Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned lots of things about winning elections. I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of misinformation out there… things that people believe, or are told, about campaigns that simply aren’t true.
In this article, I want to dispel some of that misinformation, and give you four immutable facts about running a successful political campaign.
#1 – It’s Up to You to Make It Happen
If you want to win in politics, it’s up to you to make it happen. Unless you’re rich or famous, no one is going to come to you to beg you to run for office. The local party isn’t going to run an open talent search to find the best candidate in the district, and then clear a path for him or her to win. If you want to run for office, you need to get out there and make it happen.
That means you need to throw your hat in the ring and run, even if they discourage you from doing so. It means you need to challenge party favorites, seek endorsements even when they seem locked up by your opponent, and fight for every vote. No one is going to hand you political office. If you believe you are the best person for the job, you’re going to need to go out there and make it happen.
Similarly, once you win the primary, never rely on the party (or any party leaders or fundraisers) to do your work for you. Even if the local party chairman tells you that the party will take care of your fundraising, or your grassroots campaign, don’t believe it. Do it on your own. If the party comes through, it’s icing on the cake, but make sure you’re working hard to cover all your bases in-house.
#2 – Running a Political Campaign Means You Have to Go All-In
If you want to win your political campaign, you need to go all-in. Half-hearted candidates almost never win. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard candidates say things like:
- “I don’t want to ask my friends for donations to my campaign.”
- “I’m only going to campaign two days per week.”
- “Election day is in November, so I can wait until after the summer to start campaigning.”
Candidates who say these things almost always lose. Campaigns can be easy, if you don’t care about winning. But if you want to run a winning political campaign, you need to go all-in. You need to out work your opponent. You need to ask everyone you know for money. You need to work extra hours, attend every meeting, knock on every door on your list. It’s hard work, but it pays off on Election Day.
#3 – Fundraising Isn’t Dirty, and It Is Very Necessary
Running a political campaign means you will need to raise money – because everything you do in politics, from printing up yard signs to holding events to putting up a website – costs money. That’s ok – there’s nothing wrong, or dirty, or slimy, about raising money (so long as you do it legally, honestly, and ethically).
Far too many candidates consider fundraising a “necessary evil.” Far too many campaign managers rush their candidates through fundraising so that they can get to the “important stuff,” like speeches, issues development, and door-to-door campaigning. All of those things are important, but they all rely on fundraising to succeed.
Here’s a basic fact about running a political campaign: you’re going to need to focus on fundraising. A lot. And that’s ok.
#4 – Most Successful Politicians Didn’t Win their First Campaign
What do Newt Gingrich, Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have in common? They all lost their first political campaign… yet went on to lasting political success… three as President of the United States, and one as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Many successful politicians lose before they win. In fact, Gingrich lost twice before being elected on his third try, and then working his way up the congressional ladder to become Speaker of the House.
If you’re running a political campaign, don’t be discouraged if you lose on your first try. Yes, you should absolutely give it your all and try your hardest to win… but if you lose, remember that Gingrich, Lincoln, Bush and Clinton all lost their first elections too. Get back out there, redouble your efforts, and be ready to win the next time around.
Photo Credit: Theresa O’Connor