11. Attending Too Many Meetings of Your Targeted Office
The first time I ran for city council, my opponents had a habit of going to every single council meeting and sitting in the audience. Ostensibly, they said that they did this to become “more educated” about the office they were running for. I suspect that the real reason they went to every council meeting, though, was because it’s an easy thing to do. There aren’t many activities that are less strenuous than sitting on your behind and pretending to take notes for an hour.
So, what was I doing while my opponents were sitting in council meetings and “learning the issues?” Well, I was busy walking in neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and personally introducing myself to every person in the city. It took me nearly half a year to do (at least an hour every day after work, and three hours a day on weekends). And it was difficult, especially when the weather was lousy and I’d had a bad day.
In the end, the “harder is better” mantra was proven right again in my race. Although my opponents laughed at me for never attending council meetings, I ended up being the top vote-getter in the city.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that attending meetings of the office you’re running for will impress anyone; the reality is that no one cares if you do or not. If you have an extra hour to sit in the audience of a public meeting, then that means you have an extra hour to knock on doors and introduce yourself to voters. It might be easier to sit on your behind, but it won’t win you any votes.
12. Starting Your Campaign Too Late
It’s a sad fact that most candidates for local office don’t even think about campaigning until after Labor Day, and some even wait until the month before election day to get off of their behinds. If you’re a first-time candidate and you don’t start campaigning until a two or three months before the election, then you’ve probably already lost the race.
My advice to new candidates who are unknown in their community is to start campaigning a year in advance of Election Day. That sounds extreme to most political newcomers, because they’re used to seeing lazy local candidates who don’t start campaigning until the month before their election. And in truth, this works for many candidates . . . especially if their opponents are equally lazy.
As a first-time candidate, though, starting to campaign a year before your competition is the best way to blow them out of the water and overcome the odds.
When your opponents are still thinking about whether or not they’re going to run, you should already have knocked on hundreds of doors in your district. When they start collecting signatures, you should already have announced your candidacy, sent out press releases, and had your first meet-and-greet event. And when they start telling people that they’re going to be on the ballot, you should already have contacted every likely voter. Twice.
Does this mean that you can’t win unless you start campaigning a year in advance? No, of course not. In fact, I realize that some people reading this probably have much less than a year left to campaign before Election Day. Just make sure that you start campaigning as hard as you can, immediately . . . and make up for lost time. That means no more weekends off or lounging on your couch after work. If you have spare time – and if it doesn’t negatively affect your family life – then you need to be campaigning.
13. Failing to Chase Early Voters
As a candidate, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Election Day is the day when everyone goes to the polls to vote. Instead, think of Election Day as the date when early voting begins in your state.
Depending upon what state you live in, early voters – or “absentee” voters – could make up a significant percentage of the vote in your particular race. In my home state of Ohio, the number of voters who cast their ballots early increases every year, thanks in part to legislation that now allows anyone to vote before Election Day if they choose to. The trend of early voting is likely to continue as other states give citizens more options to cast their ballots before Election Day.
The increasing importance of absentee votes means that political campaigns need to get their literature out to every voter who orders a ballot in the mail . . . this is called “chasing” early voters. Many political candidates don’t start buckling down and promoting themselves until the last month of the election, after early voting has already begun. Don’t make that mistake!
If you run your campaign the right way, then early voters will already know who you are when they receive their ballots in the mail. In fact, your targeted voters should receive literature in the mail from you along with their ballots. Many Boards of Election will allow you to get updates on which voters have ordered early ballots, and the best campaigners “chase” these voters by putting literature in the mail to a household on the same day that they order their mail-in ballots.
14. Worrying Too Much About Endorsements
Many new candidates in local political races scramble to get as many endorsements as they can from well-known public figures, current officeholders and community organizations. They think (mistakenly) that the right endorsement can make them a shoo-in for winning the election if only they can let the voters know who is supporting them.
Don’t get me wrong: endorsements rarely hurt a candidate, and you shouldn’t turn them down if they’re from a credible individual or organization. And there’s nothing wrong with requesting endorsements, either, as long as it’s not the only campaign strategy you have.
To me, though, political campaign endorsements are like getting out balloons at the carnival: they make you feel good and get other people to take a second look at you, but they really don’t take you anywhere.
I’ve seen plenty of candidate literature that consists almost exclusively of a laundry list of endorsement from local politicians, service organizations, unions and newspapers. In most cases, though, that’s little more than a waste of space.
15. Failing to Aggressively Raise Funds
Fundraising is the part of political campaigns that most candidates hate more than anything else, and I’m not exception. Asking people to write you a check is one of the hardest things there is to do, especially if you’re a new candidate who has never won a race before. Unfortunately, though, fundraising is almost unavoidable if you want to run for office; unless you have the resources available to completely finance your own race, you’ll need to raise at least a minimal amount of money to spread your name and message.
There’s a reason why established politicians have the ability to raise such a large amount of money for their campaign war chests: after years of holding office and shaking hands, they’ve amassed a giant list of people and organizations they can count on to donate money for their next run. And unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the candidate who raises the most money usually wins their race.
Your potential donor list should be one of the first things you compile when you decide to run for office. It’s an accounting of every person or organization you think might donate money to your campaign (whether you know them personally or not). Make a conscious effort to contact every person on your list for a donation over the course of your campaign, and don’t be shy to ask other experienced candidates for a copy of their donor list. People who donate to one political campaign are much more likely to donate to another, and the list can also give you an idea of how much money they might have the ability to donate.