You Should Run for Office: Here’s How
By Rudy Lopez and Stephen Smith
America is divided, and our democracy is sick.
If you are a woman or a working class person, if you are a person of color or a young person, if you are LGBT or even if you are middle class, you are almost certainly under-represented at the national, state, and local level. The U.S. House of Representatives is supposed to represent the will of everyday people, but the average Congressman is a millionaire.
That’s where you come in. We need more citizen leaders like you to make the leap.
Here are 6 tips that we give folks as part of our WV Candidate Training Academy – sign-up to hear more about our trainings here).
- Ask yourself why. The most important question a candidate has is: why are you running? You will have to answer that question to donors on the phone, to strangers at their door, and to crowds of people at a forum. You will also have to answer that question to yourself, and your family, when the going gets tough. There are lots of worthy reasons to run – but you have to know your
- Dream a little. If you could change one or two things in your community, that affect you and the people you love, what would they be? What office has the power to change that?
- Look for a win-win-win-win-win. If you have decided that you want to run, the next thing to decide is your office. Your ideal office is one that will allow you to answer “yes” to all these questions:
- Is this a race you can afford, financially? (You can find out how much was spent in the last race at sites like ballotpedia.com, or by contacting your Secretary of State’s office.)
- Is your family able to support you in this race?
- Is this a race you could win?
- Is this a race where, if you win, you will have the power to do at least 2 real things that will change lives in your district, make your family proud, and help change the way politics is done?
- Is this a race where you have a powerful story to tell about who we are, and who we can be? (Policies matter. But politics is about more than just policies.)
4. Gather your kitchen cabinet. The biggest mistake that candidates make is that they try to do everything by themselves. You are going to avoid that mistake. Hurry up and go schedule 10 face-to-face, one-on-one meetings – ASAP – with people who you want to be on your team.
These can be personal friends, co-workers, allies – anyone who could help you carry the burden of running for office. In these meetings, you can ask them for advice about issues, you can ask them about what office you would be good for, etc… but the one thing you have to ask each person is to help you out in some big, concrete way. Could they give you $1000 dollars? Could they be your campaign manager, or volunteer coordinator, or social media director? Could they be your campaign treasurer or chief fundraiser? Could they host a house meeting with other voters?
These 10-15 people are your kitchen cabinet, and you are going to invite them over to help make your final decision. Ask them for their unvarnished advice and criticism, ask them for their help crafting a campaign plan, ask them for their time and money. all to your campaign launch—where you start to put your plan together and formally decide that you are going to run. (Note: if you can’t bear to ask 10 of your close friends to help you out, you probably aren’t ready to run. Running for office is all about asking people to take action for their communities.)
- Commit to two races, not one. Abraham Lincoln lost 6 campaigns before he won the Presidency. Most folks lose their first race, because the person they are running against usually has a lot more name recognition, money, and relationships than they do. So, instead of committing to run for office, commit to running for office twice. Know that it will likely take two runs anyway, and you don’t need to compromise your values the first time out.
- Ask for help. As the two major parties have become narrower and narrower, there are more and more groups who have popped up to help support candidates—especially those outside of the mainstream. Here are a few:
- Wellstone (Wellstone.org) – A national candidate and campaign training organization, named after Paul Wellstone, which has a focus on bringing under-represented people into the political process.
- There are 14 more explicit candidate training operations that tend to lean left listed at this link (https://www.thecampaignworkshop.com/political-candidate-trainings) – some focused on training candidates from particular communities (Annie’s List, New American Leaders Project), some focused on training candidates from particular regions of the country.
- Your local grassroots community organization or party organization. Many community organizations and local parties are trying harder to recruit and support candidates. Center for Popular Democracy, PICO, IAF, Center for Community Change, and People’s Action are all large networks of local community organizations that are interested in leadership development, and in many cases, candidate training.
Running for office is an act of courage, and we need courage now more than ever. You are what our country, and our communities, need. As voters, we want to thank you for considering a run.
If you have questions, or if you’d like to hear about trainings we are doing here in West Virginia, sign-up here for updates!
Rudy Lopez and Stephen Smith are experienced candidate trainers, Mr. Lopez with Wellstone Action and Interfaith Worker Justice and Mr. Smith with the WV Candidate Training Academy.