It is amazing to me that when talking to political candidates, so many of them seem to be running for no other reason than someone they know said they should throw their name in the hat. Is this really a reason? Are your friends and family true, unbiased measures of your ability or qualifications to run for any political office?
There are some real questions that you need to ask yourself before you run for any office. In addition, there are some core questions that voters will ask you while you are on the campaign trail. You need to be able to confidently answer these questions without fluff and without waiver. If you canít give concrete answers to these basic questions, then you may need to rethink your run.
Ask Yourself This
Why am I running for office?
Seems like an easy question to answer, right? The duty of political office holders is to be representatives for the citizens in their town, district or state. The leaders are entrusted to make crucial decisions that will affect real people. So, it really isnít enough to answer this question with, "I want to make a change." That is assumed by all voters. What do you want to change? What is your plan to make these changes?
Voters can see through vague, open-ended answers. They may be entrusting you with their neighborhood and childís future living conditions. Think about why you deserve their trust and how you plan to make them believers.
Am I qualified for this office?
I chuckle sometimes when a candidate insists on putting the letters "M.D." or "CPA" on their yard signs. I suppose for some, the quip "Trust me, Iím a doctor" really is comforting. But, what does your medical degree have to do with your ability to be mayor of a city of 50,000 people? I know a CPA who is running for sheriff. He insists on printing "CPA" on his t-shirts, business cards and the rest of his campaign materials. I can appreciate the intricate work a CPA does, but I will not vote for a career CPA to be the sheriff of my town.
On the other hand, if you have spent 20 years as a law enforcement officer, perhaps spent time in a branch of the military and maybe worked as a correctional officer, please run for sheriff in my town. If you are a respected CPA with 15 years under your belt, by all means, run for treasurer.
Furthermore, when you design your palm cards to handout in the neighborhood, do not embellish your credentials, or include useless self-serving accomplishments that have no bearing on your ability to run for a political office. Your time spent as a Boy Scout troop member means little when you are entrusted with a city budget.
In his book, The Political Campaign Desk Reference, Michael McNamara gives sounds advice:
It is important to gain a thorough understanding of the duties of the job prior to going public with an announcement of candidacy.
Do yourself and your constituents a favor and do the research.
Can I raise the budget needed to make this work?
You may believe whole-heartedly that you are qualified for a position. You may have answers that your community needs. However, without the budget to equip yourself with the necessary campaign materials, your run may fall flat in a hurry.
It is a good idea to sit with someone who currently holds office, or has recently run for office, and discuss a budget. There are many obvious expenses you will incurócampaign signs, post cards, business cardsóbut, there are many that you may not have thought of, such as parade materials, booking a conference room for a rally, possibly paying a political consultant, etc.
Your war chest should be funded, in large part, by supporters. But, you will most likely need to dip into your personal funds to get things accomplished. A certainty is you donít want to run out of money. You need a well-planned budget. Many of the printed campaign materials can be researched online.
Donít fool yourself into thinking that funding is not an important part of a campaign. I once heard a statistic that stated 80% of campaigns are won by the candidate that spends the most. Donít get me wrong, you still need to be qualified and organized.
They Will Ask You This
Voters will have three main questions on their minds when you ring their doorbell to ask for support.
1) Why are you running for office?
You should have already planned out your honest and passionate answer for this. Be prepared to share time and time again.
2) What can you do for me?
Proud, voting citizens go back to the polls each election to cast their support for the candidate whose objectives are most closely aligned with theirs. You canít win them all, but showing your genuine concern for their community and quality of life can go a long way. Remember, voters are looking to put their trust in someone they feel shares qualities and concerns of their own.
3) What are your plans?
Youíve chosen to run for office, now what are you going to do? It isnít enough to simply have a goal. You need to have concrete, attainable steps to reach those goals. Donít just tout that you are going to clean up the parks or rid the streets of crime. How are you going to do these things? What money and resources will you use?
Donít try and pacify voters with vague answers and generalities. Put it on paper and share it intelligently.
These are just a few questions you will be faced with. The passion needs to be there, but so does the planning. Voters need you and you need them. Earn their votes.