Thinking About Running? Here's What to do Now
In 2022, elections for the Maryland State House, US Congress and County Councilmanic districts will all change. The District you ran in 2018 may not be the same district. How is a candidate to plan to run when lines haven’t been drawn? Well, for a good majority your district will at least change slightly. The only districts that won't change for are candidates for County Council At-Large, County Executive, US Senate, and Governor.
With that said, there is nothing preventing you from working on the nuts and bolts of politics. There are several things you can do before you know your district lines.
- Talk to your family first
- Find a campaign treasurer
- Identify key issues
- Develop your 30 second elevator speech
- Identify donors
- Work on a fundraising letter
- Set up your social media accounts & website
- Develop campaign leadership team
Talk to Your Family First
Before you announce, it’s important to talk with your spouse, your family and close friends. Let them know you are thinking about running. RED FLAG: If your spouse isn’t on board with your plans, then you don’t want to run. It will lead you down a rough and bumpy road. I have seen it many times and it never ends well.
Find a campaign Treasurer
Every political committee must designate a treasurer before it can accept contributions or make expenditures. Designate your treasurer on your Statement of Organization.
Finding a campaign treasurer is critical, as he/she is the most important person on your campaign. With out a treasurer, you are dead in the water. You can’t fundraise, can’t develop campaign collateral, or develop a website. You need a good treasurer who can make sure your filings are done accurately and on time. Last thing you want is a treasurer who doesn’t know the rules and files late, or worse, files incorrectly. This is a reflection on you, and will look bad on you and your campaign.
- Sign and file all committee reports and statements.
- Deposit receipts in the committee’s designated bank within 10 days of receipt.
- Authorize expenditures or appoint someone else (orally or in writing) to authorize expenditures.
- Monitor contributions, ensuring they comply with legal limits and prohibitions.
- Keep records of receipts and disbursements for three years from the filing date of the report to which they relate.
Identify Key Issues
This is the fun part of the campaign where you pick out one to three key issues no more. Talk to your friends, Republicans, Independents and Democrats (this is more important in blue counties like Montgomery, Howard, PG and Baltimore City). Remember when you are running in a blue county you will need to get Independents and Democrats votes to win at the end of the day. Much as I’d like to run a hard Right of Center campaign in a blue county, I understand the logic that we need some cross over votes to win. So, if you are in a blue county or district, take the middle road. You can be Conservative; however, don’t lead with what works in Carol County in Montgomery County. There are common areas we can all mostly agree on - transportation, schools and crime are big issues. Independents who voted for Larry Hogan agree with us on Schools, Transportation and crime. The key in blue counties and district is to connect with the Independent Hogan voter. Drill down on some of these issues if you are running for county council or municipal races, like the Town of Kensington, where the biggest issues for voters could be the amount of cut through traffic going through their neighborhoods.
30 Second Elevator Speech
The amount of face time you will get with potential voters is about 30 seconds, whether it is at a transit point, door knocking, or at a dinner or other event. You need to maximize the number of people you can reach and get your message out in a short sound bite.
When you are knocking on doors, you’ll quickly discover that most people don’t open doors these days. However, when they do, they don’t intend to listen to you drone on for five minutes, explaining why you are running for office.
Before you start door knocking, you should practice in front of a mirror and with friends. My former communications teacher would disagree with this strategy, but practicing in front of mirror isn’t as effective as it is with real people. Sorry, Mrs. Walker, the mirror is a great prop when giving a speech, but not as effective for an elevator speech.
Here’s what you should be able to accomplish in 30 seconds:
Before anyone opens the door, make sure to SMILE. Tell them who you are: describe yourself and your campaign. Tell them what you plan to do and show enthusiasm! WHAT DO YOU OFFER? Tell them what problems you have solved or contributions you have made. Offer a vivid example. Tell them why you are interested in them and WHY THEY SHOULD VOTE FOR YOU. Give a concrete example of your ideas or tell a short story that demonstrates your unique ability to provide solutions. A CALL FOR ACTION.
Do you want a business/palm card, or would you like additional information?
