I get lots of e-mails from lots of candidates asking, “What’s the best political campaign strategy for me?” Oftentimes, these e-mails come with a few scant details about the office the person is seeking and what issues are important to them.
I wish I had a good, easy reply for them. The truth, however, is more complicated. Figuring out the best political campaign strategy for any one election takes time and effort, and depends on a number of different factors. If you’re in the thick of your campaign planning, and trying to figure out the best strategy for your campaign, take a good hard look at these factors:
1. Are You a Challenger, an Incumbent, or Running for an Open Seat?
The difference between running as an incumbent and running as a challenger is monumental. Incumbents have records to run on and to be attacked on. Challengers usually (but not always) have trouble raising money, and often must spend time and resources raising their name ID. In open seat races, anything goes, and you often will find multi-candidate primaries and elections.
If you’re a challenger, check out: How to Beat an Incumbent. If you’re an incumbent, read: The Elected Official’s Guide to Getting Re-Elected.
2. Are You Well Funded, or Under-Funded?
The best campaign strategy for you must also be a realistic strategy. Will you have money to spend? If your candidate is wealthy or well-connected, you’ll be able to afford a full time staff, hire professional web designers, and run cable TV ads. If you’re under-funded, you’ll need to rely on volunteers, grassroots tactics, and home-grown campaign marketing materials.
3. What’s Your Candidate’s Background?
How will people perceive your candidate? Is he/she experienced in politics? How about in business? Do they have special knowledge or experience with a particular issue? Does your candidate have a built in “base” in a certain neighborhood or demographic?
4. Who is Your Opponent?
Is he or she well funded or under-funded? Are they a challenger, and incumbent, or running for an open seat? What’s their background?
5. What Are the Cutting Issues of this Election?
What issues are most important to voters this cycle? The best campaign strategy for you will tailor your message to speak to these issues in some way. You’ll also need to figure out The Question of the Election.
One you work through these five factors, you’ll have an easier time figuring out the best strategy. For example, if you are an under-funded challenger running against a well-funded incumbent, but you have a built in block of ideological voters who care about taxes and you know taxes will be one of the cutting issues of the election, you’ll design your strategy accordingly.
Remember, there is no single “best” campaign strategy. The right strategy will differ for each candidate and for each election. Take the time to think through your strategy before you get into the thick of battle.