Tammy Pickering Barnett, a leadership and communications training consultant and past political candidate, provides practical tips for running a campaign and getting elected in this easy-to-read booklet.
Get practical guidance on developing and honing your message, building a strong campaign team, getting organized, appealing to volunteers, and connecting with voters.
Those are just the first steps to running a solid campaign: To win, you’ll need to promote your name and message to constituents, raise funds, and motivate the people who agree with your message to head to the polls.
You’ll also need to know how candidates earn free publicity, fine-tune their messages, capitalize on absentee voting as part of a get-out-the-vote strategy, and hold low-cost fundraisers to complement efforts.
The booklet includes a section specifically designed for women on overcoming challenges, inspirational quotes, and engaging questions that prompt you to reflect on and apply what you’ve learned.
If you’re running for local office, you’re doomed to fail if you don’t know the lessons in Get Yourself Elected.
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Get Yourself Elected
Quick Tips for Winning a Local Election
By Tammy Pickering Barnett
iUniverseCopyright © 2015 Tammy Pickering Barnett
All rights reserved.
Orientation to the Political Landscape
A political landscape is the combination of the political culture and history of your community. Are there families who have been involved in the local government for years? Are there past races that caused rifts in your local party? Have there been newcomers who ran for office in the past? If so, how were they received by the political and community leaders? Who are the main players, and what are the unwritten rules? And it goes without saying that the unwritten ones are the trickiest. What's going on behind the scene? You won't be able to know everything right away or even after your campaign, but by meeting with key political stakeholders in your community, you'll have a head start that may help you avoid a misstep. These leaders may be those holding offices now or people who once did but are now retired and active in mentoring. So no matter what office you're seeking, take the time to meet with political leaders (both official and unofficial) before campaign season. The tips that follow give you specific ways to learn and understand the political background and makeup of your community.
Take calculated risks. This is quite different from being rash.
—US Army General George S. Patton
The political landscape can affect your campaign in many ways. For example, you can run into pressure from a political party or leaders in your community. Some might encourage you to enter another race or change your timing or alter your focus or support of an issue. Always remember that it's your name on the line and that you've got to stay true to your values and personal mission. I've heard people say that they were looking for someone to run in a particular race either to make the opposing party or candidate spend money or to help the party look competitive. That might be true, but don't fall for it. You should run for office only if, after careful research and consultation with others in your community, you believe you have a reasonably good chance of winning the race. Because you'll be asking people to give their time and money to your campaign, you want to be sure that your campaign has a good chance of success.
1. Attend the meetings of the office for which you are seeking.
This gives you a chance to see firsthand how business is conducted, along with the challenges and opportunities of the office. Check to see if your community's public broadcasting channel or other public access channel films the meetings and rebroadcasts them. You can then check the viewing schedule and record them to view at your convenience. You could also read the minutes of the meeting, which should be part of public record. Many communities provide links to the meeting files on their websites. (If this is not occurring yet in your community, this could be something you suggest during your campaign as a way to make the office more transparent and accountable to the public.)
2. Know the duties, responsibilities, and scope of the office you are seeking.
This sounds simple, but it's often what trips candidates up when answering questions from the media and during a debate. Understanding exactly what the position entails will help you educate voters on what can be done and what falls outside the scope of the office. For example, if you are passionate about the maintenance of community parks, but its budget is controlled by another office, you'll know that this isn't an issue to be addressed by your campaign. To get this information, first check with your county's election office to learn where to obtain the specific listing of the duties and tasks of the position. Many states also have an association of counties that provides information and training for specific county elected offices.
Sample key questions to research:
What is the main objective of that office?
What are the basic duties? The responsibilities and tasks for local elected offices are spelled out in the municipal code for your town or county. Visit your local government's website and also refer to Votesmart.org for this information.
What are the minimum qualifications for the position?
Is this office a full-time or part-time commitment?
What is the salary paid to the officeholder?
What is the budget for that office (or board or department)?
Are there employees that report to this officeholder? If so, what are their positions?
Your list of questions will be much longer, but you can use these to get started.
3. One of your first visits should be to the chair of your local political party if you are running in a partisan election.
Remember the adage that you don't want to surprise your allies. You will need their support, and by calling on them first before making your campaign official, you'll let them know that you recognize and appreciate the importance of their role.
If you are running in a nonpartisan race, visit the chairs of both political parties to ask for support and seek advice even if you tend to identify with a specific party personally. Many voters who identify themselves with a political party are independent minded when it comes to voting for local offices, so keep your options open and reach out to both parties if you are not running under a party affiliation.
