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