In an ideal world, you will have six months or more to plan out a campaign strategy before you even file. However, my experience has shown that that is rarely the case. Maybe you didn’t even think about running until multiple people approached you to enter the race, and now you only have a week left before the window to register closes. Whatever the reason, I understand you may not have a whole lot of planning time before registering, so if you’ve already entered your race, you can still follow these steps.
First of all, go to the actual meetings. Hopefully this is common sense to you, but in my experience with the city council, usually only one candidate (two at most) actually attends meetings. Keep in mind, you don’t need to speak at the meetings (I never did), but there are many reasons to go besides that. Now obviously in modern times in most cities for most public meetings, you can find the audio of the minutes for every meeting online, as well as read notes or transcripts, and get an overview from your local paper/radio station. With that being said, that is what every single person claims they do when they are running but don’t go to the meetings. Based off of their lack of depth of knowledge on the issues I doubt this every time I hear it.
With the most obvious out of the way, let’s look at strategy, and that starts with influence. Think about the most influential people in your community, maybe business owners, other elected officials, department heads, doctors, lawyers, pastors, and even some of the most outspoken members of the public whose opinions you find regularly in your local paper. Write their names down and begin reaching out to them and either talk with them over the phone or set up a meeting in a person. If you have the time and ability to, try and get as many face to face meetings as possible first. Be a little strategic about this if you haven’t registered to run yet, if you don’t want to announce it yet then just write the names down and save them for later. If you’re already running or don’t mind if people know that is your plan, then go full steam ahead.
When you reach out just tell them your name and that you’re running for local office, and then ask if they would be willing to talk sometime about what their concerns or ideas are for the future of the city. Most likely they will tell you right away what their availability and preference is with meeting. Coffee shops and restaurants are great places for this, just keep it simple. Don’t go to an expensive place and order a bunch of food, it’s not about the food, it’s about the conversation. During these meetings try and focus on them, what their past experiences have been in the community, what their concerns are, what their ideas are for the future, and anything else relevant that helps you understand them. Don’t focus on yourself, if they ask you questions make sure to answer them, don’t give off a weird vibe by being deceptive or unwilling to express your thoughts, but try and make it clear you are still in the learning faze and want to hear their ideas more. You can never know enough influential people, keep that in mind, and always look for someone new to meet.
Let’s move on to doing some research. Now, I’ve obviously never asked my opponents if they’ve done this, but I feel like I’m the only one who has. This next step is either really well thought out advice or extremely obvious. Start going back to the last election cycle and see how well your local media covered it, and if they did interviews with the individual candidates. If they did, this will really be a benefit for you.
Assuming that you’re able to find old articles online from the last election cycle, begin reading all interviews and coverage of the candidates. See what the popular issues were back then, but most importantly, read to see what types of questions they were being asked in anticipation that they will be asking you similar questions. Taking your future interviews serious is one of the most important things you can do for your campaign.
Note: if you are in a race such as a school board where you’re less likely to be interviewed by a media platform I still think it’s worthwhile to try and find any materials online. You may not be interviewed by your local media but you can bet that your constituents will interview you when you talk to them.
In my first election I made a lot of mistakes, one of them was not thinking ahead before being interviewed by the local newspaper. My answers didn’t make sense and weren’t very thought out and this was apparent when you read the interviews. In the next election (the race I actually won) I knew to take these interviews very serious, I would reflect on past questions and what I expected I’d be asked. I would then write out my answers longhand in a notebook, and then would keep the notebook with me as notes when I would have a phone interview.
The following tidbit is often overlooked but will make a big difference: plan your answers as best as you can ahead of time so they are clear, short, simple, and easy for the journalist to convert into their article. Make their job easy, if you talk fast and give long winded answers your statements will not convert well when put in the paper. This is extremely frustrating, in my first race my attitude was almost one of working against the interviewer, in my next election I looked at it as working with them. In exchange of them letting me use their platform to share my beliefs, I make interviewing and writing about me easy. One final note on simple and compact statements, remember the saying “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
I will cover the importance of going door to door to meet voters in another article. Assuming that you will do that, there are a few things you should do ahead of time. Start with getting a map of your area big enough for you to write on. Figure out how many houses you will need to go to and how many days you will have to campaign and calculate how many houses you will need to go to each day. It would be fantastic if you could get every house, but that may not be practical for you. In this case you are going to need to target the houses that you visit.To help determine what areas you should be targeting, go online and look at the voting numbers from the last election, see what areas showed up on Election Day the most, and who they supported. Target the area you are most likely to win in first. You can determine that by seeing if the numbers show that they voted against your opponent more (if you’re running against an incumbent) and/or if they supported a candidate with similar beliefs and ideas as you.
You may have noticed that I haven’t even addressed your campaign budget. In the election that I won, I spent less than $100. Had I not re-used the yard signs from my previous election, it would have looked more like $500. It is my belief that the more time you spend, the less money you will have to spend. I will post articles later that will cover topics such as yard signs and handouts, in the preparation stage of running it is important that you shop around, online or local to try and get the best estimate of how much you are going to need to spend.
As stated earlier, don’t worry or neglect these steps if you’re already running, you can still do all these steps in the middle of the race, or at least do them better than what you have been doing. Moving on, we will get more specific on these tactics and strategies.