the deadline for filing? What paperwork must be submitted? Do you need to collect signatures? Visit your state’s secretary of state website for details. An experienced election attorney can help with this process.
Visit your local elections office and ask for the party registration and addresses of voters. You might have to pay for it, but it is a treasure trove waiting to be analyzed and utilized by your campaign to target strategy and communications.
Build Your Campaign Staff
If you’ve gathered your support, you’ll no doubt have many you know well willing to help. But you might need more – people with experience and expertise.
It all starts with a campaign manager to plot overarching strategy and ensure effective oversight of all campaign activity. Then other key positions, such as a communications leader to help hone messaging and a finance leader to manage contributions and help you stay in compliance with complicated campaign finance laws. A volunteer coordinator for strategic deployment of your faithful friends and family who will pass out literature, knock on doors and plant signs.
Of course, you’ll be responsible for a lot of these duties yourself, as a candidate tends to have his or her hands in everything. But putting the right people in the right spots can be the key to a successful campaign.
Hone Your Messaging
Identify the issues important to the office you are seeking and prepare a position on those issues. Simplify those thoughts into easily-digestible sound bites that appeal to voters. Be prepared for questions you might be asked. Practice answering, debating, interviewing.
Develop a website, social media accounts, literature and signs containing your key messages so voters know how you stand on important issues.
Political campaigns require money – to pay workers, to buy advertising, for a campaign office, website, signs. You’ll likely need more money than you think.
Make sure to pitch not only yourself when asking for money, but the changes you intend to make. Connect with donors on issues that matter to them and they’re more likely to contribute.
Learn and Follow Campaign Finance Laws
Reporting requirements for political offices vary widely and each candidate must ensure they are familiar with those pertaining to the office they seek. Know the legal requirements, the forms that need to be filed and the deadlines for reporting contributions. Make sure you know when donations can be accepted, donation limits and what information you must collect from donors.
Then ensure your campaign stays in compliance. Hire an experienced financial expert. Train those who will be charged with fundraising activity. Develop basic procedures for processing and recording all contributions and expenditures. Ensure required reports are filed by designated deadlines.
Campaign finance laws are complex. Consider hiring an experienced attorney to help ensure you stay in compliance.
A successful candidate will need to meet and make a favorable impression on many voters. That means door-to-door canvassing, phone calls, neighborhood and civic meeting and a plethora of other networking opportunities. Candidates need incredible stamina to ensure voters have a positive reaction when they step into the voting booth.
But few can meet all voters. Candidates also need volunteers with tireless devotion to distribute signs, pass our literature and conduct other campaign activities. And, if you don’t reach voters that way, active social media accounts and paid advertising are an option.
The candidates who work the hardest don’t always win, but hustle is an important ingredient to many winning campaigns.
Learn Recount Rules
No one likes a sore loser, but if the race is close enough for a recount, you should seek one. Familiarize yourself with the rules and hire an experienced election attorney to help you navigate the process, which could be complex and time-consuming. Don’t lose your race because of someone else’s mistakes!
This alert is not a substitute for advice of counsel on specific legal issues.
Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as Washington D.C., New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.