Learn everything you need to know about setting up and running a local or national political campaign.
Updated May 18, 2020 by Jeffrey Lee, Principal Editor
1. Determine political viability
Before running for office, you need to determine your viability for office. All campaigns are long-shots, until they are not, but you still need to establish your chances of winning. In order to do this, you need to perform the following tasks:
- Frame the primary issues — What are the issues that people actually care about going into the next election? Can you represent these issues and inspire others to care about them too?
- Review election history — What is the history of the seat you are trying to claim? Who has won this seat in the past? Are they bound to win again? By reviewing history of the sit and the current direction of the country, you can determine whether a seat is likely to go to an incumbent or newly elected candidate.
- Your relative strengths — What makes you different? Will people care what you have to say? Is it unique? Does it match what voters are looking for in a candidate? If you can’t come up with a good answer for this, you are in for a long uphill battle.
Of course, there is no way to truly predict if you can win an election or not. While some are easier to predict than others based on the history of the seat and current direction of the country, others not so much. However, you have to be honest with yourself here before you start putting together a political campaign.
2. Build a political campaign team
Every political campaign needs a team to help turn a hope into a reality. So here are some of the most important team members you’ll need whether you’re running a local or national campaign:
- Campaign manager — to help operate the campaign team and manage the day-to-day operations. They should have a strong background in communication, politics, and political campaigning.
- Treasurer — to help manage finances and coordinate fundraising efforts. This person needs to be honest and be able to give you a complete picture of your campaign funding.
- Public relations — to coordinate news coverage and public relations professionally. This team member needs to be savvy when it comes to the digital landscape and be able to educate voters about the platform via digital advertisements and social media.
- Volunteer coordinator — to coordinate your volunteers. This person will be interfacing with the people who believe in your candidacy the most, so you need to choose someone who can properly interact with voters and create engaging volunteer events.
- Field director — to organize and manage voter contact operations. This person will be in charge of door-to-door knocking, voter phoning strategy, and coordinating voter registration efforts.
3. Establish a campaign platform
When running for office, you need to establish a campaign platform that represents your values and your constituencies. What is going to motivative voters to turn out and vote for you? When building a campaign platform, you need to:
- Research local and state issues
- Establish a political brand
- How you plan to communicate your ideals
- Finding support and those who can advocate your message
- Campaign marketing material (advertisements, slogans, colors, branding).
4. Know your paperwork and deadlines
When running for office, every candidate has to file a certificate of candidacy along with other potential forms. For specific requirements, you should visit your secretary of state’s website for information on running for political office.
Of course, campaigns come with a lot more paperwork. You should hire someone who can coordinate and make sure you gather all the required papers and hit the proper deadlines. Some examples of paperwork that you need to keep an eye on:
- Affidavit or Certificate of Candidacy – the form that states you are legally qualified to run for office. Check with your local or state offices on how to acquire the form.
- Statement of Organization Form – the form to declare your campaign organization and finances. This typically has to be filed 10 days after you’ve become a candidate or after you have received a certain amount of contributions (around $2,000).
- Recipient Committee Campaign Statement — A form that discloses expenditures and itemized receipts.
- Campaign Finance Disclosure Form – A form that discloses fundraising and donations accepted from the campaign. Again, speak with your local and state officials to discuss the specific requirements around this form.
5. Set fundraising goals and events
Every vote counts, and every vote costs money. When running a political campaign, you need to come up with a rough estimate of how much you’ll need to raise to win. You can figure this out by working with your finance manager or treasurer. It helps to list out all the possible expenditures for your campaign:
- Campaign events
- Renting spaces
- Physical advertising (signs, posters, etc.)
- Digital advertising (online advertisements on social media)
- Paying campaign team and resources
- Headquarters / office space
- Food / catering for staff and events
- Campaign polling and research
- Etc. etc.
Most importantly, you need to understand the fundraising laws and restrictions for your state. Knowing these will help keep you out of trouble. For example, many states impose restrictions on how much someone can donate and require that you disclose how many campaign contributions you have received. Here’s a helpful resource that can help you figure out the fundraising laws for your state.
6. Establish an online presence
Every campaign requires a website and social media presence, even small local campaigns. A website and social media presence are some of your best tools to educate and collect campaign donations from voters.
When setting up a campaign website, research what other candidates have done and what has been successful and what has not worked so much. When setting up your website, you need to find a website hosting service and set up a domain name. Hosting services and domain names are relatively inexpensive so you shouldn’t worry about the price.
Your biggest challenge will be creating and designing content for your website if you haven’t done it before. While there are some websites that provide pre-designed layouts and low-cost design assistance like Wix and Weebly, it is best to hire a local digital marketing agency to help you build a professional campaign website.
When establishing an online presence, setting up social media profiles is easy enough, but you need to find someone who can keep them continuously updated with relevant content that engages voters. You want to find someone who is digitally savvy and can help improve your presence and create online events that engage voters.
7. Throw a kickoff campaign event
When you enter the race, it helps to do it with some noise, even if it’s for a small local campaign. The kickoff event should be an opportunity for you to explain your platform and why you intend to be in the race. You should work with your team to find an event space where people can come to hear you speak.
At the local level, this can be much harder. So it helps to do it somewhere where people naturally go. This is where you can practice your speaking skills if you are new, and get involved with the community.
It helps to have as much media cover the event as possible. You’d often be surprised by what local newspapers might cover. It may not seem like much, but it is better than nothing.