4. Volunteer for a local campaign.
You'll see a campaign from the inside out and make contacts for your campaign. It also helps you gain recognition with others in the party. Be sure to take notes! There's no sense in starting from scratch. In my community, it's almost a rite of passage for people to work on at least one campaign if not several before launching their own campaign. They gain knowledge on how to run a campaign, seeing things that they'll adopt and things they'll choose not to do based on the trial and error of others' campaigns. Plus, they are depositing favors in the bank for when they decide to run.
Be selective as far as which candidates you decide to give your time to. Before making your choice, plan to meet with several candidates to get to know their missions and their individual styles so you'll have a better feel as to how they'll run their campaign. You want to work for someone whose values align with your own and who is well organized. The person should be confident enough in themselves and in you to give you a chance to work in different areas within the campaign so you can have a well-rounded experience. Then, be sure to spell out up front the time you have available.
I let the candidate I chose to volunteer for know up front that one reason I was volunteering my time was to learn all I could for my own future campaign. I was fortunate that the person I worked for was gracious and very open to sharing not only responsibilities and opportunities to build my skills but also the details and reasons behind decisions made during his campaign.
5. Meet with past candidates for the office you are seeking.
Contact past candidates individually, extending an invitation to meet for coffee, breakfast, or lunch (depending on your budget). Talk with candidates who were not successful in their bid for the office, as well as those who won the race. Ask them if they would be willing to share their experiences, including what went well during the campaign and what they would do differently. Ask them for advice. More than likely, they will be flattered that you acknowledge their experience. Be sure to follow up your meeting with a handwritten thank-you card.
If you don't remember who ran in past campaigns, research this information by accessing your community newspaper's online archives. You could also check with the county clerk or official in charge of elections. The local Democratic or Republican headquarters is another resource to check for information on past candidates.
6. Seek opportunities for candidate training programs in your community.
During the year I ran, the Chamber of Commerce partnered with the local public university to provide a one-day program that was reasonably priced and gave potential candidates a chance to pose questions to the media, election officials, officeholders, and past candidates. Other sources for training include your local party. Besides providing valuable tips and resources, it also gives you a chance to meet other candidates you can connect with during your campaign.
During the training session, I met several candidates that I kept in touch with during the campaign cycle. One particular candidate was running for a similar office in the neighboring county. We continued to see each other at events. It was nice to see a friendly face at events and to have someone I knew would understand my concerns firsthand.
Also ask your local party chair if any candidate mentoring programs are planned. During my campaign, our local party organized orientation and training for all candidates using a lunch and learn format. Each of these meetings featured information on a city department. The department head or someone from that office gave a brief presentation on the department's overall mission and status. They also shared their goals and challenges and gave us a chance to ask questions. These sessions were well attended and very beneficial for candidates, especially those new to local government. Thanks to the program, we had a better understanding of the inner workings of local government and a greater appreciation for the budgeting challenges they faced and how our elected office might impact the individual departments that make up the local government.
By having an opportunity to meet the department managers and employees one-on-one, we felt more comfortable calling on them if needed during the course of our campaigns. Plus, it gave us a chance to build relationships with the other candidates.
If there aren't any training opportunities provided locally, call the closest community college or adult education center to suggest they offer one.
7. Contact local officeholders to ask if you can drop by and visit them at their office to learn more about their concerns.
Your office will work with many local officeholders, so it's good to meet these individuals to introduce yourself and build goodwill. Prepare for the meeting as you would for a job interview. In some sense it is an interview because you're hoping you'll make a good impression on them and begin building a connection that will be helpful during the campaign and then also afterward once you're elected. That means doing your research on the office or department's key functions and duties. Develop a few questions to ask the officeholder. Make these open-ended questions to give them a chance to share their experiences with you.
"What is the biggest challenge this office has faced this year?"
"What accomplishment are you most proud of?"
"How has the working relationship been with the person in the office I'm seeking?"
"Do you see areas in which the relationship could be improved?"
Be careful to state these last two questions in a manner so that the person understands you're not asking him/her to criticize anyone, that you merely want to obtain ideas for continuous improvement.
While there, ask if they will introduce you to their staff. Treat this visit like you would any other campaign stop. You'll want to be sure to give them information on your background, why you're running for office, and what you plan to do if elected.
