Advice to potential candidates

I am often amazed at the people who run for elective office with no real plan, other than the dream of being the next “whoever”. God bless ya, the water’s warm, and miracles do happen, but you’re wasting your time unless you consider these things:

1. Choose the right race. 

Which races will you realistically have a shot at? Don’t let your ego get ahead of your brain. Ask others you trust. It could even be the right race, but the wrong year. Who’s in that seat already? 

Is the officeholder beatable, or termed out? You may think you’re smarter and better qualified, (you probably are), but they have the advantage of incumbency. 

Do other candidates who might jump in have better name recognition, and are they better funded? There’s only so much money to go around, and especially in the case of big donors, you should have an idea of where those dollars have already been allocated, and how much is still up for grabs.

2. Know your stuff. WHAT does the office require? What expertise do YOU bring? 

“I want the title” is not enough, and voters figure it out pretty quickly. What can you do to improve things? Can you clearly explain where the current office holder has been derelict in his or her duties? Or where your input could assist the other members of the elective body to improve? Once again, KNOW your stuff.

In addition, you’d better have a thorough grasp of what the office you’re seeking is responsible for, and more importantly, what that office can’t do. Please don’t make false promises about doing something that is not within that office’s power. Voters aren’t (entirely) stupid. I say “entirely” because….well, look at some of the people we’ve elected. Enough said.

3. Find a good campaign manager. Get some GOOD advice.

Interview several campaign managers. Do your research on them. You may know them already, but have they actually won any races? If not, why not? Talk to their former candidates. Get their version of events. Discerning what the campaign manager may have done wrong, or what the campaign manager says the candidate did wrong, will help you decide. Maybe the failed candidate expected too much from the campaign manager? Perhaps the candidate didn’t hold up their end of the bargain? You need to know. 

Anyone can run for office, and someone will be happy to take money to run your campaign. This may come as a shock, but some people will feed your ego and convince you that you actually have a chance at a race (when they know you don’t) because they want a paycheck from you for a few months, and they don’t have anyone else in the hopper. 

Some campaign managers will waste your money on things like needless printing, either because they get kickbacks or don’t know any other approaches. Being more creative might be the better play. You have to be careful, especially in a small race, where money is tight.

There’s so much info available online about running a successful campaign that there’s really no excuse. It’s like buying a house. You might hire a realtor, but in the end you really need to do your own research. Read up on how various people have failed politically, and try to avoid making those same mistakes. Get good objective advice from people who don’t have skin in the game.

4. Shore up your party credentials.

Unless you’re running in an (ostensibly) “non-partisan” race, you need to be part of a political party. If you’ve never been to a GOP or Democrat event, and no one has seen your face, good luck. The folks in the trenches know the posers from the serious people, who stay actively involved, whether they’re running or not. They realize you’re just passing through to get elected, suddenly claiming to have conservative or liberal beliefs. Those folks are not easily fooled.

5. Your public profile is not enough to get you elected. 

I’ve known several people who gave up TV or radio careers to run for office, with mixed results. A Republican radio broadcaster recently did that to run against Trump! Whatever, dude. The fact that you’re well-known in one realm isn’t enough to get you elected to anything, unless you’re Donald Trump.

If you’re a network TV personality, you’re probably not allowed to attend political events, either GOP or Democrat, so no one knows you in those groups. You can’t expect to waltz in and have a crown put on your head because you’ve been on radio or TV for years. If you’ve been on TV, never taking hard positions and doing fluff interviews, people might not take you seriously.

There’s another downside to being a public person: If you’ve been hosting an opinion radio show, the Radio Miranda Rule applies. “Everything you’ve ever said can and WILL be held against you” by the opposition research folks. Be prepared.

6. Create a decent website strictly for your campaign. 

Don’t even launch your campaign until that is up and running. If I hear about you and check out your site and it sucks or doesn’t exist, I don’t go back. Neither will donors or constituents.

7. Clean up your social media.

If you’ve been dumb enough to say something online that may come back to bite you, (who hasn’t) clean up your accounts BEFORE you even talk about running. Believe it or not, there are services you can use who will do that for you. A good campaign manager will know this.

8. Think of anything and everything that could be used against you, and be ready to address it. 

Have you had a nasty divorce? A DUI or other arrest? Lawsuits? Do you have a bad reputation in the professional realm? This will come back to bite you, although some people somehow survive it. (I’m thinking of Nevada’s AG). Opposition research people live for those tidbits. Even if a shady past doesn’t bother you, (which is actually an asset when you’re running for office), you need to be honest with your campaign manager up front, and have a plan to address anything that comes up. Or don’t get the race.

A Presidential candidate a few years back had been paying another woman’s RENT. Did he not think that would come up? Of course the op research people knew it, and sat on it, until the right time.

9. Yes, people can and will LIE about you – get ready. 

Sadly, many voters assume that anything said about you by your opponent in a campaign ad or flyer must be true. Unfortunately, people can say things in campaign literature and in ads that I could never say on the radio, lest I be sued. Innuendo and half truths are the rule of the day. It has always been a part of politics, and it’s not going away. Put aside some of your money to defend yourself from last minute hit pieces. Be ready to address any allegation. 

10. Radio interviews won’t get you elected.

Oh, how I sometimes wish that were true. Lots of people think getting five minutes on my show (or anyone’s show) will get them elected. Nope. First of all, if it’s a small race like Nevada Assembly or Senate, chances are small that the audience is full of people who can actually vote for you. You simply have to do the legwork. Even if you’re running for Congress, the same rule applies. You need to focus your attention on your district.

11. Be polite to the media. 

You need us far more than we need YOU. But IF you are asked to do media with a legitimate source, your answer is “YES, I can make it”. If you’re too busy when someone asks you to do an interview, especially if YOU have asked to be on, (yes, I’ve had this happen), don’t say, “I’m not available that day”. Once you start running, you need to be able to be flexible so you CAN do the things that might help your campaign.

And no, we don’t have to have you on. I once had a guy threaten to sue the station because we wouldn’t have him on my show. That’s the way to charm the media! 

12. You’d better have a plan to raise money. 

Raising money is the worst part of campaigning, at least if you’re a decent person. You need to have some of your own, and be wiling to schmooze people with money. Impressing your friends at some backyard barbecue with your great ideas won’t translate into enough support to get you elected. Remember that Karaoke bars are full of people cheering their tone-deaf friends on…

Running for office is hard work, but we need good people in elective office, or our nation will suffer more than it already has. Don’t give up if you want to make a difference, but get your ducks in a row!

Heidi Harris

2-19-20

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