21. Letting Your Spouse Get Too Involved in Strategy
There’s no doubt about it: a supportive spouse is one of the BEST assets a political candidate can have. When your wife or husband is excited about your campaign and wants to help, it makes your efforts much easier and more effective. Many candidates consider their spouses to be their “secret weapons” on the campaign trail, and rightly so.
It’s usually a mistake, though, to let your spouse get too involved in actual strategic decisions. The reason why is simple: your wife or husband already has a very strong, emotional opinion of you, and it’s difficult for them to see beyond those deep-seated sentiments.
The best strategists look at candidates and campaigns unemotionally, with the goal of accurately identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and shortcomings. A good campaign strategist needs the ability to react to political attacks calmly, and advise their candidate without any biases or fears of hurting their feelings.
It’s often difficult for husbands or wives to look at their spouses unemotionally, handle personal attacks on calmly, and offer up constructive criticism to the most important person in their lives. Your spouse might be an intelligent, hard-working, supportive person, but it’s best to keep them out of strategy sessions and rely on the input of people who aren’t related to you.
Besides, a supportive spouse has an even more important role to play with you on the campaign trail. Having your husband or wife with you when you attend events, go door-to-door, walk in parades, and talk to voters is a godsend, as many candidates have learned.
22. Acting Like You’re Running for Congress
Is your political campaign part of a serious, important election that will affect the lives of the people in your district? Yes, of course it is . . . regardless of how few people you wish to represent. But if you’re running for city council or another smaller office, don’t make the mistake of acting like you’re vying to become the next governor or a member of Congress.
There are certain nuts-and-bolts elements of good campaigning that work well in every race, regardless of the size of the office. But if you’re a city council candidate who shows up to every public function with an expensive suit and a campaign staffer, you aren’t going to make the average voter feel like they have much in common with you. And if you think that the ultra-researched, high-dollar attack ads that work well in congressional races will work in your hometown campaign, then you’re in for a rude awakening.
Constituents in local elections want to vote for someone who feels like their neighbor . . . not someone who feels like the next slick congressperson-in-grooming. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t run a professional campaign, raise as much money as you can, and stay focused on effective strategies. But modeling your campaign on larger races can be a recipe for disaster on the local level.
If you want to move up the political ladder to higher office sometime down the road, then there will be plenty of time to put the flashy mechanics of a big campaign into action. Until then, don’t get too big for your britches.
23. Working on Two (or Three, or Four) Campaigns at Once
There’s an old saying in campaigning that you should never forget: the candidate who runs two campaigns loses two campaigns.
I’m always flabbergasted by how many candidates for public office decide to sacrifice their valuable time, energy and resources to lend a hand on a friend’s campaign, too. Candidates frequently fall for the misconception that goes something like this: “imagine how much great campaigning we can do if we run together as a team!”
Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way . . . for several reasons. If you want to help local candidates win their campaigns, then do so as a volunteer. Once you get on the ballot as a candidate, you need to be extremely selfish with your time. Indeed, time is the most valuable asset you have as a candidate . . . and every second you waste helping someone else with their campaign makes it less likely that you will win yours.
If another candidate asks you to drop their fliers off at houses along with yours “since you’re going to be in that neighborhood anyway,” don’t do it. A single political flier on someone’s door might go straight to the trash . . . but multiple fliers will definitely go straight to the trash (without a glance from the voter). And remember: the more additional campaign garbage you put in with yours, the more your own message will be diluted and forgotten.
Don’t let other candidates benefit from your hard work. If they really want to win, give them this book and tell them to follow its advice. And whatever you do, don’t fall for the old losing strategy of “running as a team.”
24. Letting Crazy People Help with Your Campaign
If you don’t know it already, then you’ll learn fast: political causes and campaigns are magnets for crazy people. (In fact, it’s not just the activists and volunteers who can be nuts; there are plenty of loony political candidates, too.)
Is everyone who has a passion for politics and getting involved in elections insane? No, of course not. In fact, very few of them are. But you’ll almost certainly cross paths with crazies during the course of your campaign . . . people who want to insanely oppose you, and people who want to insanely support you. And you should steer clear of both types.
It’s no mystery why crazy people are attracted to politics. Anyone, regardless of their mental faculties, can get involved in a political cause. Campaigns are always looking for volunteers, and they tend to welcome anyone who wants to hang out around the campaign office and help with menial tasks. And many campaigns are the perfect environment for people who like to prattle on about conspiracy theories, gossip about imagined enemies, and eat free food. A campaign can make people who don’t have any other social outlets feel accepted, needed, and listened to.
As a candidate, though, you need to learn to politely decline the assistance of people whose sanity is suspect. Campaigns are a lot of work, I know, and even a single enthusiastic volunteer can be enormously helpful. It’s tough to turn down someone who wants to pass out your fliers in their neighborhood or hang out at the campaign headquarters to lend a hand.
But if you’re ever tempted to accept the help of someone who you know is mentally unstable, you should remember two things. One: this person is going to be officially representing you in the community as a member of your campaign, and will be associated with your candidacy in the voters’ minds. And two: a crazy person might be enthusiastic about helping you now, but that can change quickly. If that person decides to jump ship and relabel you a political enemy – for whatever reason, real or imagined – the repercussions and damage to your campaign can be severe.