If it's within your budget, leave pens and notepads imprinted with your campaign message. This will keep your name in the office. And, of course, be sure to mail a handwritten thank-you note to the manager of each office.
1. Who are three people in your community you can ask about the political landscape in your town? What are at least two questions you plan to ask them?
2. Which task or responsibility of the office you're seeking excites you most?
1. Research the scope of the office you're seeking. Find the statute that spells out the duties and qualifications of the office.
2. Meet with the chair of the local party or both parties if you're running in a nonpartisan race.
3. Call the Chamber of Commerce and community colleges to find a candidate training program to attend.CHAPTER 2
Developing Your Message
One of the first things voters will want to know is the reason you're running. Your answer should include the vision you have for your community and the goals for making that vision a reality. Your message should set you apart from your opponents and clearly define what improvements you want to give to voters. Remember, it's not only about defining who you are as a candidate, but also defining yourself in terms of what you can do to improve the lives of people in your community. So your message needs to answer: what's in it for them? Why do you deserve their vote? The following tips will help you refine your message.
1. Research your community so you can answer the following questions no matter which local office you are seeking.
Population of your city or county:
The total city or county budget:
What is the local government's average annual revenue?
Who are the main employers?
What is the unemployment rate?
Which issues most affect your community? Is the unemployment rate high? Are there environmental issues specific to your town or region? Pay special attention to the editorials and letters to the editor. Watch the local news broadcasts. Then, identify which of these issues you'll be able to impact in the office you're seeking.
You'll want to be specific about how an issue that might be cast as a national issue, such as healthcare reform, can be impacted by local government. If it cannot be impacted at the local level, this would not be an issue to develop for a local race.
This is important to keep in mind. Thus, if you've been passionate about politics and have followed the national issues, be sure to localize them. If you're concerned about healthcare reform, unless there is a local tie-on or a way the local office you're seeking will be able to impact this issue, spend your energy instead on issues that are closely related and can be influenced at the local level. For example, in our county, the commissioners researched and introduced a community medical prescription card. The free card is available to all county residents and can help them save money on prescription medicine just by virtue of being a county resident and showing the card to the pharmacist. It was a good way to address a national issue with something practical that people could do to save money.
Another national issue on voters' radar the year I ran was the Iraq War. This was an issue that definitely had affected our community since local men and women were stationed there. However, since this was not an issue that could be decided upon by local government offices, local candidates didn't spend much time talking about their positions on the war. Instead, they highlighted those issues that could be impacted locally.
2. Identify what your top three priorities will be if you are elected.
An example would be to increase public safety, bring new jobs to the area, and eliminate waste to save taxpayers' money. Three is a good number because it's easy for you to remember, and it's easier to keep your message succinct for voters. My three-point message shown below was printed on hard-stock paper and was included with fundraising materials and as handouts at community events.
For a quick reply to interviewers, those were condensed into the following points:
1. Develop collaborative community initiatives for an attractive and healthier community
2. Work with county council members to implement sound fiscal practices for county government
3. Promote an open and accessible county government
3. Know your competition.
Research your opponent's background and position on the issues important to your community. To do this, use Google or other search engines to locate articles and editorials about the officeholder's performance in office. A reference librarian at your community or university library can also help you. You want to find out what message they are communicating. How are they trying to appeal to voters? The more you know about the opposition, the better prepared you will be to distinguish yourself from the competition and fine-tune your message to voters accordingly.
4. Write a biography summarizing your background and emphasizing the experiences, training, and credentials that make you uniquely qualified to hold the office.
The biography or bio can be posted on your campaign website and also sent to the press. And you may be asked to give one to community groups hosting candidate nights. Your bio should also include details about your ties to the community. You want voters to know that you are one of them and that you share their values and passion for improving the community.
Excerpted from Get Yourself Elected by Tammy Pickering Barnett. Copyright © 2015 Tammy Pickering Barnett. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Orientation to the Political Landscape, 1,
Chapter 2: Developing Your Message, 10,
Chapter 3: Developing Your Campaign Strategy, 22,
Chapter 4: Building a Strong Campaign Team, 28,
Chapter 5: Building a Volunteer Base, 34,
Chapter 6: Getting Organized, 38,
Chapter 7: Raising Funds, 43,
Chapter 8: Getting Your Name Out, 54,
Chapter 9: Connecting with Voters, 67,
Chapter 10: Getting Out the Vote, 73,
Chapter 11: Challenges Women Candidates Face, 81,
Chapter 12: Putting It All Together, 91,