If you have been looking for tips on how to run a local political campaign, Wiki would tell you that the first step is to meet your community.
I disagree there.
The first step in running for local political office is not meeting your electorate. It is not even filing your application.
It is research.
Research forms the backbone of your campaign strategy. The findings from this research help you decide which voter segment to target and how.
Naturally, for first-timers, the task at hand could seem overwhelming.
There are, of course, people who would help you with all these activities. You could hire a political consultant or get a veteran in your local political sphere to mentor you.
No election, however, is won if the candidate turns his back to the campaign tasks at hand.
This post can help you get started the right way. Not only will it take you through the basics of what to do, but it will also outline how to get it done.
If you are in a hurry, take a look at this presentation that covers all essential points:
From engaging your first supporter, to announcement, and planning, we have got you covered.
Learning about the political landscape and the laws that govern that region is crucial in winning the race.
Here political landscape means the primary issues that prevail in your area and how the existing government responds to it.
You can attend meetings in the community and learn more about the problems that they face. Try speaking with influencers in the political and civic space to get their perspective. You can also attend events in the county with different issue-based and public organizations.
These people will clarify what your position needs to be to win over the locals.
The objective of this exercise is to understand the community’s concerns. Knowing the issues that resonate with them will help in crafting your campaign message.
Once you understand your community better, it is time to gather some hard numbers. The next phase of your research should tell you:
How many voters are there in your community?
Of the number of voters, who are first-time voters and who have already cast a vote before. You should also know if there are any eligible voters who have not registered yet. You can get this list from the local census office. Or, you can also get it from the electoral office in your district.
How many votes do you need to win?
Popularly called the ‘win number,’ this gives you a fairly accurate picture of the amount of campaigning you have to do.
For instance, say your local office needs a clear majority to win. So, of the total of 100 voters in your community, you need at least 51 votes in your favor. Your campaign field strategy should have this number in mind while planning outreach programs.
How many people to canvass?
The voter turnout rate determines who will come to cast their vote on election day. You can base the turn out rate on the previous election.
For instance, if the voter turnout is 20%, then you know that roughly that many people will come to vote. So, you should target to canvass twice the number of the electorate so that you can win the majority.
Who is your target voter segment?
It is not practical to focus your campaign towards everybody. Instead, you can target your limited resources to only those sections of the electorate with which you can get maximum impact.
For instance, if you plan to improve schooling in your district, targeting families (not millennials) is a good option.
What do you know of the opposition?
Going into the campaign without planning on how your opposition can (and will) impact the election is folly.
You need to know how strong a support your opposition has, which segment of the electorate supports him and why. These details will help you strategize your campaign better.
For instance, say your opposition garners the majority of support from baby boomers, but has policies that don’t resonate with Gen X. Then your campaign messaging and outreach strategy can be primarily centered around Gen X.
As you can see, this phase of research is quite extensive and not usually done alone. You can definitely hire a few experts to help you out (building out an entire team for the campaign comes a lot later).
Once you have this clear picture, you can go ahead and file the candidate application.
Take note of the process of entering the ballot, and the deadlines for tasks like filing paperwork in your state.
A campaign committee is a legal business entity, and you have to get it registered as such. Set up a checking account for the campaign as well. These are important steps, and you may want to consult with someone who’s aware of the specific state laws.
Finally, you can collect and file the paperwork to run for office. That is what will officially declare you as a candidate.
I recommend doing the candidate filing after research because, by this time, you will have a clear idea of what to do and how to get there.
|What should the outcome be?|
Decide on your campaign message
Decide whom you are going to target, which office to target
Establish a campaign plan
File your candidature
Building your team
Once you have an idea of the extent of work involved, you can go about building your team. They can help you with the campaigning efforts needed. The first place to look for is your friends and family (and their network).
Since running for the local office needs a relatively small campaign, the number of people you hire will not be extensive. However, they still need to be extremely skilled and know the local community.
Their personal skills and experiences will feature in how they handle the responsibility attached to the role. So discuss with your team and delegate tasks that play to their strengths.
Here are a few roles you need to hire for: Campaign manager, Event (or fundraising) coordinator, chief volunteer (who can coordinate others), and treasurer (or finance director).
It would be a good idea to see if local celebrities would be willing to be part of your campaign. If yes, then they would be best used for your outreach/communication strategies.
You should recruit volunteers for the ground and for running tasks at headquarters. Volunteers build up motivation within the campaign. Take care not to wear them out at the start of the campaign.
A part of building your team is to also ensure that they have the right tools to handle the workload. So, you may want to invest in some digital technology (a complete political campaign software like CallHub). Here is a complete list of political campaign tools that can come in handy.
|What should the outcome be?|
Decide on roles and responsibilities
Establish technology to help in campaigning
Design campaign material
Even though this seems rather unimportant, good campaign material is a powerful asset in the campaign.
Once your campaign is on the ground, there would be little time for deciding poster designs and the text on literature. This is why you should figure out these details when you have your team ready.
Having someone with a strong design sense onboard is always useful. Choose design and layout for yard signs, mailers, and brochures and create forms for donors and volunteers.
|What should the outcome be?|
Campaign collateral (brochures and signboards)
Slogans, yard signs, and bill boards (at least a few)
Announce your candidature
A big plus in running a local political campaign is that word of mouth is quite powerful.
By the time you start assembling your team, it is safe to assume that some people in your community would be aware that you are running for the local office.
While that is excellent for creating a buzz around your campaign, you have to have a formal event to declare your campaign.