When I ran for the first time in 1994, I was 22 years old. My Christmas card list consisted of about 15 names of friends who were in college and a few relatives. Then I went to my folks’ Christmas card list. I was able to use that combined group twice, which totaled about 100 names. My first announcement said that I was thinking of running for the MD House of Delegates and would need about $30,000.00 (in 1994 dollars) to mount a credible campaign. My second correspondence was thank you notes with a suggestion that they give me one or two names in their network to donate to my campaign. I suggested between $50-$250, and left a blank for another amount to donate.
After I sent out the initial mailing (BTW I did it all on my dining room table with my campaign manager and my best friend), I got the first wave of responses a week later when my friend and campaign chairman’s mom gave $500. I immediately put a gold star next to her name, along with others who gave generously. I developed a system of Gold, Silver, Red and Blue stars. Gold was $500 and above, Silver was $100 to $499, Red was $50 to $99 and Blue was anything from $1 to $49.
Don’t forget that EVERYONE GETS A “THANK YOU” NOTE, and some may get a follow-up “thank you” calls. But everyone who donates to your campaign needs to be thanked. They aren’t giving you money for the sake of giving you money, they are giving you money so that you may go to State House, Congress or County/City Council to fight for them. RESPECT YOUR DONOR.
Work on a fundraising letter
Now that you have your donor list together you need to write your first fundraising letter, via email or direct mail.
When crafting your message, have a few key people review your letter for messaging and the usual typos and flubs. Do include in your message. Identify the office you are running for - you’d be surprised how many candidates put out otherwise great fundraising letter but forget to include what office they are seeking!
You want your letter to include the Who, What Where, Why, and if this is for an event, include the When. The message should be like your 30-second elevator speech. Don’t go off on a tangent or get too verbose, as less is more. This is the hook, and furthermore, most people won’t read a 4-page campaign direct mail or email. So, keep it simple.
Set up your social media accounts & website
A decade ago, it did not matter if you were not keen on social media. Now, you would be virtually invisible without keeping up appearances on at least a couple of platforms. The same rule of staying visible on the internet applies to political campaigns as well.
Just like an artist or a seller has to display their wares on the web for the right buyer to discover, a candidate would only draw in voters if they lay out all the cards on the e-table for the interested voters to see.
Besides social media, a political campaign website is a fine way to raise your candidate profile online. The website should be ready to address the interest of every type of voter who shows up. You can do that by including all the essential elements of a campaign website. We have put together a list of all the important elements to pay attention to when getting your campaign website ready.
Include the following elements:
- Introduce yourself (Meet the Candidate)
- Include Key Issues – Under these you can have more detailed position papers on your key issues
- Volunteer Link – Create a section where people can sign up to volunteer
- Donation Link – Create a Donate Link and make it prominent.
- Newsletter Link – create a newsletter sign where people can sign up to learn about your campaign. Send out in the beginning twice a month at first as you get closer to election day you can increase the frequency of your newsletter.
- Survey & Polls - good way to collect information is to identify voters. Surveys and polls are fine ways to initiate a two-way interaction. Let visitors voice their concerns and leave comments when they desire.
- Include Media section where you will have campaign videos, media kit, 300 DPI photo for press inquiries
Develop campaign leadership team
It is essential to gather a specialized and politically driven staff that helps run political campaigns in elections.
Successful campaigns usually require a campaign manager to coordinate the campaign's operations.
Activists are the 'foot soldiers' who are loyal to the cause. They are the true believers who will carry the run by volunteer activists. A person who is politically active in the role of a citizen; especially, one who campaigns for change
Reputable political consultants advise campaigns on virtually all of their activities from research to field strategy. A person whose occupation is to be consulted for their expertise, advice, or help in an area or specialty. Alternatively, a party whose business is to be similarly consulted.
There are different departments created while assembling the staff in order to structure all of the campaign roles.
In the coming weeks I will break down each of these areas in more details including templates, wire frames for websites, and a list of reputable consultants. I know I left off some stuff like campaign collateral, how to selected a campaign manager, and so on.
I highly recommend attending campaign training at the Leadership Institute, I know the MDGOP and the Montgomery County Republican Club are doing several candidate and activist trainings that are highly recommended if you are thinking about running for office, want to help a candidate, or looking for a career as a campaign consultant. The first training for candidates will be held via Zoom, by the Montgomery County Republican Club and the MDGOP on Saturday, March 20, 2021 from 10-11:30 am. These trainings will be recorded and will be interactive.
If you have further questions or want to discuss the possibility of running for an office, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.