Many first-time candidates face a real conundrum: they aren’t well known, and without tons of money, they won’t get well known. But without being well known, they can’t raise lots of money, and they themselves aren’t rich. What’s a candidate to do? Are there ways to get elected as a first time candidate even if you’re starting with zero name recognition?
The answer, in many elections, is yes… there are ways to get well known and win campaigns on a tight budget. But in these campaigns, what the candidate and campaign lack in money they will have to make up in hard work and shoe leather. Think you’re up to the challenge? Here’s the plan:
1. Meet with the Big Boys (and Girls)
The first step is to meet with they key political leaders in your party (in your area) – from the top (elected officials, county chairpeople, etc.) all the way down to the bottom (committeepeople, key volunteers, etc.). Let them know you are running. Tell them why you are running, and ask for their support. If (when) they say “I can’t support you right now,” ask them to keep an open mind, and let them know you’ll be staying in touch with them. (Getting involved in your local party is also a great idea. For more information read: How to Get Involved with Your Local Political Party).
2. Seek Out Other Influencers
Next, find the other influencers in your district – those people who talk to lots of other people, who are respected, who you want to know that you are running and why. This list may include business and civic leaders, church and synagogue leaders, big donors in the area, block captains, etc. Meet with these people and give them your spiel – who you are, what you are running for, and why you are running. Keep a list of all of these influencers, as well as all of the big guns you met in step 1. Stay in touch with both lists on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
3. Find the Key Organizations
Now that you’ve met tons of influential people in your district, it’s time to start reaching out to key organizations in your area. Some, like local political organizations, will be able to publicly support you. Others, like non-profit civic groups, chambers of commerce, youth sports clubs, etc. won’t be able to publicly support a candidate, but you’ll want their leadership to know that you are running. Ask if there would be an opportunity for you to attend (and speak at) a group meeting.
4. Build a Team
As you make your rounds, start putting together a grassroots team of people you met who offer their support, along with your friends, family, and colleagues. Start training this team on how to run a grassroots campaign organization. Get them going to meetings, putting up signs, and making calls on behalf of the campaign. To learn more, read: 5 Tips for Recruiting Political Volunteers and Run a Campaign School and Educate Your Team.
5. Act Like a Pro
Even if you’re short on cash, your campaign has to act professional if it is going to win. So act like a larger campaign… print up small quantities of letterhead and business cards, send out regular press releases, do a quick and easy website. Make sure people know that your campaign is serious about winning.
6. Hit the Streets
Now, it’s time to get out there and really start working the grassroots. Go door to door, have your team do literature drops and hold grassroots events, get your yard signs up, and make your presence felt. By the time this process is over, you may not be famous, but you won’t be a candidate that no one has heard of… you’ll be well on your way to establishing name ID and getting elected. (Local Victory’s Complete Guide to Getting Your Campaign Off the Ground comes with Winning Elections at the Grassroots, a complete guide to grassroots political activity).
Remember that you can’t run a winning campaign without money forever. As early as possible during the process above, your campaign will need to start raising money to fund your general efforts, your direct mail, your get out the vote operation and more. The how to get elected process laid out above can serve as a basis for your efforts, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can forget about fundraising forever… campaigns still need money in order to win. Some great tips are provided in our recent article: Finding the Money to Start Your Political Campaign.