Local political campaigns need to reach fewer voters and typically campaign for a shorter period than larger campaigns. But that does not make local campaigning any easier for the candidates or their supporters. In some ways, small campaigns have it even tougher.
- You are pressed for time.
- You are pressed for money.
- You need staff and volunteers.
Depending on your local party committee, you may or may not get support. If you are running as an independent, you are pretty much on your own.
Here are a few major challenges local candidates face when starting a political campaign for office.
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1. Putting together a campaign team
No candidate in a race of significant size can go it alone. One of the first challenges a candidate will face is finding a core group of volunteers. These people will become the campaign staff who will organize events, coordinate fundraising, grow a volunteer base, handle sign distribution and mailings.
A campaign committee is a legal entity. It must be registered with your county or state. This can often be done electronically. You will also need to set up a checking account for the campaign for accepting contributions and paying expenses.
The number of people on a campaign committee will vary. It will depend on the size of your campaign, your budget and the office you are running for
A typical campaign committee may consist of:
- Campaign Manager: This open-ended position is one the most important. What does a campaign manager do? The duties will vary greatly, from working with other campaign members to attending events to advising the candidate in all types of matters. In small campaigns, the campaign manager duties may double as a Press Secretary. NOTE: Candidates should NOT act as their own campaign manager.
- Campaign Treasurer: This person will handle the campaign finances and bookkeeping. The treasurer acts as the bookkeeper. They are often responsible for completing required registration forms for election participation and establishing the campaign bank account.
- Volunteer Coordinator: As the name suggests, this person attracts, organizes, and heads up the volunteer efforts. This may include door-to-door canvassing, clerical work and event staffing. They will be involved in a number of simultaneous functions. The person holding the volunteer coordinator position should be experienced in managing people.
- Sign Coordinator: This person solicits yard sign locations and is responsible for placing them. They will also help replace or repair then during the campaign.
Each member has their own duties, while working together toward the larger goal. Additional roles may come in the form of:
- Scheduling Coordinator: This person may be responsible for developing and executing campaign events. They might manage the candidate’s personal and campaign schedule and help prepare logistically for places that the candidate will attend.
- Campaign Fundraiser: This is the person whose sole focus is to help your campaign raise money. A good campaign fundraiser will also be on top of the candidate to make sure that he or she is doing what they need to do to raise money. (Dialing for dollars, mostly.)
- Activists: These are the people who will act as your volunteer foot soldiers. They may take part in activities such as door-to-door canvassing, making phone calls on behalf of the campaign and social media promotion.
- Political consultants: The larger the campaign, the more likely you will find retained consultants on staff. Consultants are often used for communications efforts (television, mail, digital). They may also help with general strategy, operating phone banks and more.
Your campaign committee will help steer your campaign. A diverse group with a variety of skills and expertise will strengthen your organization.
2. Developing a message and theme that resonates with voters
When campaigning for office, a candidate must create a theme that captures and defines what your campaign stands for.
In creating a theme, your campaign must assess the candidate or ballot measure’s strengths and weaknesses. Who will vote for your campaign and why? Shape your theme from voter’s most important issues. Frame any negatives of your positions into positives. (The platform is not ‘anti-growth’, it’s ‘smart-growth’) Once you have created your message, it will become the foundation of your campaign – from your campaign slogan and through all your advertising until Election Day.
Your “stump speech” will also define you as a candidate. It’s a summary about you, your plans to improve the community as an elected official, followed up with a request for support. This can be refined further to create an even shorter ‘elevator pitch’.
Your stump speech will define you as a candidate. Be sure to craft yours carefully. Click To Tweet
Whether you are running a local election, state election or even a position on your local school board, simple messaging is key. You must engage in repetitive, engaging communication to make sure your message is understood by voters.
This requires pulling together all sides of your organization in the goal of expressing and reinforcing your message. Everyone needs to be on the same page, always.
3. Raising campaign funds and donations
Of all the challenges faced running political campaigns, raising money is the big one. Elections are overwhelmingly won and lost based on the amount of money spent by a candidate. Even local elections can become expensive.
For example, in 2020 outside political groups spent more than $3.7 million attempting to sway the three competitive Los Angeles Unified School District board races. And this was just in the last two weeks of the election.
All it takes is for one generous donor who supports an opponent, and the cost of your small-time election has just gone up. These days, you may also need to worry about outside money from PACs and various 529 organizations.All it takes is for one generous donor to an opponent, and the cost of your small-time election has just gone up. Click To Tweet
Consider your potential costs in advertising, event costs, ancillary costs and the expense of maintaining a campaign office. The numbers will quickly add up.
What to look for when figuring out your initial campaign budget:
- How much have others running for the same position raised in the past? Do your research on past races. Determine what was the approximate cost per vote. All things being equal, that will give you a rough benchmark on how much your election may cost.
- How much can your opponent raise? What has their fundraising history been on past races? Keep an eye on financial disclosures to see how much they are raising and spending.
- Determine how much you can personally contribute as ‘seed money’ out of your own pocket. Find out what other funds you can secure from your family and close friends.
- Your local or national party may provide financial assistance. Speak with them early on to determine what kind of support your campaign can expect.
Before you formally announce, have a campaign website ready to collect donations. Raising funds early in the process builds momentum to attract others in supporting your political agenda.
Planning your budget is important. Voters usually don’t pay attention to local races until a few weeks before Election Day. You’ll want to have funds available for a final mailing or GOTV effort.
4. Getting enough media exposure
Some local races are non-partisan, so you may not be able to rely upon party identification in the voting booth. Where possible, canvassing remains an effective way to reach voters. Going door-to-door can help increase turnout and is an effective GOTV method. Combined with your other advertising efforts, it can help ensure that your name is identifiable to voters on Election Day.When voting time comes, name recognition will make voters less likely to skip your line on the ballot. Click To Tweet
Name recognition will make voters less likely to skip your line on the ballot, which often happens where the voter does not know either candidate.
Half of organizing a political campaign is communication. Getting the word out can be tough, especially if your organization has a limited budget.
Here are a few tips for improving your campaign’s media exposure:
- Get to know your local election officials. They can help you navigate the political landscape and get you in touch with the right people in the media. Follow them on social media as well.
- Create an online press kit to make it easy for local reporters to know more about you.
- Advertising in the local paper will increase awareness. There is always a wall between editorial and advertising in newspapers, but one way to get the attention of a newspaper and convince them you are a serious candidate is to place a few ads (offline and/or online).
- Lock up key endorsements early and promote them.
- Use simple and consistent messaging.
- Leverage online communication. Building a campaign website and social media advertising are effective, inexpensive options for local campaigns.
The problems that come up during an election are almost endless, and we’ve only covered a few of them. Take the time to learn what you are getting into when you start your campaign. Even then, preparation and planning will only get you so far. Your team will have to deal with fundraising, spending, volunteers, advertising issues, your opposition and voter outreach.
But good support, a good message and a lot of hard work will, hopefully, give you an Election Day win!
Shane Daley is a partner and developer of OnlineCandidate.com. With over 15 years experience in web marketing and online political campaigning, Shane is the author of the book ‘Running for Office as an Online Candidate‘. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.« Running for Local Office In 2021? Better Start Preparing Now
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