Have you been thinking about running for political office? In the United States, and in many countries around the world, there are countless offices to choose from. From the municipal and county levels through the state and federal level (and in some places, such as the European Union, even the supra-national or international level) there are no shortage of elected offices to seek. Which office you should run for depends on your personal abilities, desires, and the political situation in your area
Here are some questions should ask when deciding which elected office would be best for you to seek:
What are Your Talents and Abilities?
Too often, this is a question that potential candidates fail to ask. The job you seek should, at a minimum, be one that matches some of your talents or for which you can develop talents and skills.
Are you a teacher? Have kids in school? Are you interested in education policy? Perhaps the local school board is for you.
Are you good with organization? Like to get into the nitty-gritty of operations and logistics? Willing to go to pot luck dinners and ribbon-cuttings? Perhaps county government is for you.
Do you have a handle on world affairs? Do you think about big picture issues, moral questions, and are willing to travel a lot? Perhaps the federal or national government is for you.
Are you an Executive or a Legislator?
Some people are born executives. They are good at making decisions, are comfortable taking input from lots of sources and coming to a conclusion based on those facts, and are willing to be the person who can say, “The buck stops here!”
Other people are born legislators. They enjoy extended debate. They want to contribute to a team effort, like working with a group towards a common goal, and enjoy being able to specialize in a particular area, letting others handle other areas that aren’t in their own purview.
Which are you? Often, born executives (like Dwight Eisenhower) would dislike spending time in a legislature. Likewise, born legislators (like founding father John Adams) aren’t well-equipped to deal with an executive role. Think about which model fits you better, and whether or not the position you are running for matches your natural inclinations.
What is Your Past Experience?
Your past experience in politics, business, and the community will dictate, to some degree, what offices you can and should run for. If you have no political experience, and no major executive level experience in a large business setting, it is unlikely you will be successful running for the United States Senate or large state governor’s seat until you run for a lower office to gain some experience.
Likewise, think about your ability to raise the amount of money that it will take to win the campaign. Do you have enough contacts to raise enough money to get the ball rolling? If not, you may want to think about running for a more local office that can be won with old-fashioned “shoe- leather” like door-to-door campaigning and block parties.
None of this, of course, is to suggest that you can’t win a particular race. By all means, if you’re willing and able to “shoot the moon,” do so. This exercise should, however, help you think about the best possibilities for your next political step, and determine how likely it is that you can run an effective and successful campaign for a particular office.
What is the Political Climate Telling You?
Finally, the political climate in your area should inform your decision on which office to run for. Certain areas have very defined demographics, where one party wins most of the local seats while another party has at least a shot of winning federal office. In other areas, local elections are non-partisan, presenting candidates of a less popular party with a chance of winning where there would be very little chance at winning an election with defined partisan constituencies.
Think also about who the current incumbent is, and whether he or she is beatable. You may want to run for a seat that isn’t as winnable as another so that you have a better shot later down the road, but for the most part, you want to run for seats that are winnable: seats where the incumbent is beatable, or even better, an open seat. There’s a rule of thumb in politics that says if a seat is open (meaning no incumbent because he or she has retired, died, or is otherwise not seeking the office) and you’re interested, you might as well take a shot, because the climate will likely never be better. Incumbency is a huge advantage in politics.
Remember How Most Campaigns Start…
Lots of people think that they’d like to run for office some day, but are waiting for just the right moment… that moment when someone from the local party notices all of your hard work volunteering on campaigns, and gives you your shot… or when you’ve got the free time, and extra money, to run for office.
One of the most important things you should understand, if you have ever wanted to seek public office, is this: Don’t wait. Only you can secure your political future. Only you can make your own opportunities.
Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson had a saying… he used to say that most campaigns for public office start with a couple of friends sitting around, drinking a couple of beers, and saying, “You know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to run for Mayor (or Congress, or the County Water Board).” I think that’s true. Campaigns for President may or may not start that way, but I think most campaigns for the hundreds of thousands of local offices in the United States, and for the millions of local democratically elected offices around the world, start with a group of friends sitting around, talking, and one of them saying, “I’m going to run for office. Who will help me?”
Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker