Not many new candidates think about when they should announce that they are running for office, but it’s much more important to your political campaign strategy than you might realize. Announcing your candidacy for a race too early could backfire, and announcing it too late could be just as damaging to your chances of winning on election day.
Of course, no single element can make or break a political campaign, and your candidacy announcement is no different. And remember: publicly announcing your campaign isn’t the same as launching or kicking-off your campaign. In fact, if you’ve done things right, you will have launched your campaign and done lots of behind-the-scenes work and preparation long before you actually announce it to the public at large.
In large statewide and federal campaigns, it seems that campaign race candidacies are being announced earlier and earlier every season. It’s no longer unusual to see presidential candidates start “exploratory committees” more than a year before primary elections, and candidates for other offices often “launch a test balloon” far in advance of campaign season.
In smaller local political races, however, announcing that you are running for office more than a year before election day isn’t usually necessary. The year prior to the election in is a great time to confer with your friends and family, form your own campaign team kitchen cabinet, and do research to see if it’s worth running for the seat.
If you do decide that you have the resources and support necessary to mount a winning campaign, then plan on announcing your candidacy sometime in the early part of the year before your district’s primary election.
Being the first to the gate with your campaign announcement might be a good move in some cases, but not in all. If you have a network of support and fundraising prowess that you think might intimidate other candidates from entering the field, then announcing early might help clear the slate of primary challengers.
If, on the other hand, you are waiting to see what other candidates might get int the race to determine how good your chances are at ultimately winning on election day, then it’s prudent to wait until later to announce your candidacy.
There’s an addition option to consider that offers other strategic benefits: don’t announce your candidacy at all. For many different reasons, you might determine that it’s a good idea to not let anyone know that you are going to be a candidate until it’s too late for others to hop on or jump out of a race. In this case, simply filing your petitions right before the deadline will generate earned media attention on its own.
We’ll talk later about what tactics you should use to generate as much attention as you can from a candidacy announcement. Don’t forget, though, that when you let the cat out of the bag can be as important as how you do it.