Running for office is hard. Politics is a world unto itself, and many first-time candidates find it hard to navigate the tricky waters of a political campaign. Of course, every successful politician was once a first-time candidate, and many of them made rookie mistakes and survived to tell the tale. Mistakes are a part of the game, but the fewer you make, the better off your start-up campaign will be. Listed below are the top seven mistakes that newcomer candidates make, and how you can avoid falling into the same traps:
1. The Candidate as Campaign Manager
Many, many first time candidates make the mistake of trying to be the campaign manager and the candidate at the same time. Don’t – it’s impossible.
The candidate’s job is to shake hands, kiss babies, and raise money. The campaign manager (and the consultants, if there are any) are responsible for strategy and day to day operations. Sure, the candidate should help formulate the broad strategy of the campaign, but he or she cannot play the candidate’s role and try to manage the nitty-gritty of campaign strategy and operations at the same time. Find someone you trust to manage your campaign, and let the person do their job.
2. It’s Too Early to Start
It’s never too early to start! Many first-time candidates are leery of starting their campaigns too early, and try to wait until only a few months before the election to begin campaigning in earnest. While there are some activities that you won’t want to start until close to the election, it is never too early to start campaigning, especially when challenging an incumbent.
3. The Party Will Make Sure I Win
Don’t rely on the party (whether it is the national, state, county, or local party) to make sure you win. Your success is in your own hands. If the party comes through with money or help, great…it’s icing on the cake. However, you can’t rely on receiving that help. Make sure that your campaign takes responsibility for its own success. Remember, if you lose, you’ll be out of business, but the party will still have it’s job – count on your own team to make sure you win.
4. I Only Need $500 to Run This Race!
Most candidates, first-time or not, underestimate how much money it will take to win their election. Speak with veteran politicians in your area or a qualified consultant to see how much it will take to win, and always add a little extra to your fundraising goal “just in case.”
5. My Opponent Will be an Easy Target
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating your opponent. If you’re challenging an incumbent, then you can be sure that he or she will have higher name recognition than you, and will most likely outspend you during the campaign. If you are vying for an open seat, don’t think that your opponent will roll over and let you win. Even if it seems like you are only facing “token” opposition, be sure to run the race as if your opponent is ahead in the polls – it’s the only way to guarantee that you won’t spend the day after Election Day saying “I wish we had tried harder.”
6. I Don’t Need Professional Help
Candidates often eschew professional political help for the advice of family and friends, even if those folks have no political experience. Don’t underestimate the value of political advice from a consultant or the help a qualified politico can give you when hired for your campaign staff. Even the most local of campaigns have begun using consultants to help them win.
7. There’s No Way I Can Win
While not as prevalent as “There’s no way I can lose,” there are a good number of candidates who run every year thinking “There’s no way I can win.” My advice is that if you go into a race feeling like the campaign is a lost cause, you’re going to lose. Your mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t run for office unless you are running to win. Sure, you should be realistic about how tough the campaign is going to be, but don’t run with the idea that you’ll probably lose – because if you do, you probably will.