When I first got involved in political campaigns as a professional consultant, a friend asked me a simple question: Why on earth do you want to get involved in politics?
For many who are new to politics and campaigns, the answer to that question is an easy one. The political lifestyle seems enjoyable: parties, great seats at events, everyone knowing your name… what’s not to love?
For those of us who have been around politics for a little longer, however, the question makes perfect sense. The political life is a difficult life… far more difficult that you might imagine. Political candidates are slices and diced every way possible by the media, and by constituents. Their tax returns are made public, their old friends (and old enemies) are interviewed by the media, and their every word is parsed for mistakes and gaffes.
The lifestyle is a busy one, too, and it takes its toll. There are events and rallies to attend, voters to talk with, supporters to call, money to be raised, interviews to do, and letters to write. And let’s not forget “real life”: even while campaigning or holding public office, most candidates and elected officials still have families to care for, many have other jobs that they need to pay the bills, not to mention friends, neighbors, church and other personal commitments.
After watching politicians on the news, many people think that politics is an easy life… I can assure you that it is not. It’s grueling, tiring, busy and hard. There’s always something to do, always someone who wants something from you, and you’re always tired… yet you always have to have a smile on your face and a nice comment on your lips. A politician’s life is anything but easy.
So… Should You Run for Office?
That’s a query only you can answer. Before you do, ask yourself the following questions:
Question #1: Is My Family Supportive?
Sit down with your spouse and children to discuss your run for office. Be sure that they’re “on board” with your decision, and/or that it is a decision that your family makes together. You can run without your family’s support, but I wouldn’t advise it. Campaigns take a toll on the candidate, as well as on his or her spouse and children. The hours are long and irregular, and the pace exhausting. It will help to have a solid support behind you.
Often, campaigns mean putting the rest of your life “on hold” for a few months (or longer), missing some family events, not being around as much… make sure your family understands and is o.k. with this scenario. That being said, if you do run for office, be sure to continue making time for your family. Show up at that sporting event, attend that recital, and bring your family along on campaign stops and to political events.
I once had the chance to see former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist’s daily schedule while he was in Washington. I knew that he was particularly interested in keeping his family together and involved in each other’s lives, and it showed on his schedule. There, in between Senate hearings, fundraising events, and speeches, were penciled in time home for family dinner, trips to his kid’s games, and time out with his wife. Often, he would be at a Senate hearing until 5:00, drive over to see one of his children’s events across town, then head over to a fundraising event at 7:00. Take his lead, and keep your family first, both before and after you get elected.
Question #2: Am I Willing to Work Hard?
Running for office is hard work. Are you ready for it? Depending on the position you are seeking, running for office may mean twelve hour days for months, with only one or two days off. It may mean making calls to potential supporters for five straight hours, taking a short lunch, then doing it all over again. It will definitely mean getting verbally attacked by your opponent, and quite possible by the media or other stakeholders. Can you handle it?
Be sure, before you throw your hat in the ring, that you’re ready to work harder than you ever have in your life, and be emotionally spent by the end of everyday, without getting mad, and remembering the reasons why you got into politics in the first place.
Question #3: Can I Ask Someone for $1,000 and Keep a Straight Face?
I know… no one likes to raise money. But as a candidate, you will have to raise money. Let me repeat that: As a candidate, you will have to raise money… yourself.
Many candidates come into the political process thinking that, if they just have some good ideas and stick to working on the issues, others will go out and raise money for them. One “dirty little secret” of politics is that if you’re not willing to go out and raise money for yourself, no one will be willing to go out and raise it for you. The second secret is that no one in your campaign will be a better fundraiser than you, because people who make contributions like to make them to the candidate, not to a staff member or supporter.
Now, that’s not to say that you will have to raise all (or even most) of the money on your own. Very few, if any, candidates have enough personal contacts to raise $1 million, $10 million, or $50 million on their own. Most of us couldn’t even raise $50,000 on our own, if we had to rely just on our own personal contacts. Not to worry. People will help, and you can use tactics like direct mail, events, etc. to raise money without doing it face-to-face. The fundraising section of this website can help show you how. But understand this: You will have to raise money for your campaign, and most of the early money will come from your own fundraising efforts.
You Have to Believe in the Process!
The biggest questions of our day… the really important ones, like healthcare, abortion, civil rights, war and peace… they are all decided in the political sphere. From local town governments to the White House, politicians and their staffs decide on matters great and small that affect the lives of everyone on Earth. Whether you believe in big government or small, natural law or positivism, free markets or regulation, get involved in government for the right reason: because you want to have an impact on those important decisions, for the good of your fellow man.
Don’t let anyone tell you, when you’re running for office, that you’re getting into a “dirty” profession. Sure there have been many political scoundrels over the course of human history. Sure, many people believe that the best government is the smallest government. But the practice of politics has a long and storied history, and has made a great amount of good possible throughout time.
If someone tells you that all of politics is a dirty affair, remind them that George Washington, William Wilberforce, Ghandi, Teddy Roosevelt, Edmund Burke and countless other statesmen and women have been involved and engaged in the political process.
If You’re Running, Run to Win!
Whether you’re jumping into politics for the first time, or trying to move up to a higher office, make sure that you’re in it to win. There’s no point running if you’re not running to win. It’s hard work, and some days you’re not going to feel like getting up and shaking hands, or making phone calls. Other days, when the polls show you behind, you’ll wonder whether you really should have run in the first place.
Don’t second guess your decision. Once you’re in the race, unless some truly unique circumstance presents itself that prevents you from continuing, keep chugging along. Work hard. Make the calls. Shake the hands. And use the knowledge and information you learn on Local Victory to do your very best to win your election.