Don’t mistake this simple campaign

Local candidates: Don’t make mistakes with this simple campaign

Local candidates campaign differently than big races. Although you still have to work to raise money, local candidates will rely heavily on the community for the resources and volunteers they need. Local candidates also tend to go without the help of consultants or those who have expensive experience working on many campaigns. Thus, often people running local campaigns will have their first experience doing this kind of work. With that being said, here are some common mistakes made by local candidates and what can be done to fix them.

ineffective communication
Everyone loves a good pancake breakfast, but they’re rarely effective as a primary means of communication. Some local candidates will think it’s enough to shake a few hands, talk to a few people, and call it a day at their local pancake breakfast or church’s annual spaghetti dinner. But at a pancake breakfast, the only thing you know about the attendees is that they love pancakes. There is no way to know if they are regular, reliable voters. As a local candidate, you are expected to attend many such events. However, it should be a secondary means of communication with voters. To run an effective campaign, you need to develop a strategy for who you need to persuade and target voters to vote. You can work with your state or county team to get access to voter files to target them. Then you need to talk to these people, either in person when it’s safe to do so, or virtually via Zoom, Facebook Live, etc. Bottom line, you have to repeatedly talk to the right voters to win and their prospects’ not all at the same time for a pancake breakfast.

Inefficient use of resources
Local campaigns are famous for using yard signs, buttons, t-shirts and other chums as their primary means of communication. As we’ve written here many times, yard signs are expensive and not a very effective means of communication Their main purpose is visibility and visibility should be last on your communication priority list. Other trinkets like bumper stickers, campaign buttons and t-shirts are even worse, as they can be more expensive and even less visible. We all love a good campaign t-shirt, but they are actually pretty expensive to print. If you have money in your budget for paid communications, your best bet is to evaluate what makes the most sense to get your message out there, whether it’s direct mail, digital, TV, radio or phone. Ultimately, your yard sign will say your name, but it says nothing about who you are or where you stand on issues important to the community. So unless your community only votes on a campaign branding you’ll want to invest in targeted forms of voter communication.

Lack of commitment
To run an effective campaign, even for a local race, you need to be able to commit a serious amount of personal resources to the campaign, and for most of you first-time candidates this will be your time. If you want to win, you have to commit a lot of time and other resources to doing so. For one, you’ll likely need to take time off from work or arrange your schedule so that you’re doing outreach before, after, and in between your day job duties. You have to make call times, knock on doors, and attend events, and there aren’t enough hours in the day after 5pm to get it all done. Also, to run a competitive campaign, you have to be willing to ask your family and friends for their money and their time. This can sometimes be an awkward question, but your family and friends are really the foundation of your campaign, especially for local candidates. If you are not in a position to dedicate this level of time or ask your family and friends for help, you should probably consider running another time.

Can’t answer the question “Why are you running?”
Although this seems pretty straightforward, it leaves many candidates. The question “Why are you running” famously fired Senator Ted Kennedy in the primary campaign against President Jimmy Carter. Of course, running a local race is a lot different than running for president, but you still need to have a really good, clear, and concise answer to the question. The answer to this question will be a key part of your campaign message, and you’ll be able to deliver it in less than two minutes! Check out our blog on writing a stump speech for more on this topic.

I don’t know the number
Not knowing your numbers doesn’t fly in a shark tank, and it doesn’t fly for publicity. It’s amazing how many campaigners commit to their race and put in a good, strong effort but don’t take the time to research the numbers they need to win. Before you start your campaign, you need to spend time researching basic statistics about the district and its past voting history. First and foremost, you need to know your voting goal – how many votes you need to win. Everything you do in your campaign should work towards achieving your vote target. The other really important number you need to know is how much you need to raise to win. In most cases, these numbers aren’t that hard to figure out, they just take a little time in front of a computer to pull from your state or local election board. Check the website of the entity overseeing your election for the purpose of your vote, which could be your city board of elections, county board of elections, or secretary of state, depending on your local county level. They will have election results of all past elections in your district. As for the money numbers, that same website will likely have a campaign contributions or financial filings section that reports how much money was raised and spent in each election. Knowing these numbers will allow you to spend your resources effectively and speak intelligently about your race, whether to potential funders, voters or local party members.

Running the wrong race
This happens often—ambitious local candidates run for Congress or the US Senate when there are better, more winnable local races. While there are of course many high-profile exceptions to this rule, if you’re running in your first race, running for Congress, it’s quite a stretch. That’s because you need a ton of resources to run a high-profile race, and you’re often better off building on your network of donors and community accomplishments at the local level. And many times, you can have a much bigger impact on people’s lives in the local race than in Congress. If your goal is to actually bring about real change, you’re better off running for county council or your local board of education than in a Congress filled with partisan gridlock. Even if you hope to reach Congress one day and you’ve made an honest assessment of yourself, the best way to do that is to move slowly and steadily up the ladder from the County Council to the State House. Prove to constituents and funders that you have what it takes.

Have other suggestions for local candidates? Please share them here.