The 3 Keys to Winning Any Local Election

by Joe Garecht

Winning an election is hard work.  It takes time, careful planning, and very long hours.  When I tell people that I am a political consultant, many of them tell me, “Oh, I would love to run for school board (or town council, or the local planning commission) but I would never be able to win.”  Do you know what I tell them?  Anyone with good ideas can win a local election.  Anyone.

Notice, I said a “local” election.  Very few people can jump right in to a campaign for congress or governor and win.  Those that can are usually already well known, or very wealthy.  But local campaigns (meaning smaller campaigns for more local offices) are a different matter – these campaigns can often be won on the basis of hard work and chutzpah.  In fact, the vast majority of elected officials you see today in congress or governors’ mansions around the country started out as unknown candidates for local office, and worked their way up.  So, how do you win a local political campaign?

1.     Disregard the Nay-Sayers

If you want to run for office, you’re going to come across lots of people who tell you it can’t be done, and that you shouldn’t run.  Once you get into the race, you’ll hear that you’ll never be able to win.  If you win, you’ll hear people tell you how it doesn’t matter, because no one can change anything anyway. Tell them: baloney!

During your political career, you’ll meet lots of people who want to bring you down, usually because they are cynical, skeptical, and often jealous.  Steer clear of them and do your thing.  How many people actually thought that some State Senator from Illinois could become President of the United States just four years after deciding to get into national politics?  But Barack Obama did it.  How many people thought a college professor from Georgia could become the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives after losing his first two elections for Congress and never holding political office?  But Newt Gingrich did it.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what other people think – what matters is what you think, and how hard you are willing to work.  Which brings us to our second point…

2.  Work Hard.  Really Hard.  Harder than You’ve Ever Worked Before…

You’re not well known.  You don’t have a ton of money.  Does that mean you can’t win?  No!  It just means you’ve got to work hard.  Most first time candidates who win do so because they’re willing to work – they are willing to make calls all day, knock on doors all evening, then go home and write letters, craft position papers, draft press releases, and then wake up and do it all again the next day.  They wake up at 4:30 in the morning and go to bed at midnight.  They do this day in and day out for months… or years.  They work hard.  You have to be willing to work this hard, too.

3.  Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

You also have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone.  Look, no one likes to make calls asking for money.  No one likes to knock on doors in a neighborhood where they don’t know anybody, and are pretty sure most of the people support their opponent.  Learning how to draft press releases and deal with reporters takes time. Figuring out the filing requirements just to get on the ballot is a pain.  But successful first time candidates need to step outside their comfort zones and do what it takes to win.

If you’re going to win your election, you’ve got to be willing to be uncomfortable.  Seasoned politicians know the drill – after years of making fundraising calls, it becomes second nature. But during their first campaign for public office, most of them were a little uncomfortable, and you will be too.  Get through it, and get on with the business of fighting for what you think is right and winning your election.  Well, what are you waiting for?  Go win that election!

What do you think are the keys to winning a local election?  Leave a comment with your thoughts… I look forward to reading them!  And, if you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow us @localvictory

Have you Read: How to Write a Political Fundraising Plan
Have you Read: How to Prepare for a Political Speech

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{ 8 comments }

Victor M. Zammit October 8, 2009 at 5:33 pm

The keys to winning a local election,are :
1) Meet as many residents as possible from your locality,and converse with them about the issues that are of most concern to them.
2) Do the necessary research on how the principal issues ,that are of concern to the local residents,may be effectively handled.
3) Be always positive and have faith that problems are there to be solved.

Yard Sign Advocate September 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Great article. All three of your points hit the nail right on the head. I would say the most important is working hard to get your name out there. Press releases and door knocking are a great place to start. I’ve found brochures and yard signs help solidify your intent as a candidate as well. Have good ideas, get the word out there about them, and don’t take no for an answer!

Joe Garecht September 22, 2009 at 9:32 am

Scott –

I think that’s a great way to put it… “you’re selling yourself…” not in a bad, unethical way, but it in a sense, the candidate (or rather his or her ideas) is the “product.” If no one knows about you, you aren’t going to get elected. The best way to convince people is to tell them why you are running, and then to ASK for their vote (you’d be surprised how many candidates forget to make that ask!)

Dave –

You may want to consider a push to get press coverage out of your litigation by tying it to your message – if your message is tied to the lawsuit, then the lawsuit proves that you’re willing to put your time and money into fighting for your issues, whether it is in the courtroom or at the ballot box. Thanks for your support!

Joe

Joe Garecht September 22, 2009 at 9:24 am

Mark,

You’re right – when campaigns have lots of money (or candidates have lots of name recognition) they rarely spend the time to do the retail politics that form the basis of any good grassroots campaign. That’s good news for a small campaign, because it gives you an opening – a place where you can outwork and outshine your opponent.

Joe

Dave LaLeike September 22, 2009 at 8:02 am

I am a first time candidate running for my ward’s borough council seat. My campaign is the next logical (?) step from being a community organizer (nogarage.com). With another neighbor I am in current litigation with the government I want to be part of. Probably not a unique story, but something to capitalize on, momentum-wise. Thanks for your website, very insightful and encouraging.

Scott Pierce September 22, 2009 at 12:04 am

Knock on every door, do all your own work, get your message out via flyers, web, signs and face to face very second of the day. You are selling yourself and if the voter does not see you they are not voting for you.

Mark Silverstadt September 21, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I think the number one thing about winning when you don’t have any money is knocking on doors. You’ve got to get out there and really do what your better funded opponents doesn’t do — you’ve got to go shake hands, knock on doors, and take your message right to the voters.

Joe Garecht September 21, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Welcome Local Victory Newsletter readers! Come on in, the water’s fine… I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts on this article.

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