Pick a central location (like the local park), which has high traffic and is frequented by your supporters. Make the announcement into a high-profile press event, with a lot of supporters attending it.
Invite the local press and also see if you can get an existing office bearer to speak on your behalf.
Despite all this preparation, your campaign message can make or break the whole event. Go over the message a few times (if needed with the local political party as well) and be absolutely sure it is motivating.
After the big announcement, here are a few more ways to let your electorate know about your run for office.
Door to door canvassing
Meet your voters face to face to tell them the big news. Your campaign plan should already have mapped out which are the best doors to knock on. Since your time is limited, talk to only those supporters who would love to see you win.
Paid media/traditional media
Radio ads, TV spot ads, billboards, and newspaper ads still carry a lot of weight. Ensure that your campaign announcement is well positioned across all these channels and reaches your electorate.
Do not leave out local magazines and newspapers. These readers are prime targets for your campaign.
‘Snapchat or it didn’t happen’ – well even if it doesn’t apply to your campaign, you cannot ignore having a social media presence. Have your communication manager take care of your campaign’s Fb page and Twitter account.
You can share details of future events, the kind of changes you will implement, and why the electorate should choose you.
Using your personal social media handle to share your story (why you decided to run for office) is a great idea too. It adds a layer of authenticity that can provide you with a lot of mileage.
Reaching the electorate via their mobile phones is an extremely powerful communication strategy. It can drastically improve voter engagement. Ask your supporters to opt-in to SMS updates from you.
Text them info about the latest events you hold and encourage participation. You can also use it to identify supporters for your campaign and mobilize volunteers. Invest in a robust SMS marketing software to streamline text communication.
Your local political campaign can get off the ground quicker with the right people backing you up.
These people would be the local decision-makers, influencers, party officials, and people with a history of contributing to campaigns.
This communication lays a strong foundation and should be continued throughout the campaign. Connect with past candidates and see if they are interested in backing you.
|What should the outcome be?|
An increasing list of supporters
Sound knowledge of your party and your stance by the electorate
Raise candidate profile
As a local candidate, you have an inherent advantage. Your electorate already has more trust in you and your office, when compared to that of any federal candidate.
It just means that raising your own profile in the electorate’s mind gets a little bit easier (but just as important). So you should still talk to your electorate to win their trust.
You should step forward to introduce yourself to the electorate. The candidate profile lets voters form an opinion of the candidate and draws in a supporter base. Doing this early on is vital.
Your opponent would also be spreading their own messages and may present you as an unworthy candidate if their message gets to the voter first. Get a campaign website and official social media accounts for the campaign.
Reach out to new voters through common acquaintances or use traditional approaches like newspaper and TV ads to do so.
“I will pay for the entire campaign” is not a sound strategy. Running for a local political campaign is highly resource-intensive.
If the initial research phase did not give you enough idea about how much it would cost, then this post on political campaign budgeting can get you started.
To put it simply: you cannot ignore fundraising efforts for your campaigns. You have to get started with it as soon as possible.
Even if you have enough resources to back you up at the beginning, you may find yourself skimping and shaving towards the end of the run – which can adversely affect your campaign.
Of course, you would need a fundraising plan which lines up with the rest of your campaign strategy. Instead of waiting to finish a fundraising plan, get started on asking within your circle.
This includes friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. In case you have little experience asking for donations, this will help you gain practice in making a personal ask.
Knowing that your local political campaign is raising money, and is backed by the bellwethers in your community gives it a huge credibility boost.
Here are a few ways you can raise funds for your local political campaign. Remember that the amount you raise should also cover the overhead and organizing costs for that event.
- Website buttons
- Peer to peer fundraising
|What should the outcome be?|
A steady stream of funds from supporters
Large one -time donations from your political backers
Good marketing for your campaign (at the very least)
Create a campaign plan
This is the backbone to scale the campaign upon. A campaign plan gives you the roadmap for the run-up until election day.
Consult with advisors, staffers, and past candidates who can help you create the plan. Some things to take into account here include:
- Political environment – Which side do your voters traditionally lean toward? What are the opponents’ issues and policies?
- Targeting and Demographics – The areas you would focus on based on gender, age, occupation, religion, ethnicity, and ideology of the voters living there. How would you target them?
- Campaign message and issues – What is the core message of your campaign? How does it relate to the issues you focus on?
- Communication plan – The campaign paraphernalia, direct mail, and paid media to spend on. How do you plan to get press coverage?
- Grassroots plan – How do you plan your ground outreach using volunteers? Plans for GOTV, absentee ballot, and Election day activities should be planned beforehand.
- Campaign budget – What would be the budget for every task?
- Fundraising plan – What methods would you use? The events and major donors necessary to meet fundraising goals etc.
- Campaign timeline – The deadlines for each team and activity
- Staffing – The key roles like Campaign Manager, Treasurer and Field Director along with responsibilities for every important member
Voter file for communication
Before talking to your voters, you need a dedicated voter file to track communication with your voters. The voter file you collect may be from a past candidate or the one available from the County Election Office.
Go through all available options to select a voter file and use it to build a dedicated list for your campaign.
You can also check if the census list can be made available to help in building your voter file.
All instances of communication with a voter should be updated and used to improve the relationship with them. This way, your local political campaign can be personalized and win over a large supporter base.
Now that you have a bunch of ideas and a solid plan to implement, let me help you along to get started with your local political campaign.
You can check how the electorate responds to your candidacy (or your campaign). Set up an opt-in campaign and reach those who show interest.
It will give you a taste of what to expect during your campaign and plan it better.