The Top 25 Mistakes Candidates Make In Local Elections (Part Two)

Go Back to Part One . . .

6. Having Too Many Long Campaign Meetings

In my experience, 90 percent of time spent in campaign committee meetings are completely wasted. Remember: just because something makes you feel good in a campaign doesn’t mean that it works. Sitting in meetings, eating snacks and gossiping about your opponent might make you feel great, but it’s also a terrific way to lose a campaign.

While some campaign meetings might be necessary, don’t fall into the trap of having too many of them. If you have spare time, it should be spent doing the hard stuff: door-to-door campaigning, fundraising, making phone calls to voters. Why? Because the hard stuff works. Talking about what you’re going to do is a poor substitute for actually getting off your butt and doing it.

If volunteers insist on having more campaign meetings, then ask them to be productive while they talk. Bring envelopes that need to be addressed, stamps that need to be affixed, and literature that needs to be sorted. If they really want to help the campaign, then they shouldn’t have a problem with the extra work.

7. Spending Too Much on Useless Campaign Trinkets and T-Shirts

Balloons. Nail files. Fans. Handy-wipes. Plastic bags. These are just a few of the worthless things that I’ve seen candidates waste their money on, thinking that it’s a good way to get their names in the hands of the voters. The reality is that these cliche trinkets are some of the laziest forms of campaigning, and they’re almost useless when it comes to raising name identification among likely voters.

That “useless” label extends to t-shirts as well, although it’s often impossible to convince new candidates of this. There’s nothing wrong with procuring a handful of shirts with your campaign logo on them, but buying any more than a few is serious mismanagement of your funds. If your most important campaign strategy consists of having people wear your t-shirts at parades and festivals, then you’ll end up with two things: a loss on election day, and a bunch of lousy leftover shirts.

Remember: spending dollars just to spray your name in front of as many people as possible isn’t smart campaigning; it’s wasteful campaigning. Only a small percentage of the people who see your name at a festival or fair will be residents in your district. And fewer still will be registered, likely voters.

Instead of wasting money on useless trinkets and t-shirts that only raise your name identification among non-voters, spend it on targeted outreach to residents in your district who you know will be able to pull the lever for you on election day. Focusing on targeted direct mail and door-to-door efforts might not be as fun as handing out jazzy trinkets, but it will get you elected.

8. Paying Too Much Attention to What Your Opponent is Doing

If you’ve done your homework, put together a killer campaign plan, and have the determination to work hard, then it really doesn’t matter what your opponent is doing. Sure, if you’re running for governor or senator or president of the United States, you’re going to have to respond to some of your candidate’s tactics. But in the vast majority of local political campaigns, paying close attention to your opponent’s every action is a monumental waste of time.

Let me tell you what wins an election: good grassroots work, good fund raising, good message, good voter outreach and good get-out-the-vote efforts. “Good snooping” and “good gossiping” aren’t parts of that equation.

If you’re working as hard as you possibly can to make your campaign a success, then there’s little your opponent can do to thwart your efforts, anyway. Every moment you spend trying to find out what the other guy is doing equals one less door knocked on, one less phone call made, one less dollar raised.

Don’t be the lazy candidate. Don’t worry about what the other guy is doing; instead, worry about what you are doing. Worry about meeting your campaign goals. Worry about winning on Election Day. And remember: if you work hard enough, it’s your opponent who will end up worrying about what you’re up to.

9. Running for an Office That’s Too Big for a Beginner

It’s a fact that your political career will likely be much more successful and lengthy if you take a more analytical approach to what races you enter. Starting with smaller, easier-to-win political campaigns and gradually moving up to larger offices is a great way to advance your political career and have more opportunities to affect positive results for people in your district.

Keep in mind that there are few careers in which a person can advance as quickly as they can in politics. There are plenty of examples of politicians who have been local elected officials one decade and members of Congress – or part of a presidential ticket – the next decade. Starting off with the lowest, easiest elected office is a decision that many successful politicians made early in their careers. Most people who are new to political campaigns are better off starting with a less ambitious local run. School board, city council and other local races are all perfectly winnable for new candidates if you run your campaign intelligently.

And there’s another important reason why an aspiring politician might want to think about getting elected to local office first: learning how government works from the ground up simply makes you a better and more effective elected official.

10. Running in the Wrong Year

There’s an old saying in politics that goes something like this: when you run for office is just as important as how you run for office.

It’s a bit of advice that I happen to agree with; some simple historical voting research and analysis of current voter sentiment can give you a better chance at winning a local election by launching your campaign during an election cycle that will be friendlier to your efforts.

Here’s the problem: not everyone who wants to run for local office is willing to wait years to kick off a political campaign, and many eager candidates jump into a race without doing any research at all about historic election cycles. Most of these shoot-from-the-hip local candidates go on to lose their political campaign on Election Day, and are too demoralized to ever run again.

With a little bit of research, you should be able to quickly identify which election cycle will be the best year for you to run. You usually won’t have to wait much more than a year or two in order to put your name on the ballot and make your eventual Election Day victory more likely.

Continue to Part Three . . . 

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