Running For Office: Political Memo
By Bharat Krishnan
This memo will be broken into two parts: what to do before you officially launch your campaign (or are still thinking about running), and suggestions as to how to handle the politics of actually running.
There are a series of questions a candidate should ask themselves before deciding to run:
Can I afford to commit at least 20 hours a week to campaigning initially, and likely 30–40 hours a week for the final months of the campaign?
Will my family be supportive? If you have kids or a spouse, running for office will impact them heavily, and they might welcome that reality or be opposed.
Why am I running? Does my rationale include any solid policy ideas? Do I have any sort of special qualifications for this job (i.e. you’re a teacher running for school board)?
What does the field of candidates look like? Do any of them have an inherent power base? For example, a teacher running would likely be able to rely on an endorsement from teacher’s unions.
What stakeholders do I need to meet with in the district? Talking to any people in the district whom hold political power (union leaders, precinct captains, activists, etc.) will help you gain a sense of what campaigning will be like, and it will also allow you an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of your candidacy to people who are politically-active in your area.
What is the strength your local party committee? Party committees vary widely depending on a host of issues, with some committees boasting volunteer lists of over 100 people and funds going into five figures, while others may not even have a regular office and staff. A strong committee will be more prepared to assist your campaign, but will also be more opinionated about your campaign in ways that could negatively impact you.
Once the campaign begins:
- Conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on your campaign and your opponent’s campaign. What are your obvious strengths and weaknesses, and what are theirs? Is there a natural base of persuadable voters you will both be targeting (i.e. older women with children)? Is there a large concentration of voters in the district who will be opposed to you (i.e. evangelicals)? Read more about SWOT analysis here.
- Once you have determined what your voter targets look like, create a “message box” for how to reach these people. You should determine what you will say to these voters, what you will say about your opponent to them, what your opponent will say about you to these voters, and what your opponent will say about himself or herself to them. Doing this will help you anticipate lines of attack and develop your messaging. Read more about message boxes here.
- Keep in mind your kitchen cabinet: that is the group of people outside the official campaign structure that will offer regular advice to the candidate and their team. This could include everyone from the candidate’s mother to his or her best friend. These people deserve to be heard and respected, but there should be a system in place for making sure outside advisers are not overruling the decisions of staff or getting into the head of the candidate.
- What kind of staffing structure do I need? In smaller campaigns, you might want your campaign manager to play the dual role of manager and finance or field director. In a congressional campaign, you’ll likely need at least a half dozen staff members. You should also spend time thinking about what you want a typical day for your employees to look like. Campaign staff don’t observe regular business hours, generally working anywhere from 60–90 hours a week depending on the whims of the candidate and campaign manager. Read more about building your campaign team here.
- Potential staff roles:
Campaign Manager –This person should be in constant contact with the political stakeholders of the campaign, as well as any consultants you may have. They are in charge of the morale of the staff, as well as the morale of the candidate. Primary roles include being a cheerleader in addition to managing the budget and making sure operations flow smoothly. Additionally, this person should take the lead on winning endorsements from groups (unions, ideological groups) and keeping those groups happy.
Finance Director — this person will be in charge of prospecting new donors for the candidate to call, establishing and building on relationships with those donors, planning events, and working with the campaign manager to make sure the candidate is spending enough time on fundraising. Depending on how much money you intend to raise, you should hire a deputy director as well as finance assistants. A good rule of thumb is to hire one finance staffer for every $200,000 you plan on raising.
Field Director — This person should be in charge of creating your plan for what’s known as Direct Voter Contact (DVC). DVC refers to canvassing and phone banking. This person will also be in charge of recruiting volunteers to assist your campaign with those activities. The campaign’s field director will work with the campaign manager to determine a win goal (how many votes does the campaign need in order to win on Election Day), and come up with a plan for reaching it. Depending on the size of the campaign, you should hire a deputy field director, regional directors, and field organizers.
Call Time Manager — in larger campaigns, this person’s sole responsibility is to keep track of call sheets, the pieces of paper with donor information on it, and to staff the candidate during call time.
Communications Director — This person should be in charge of drafting any public statements and working with the press. There should be a strategy in place to target specific news outlets for earned media (anything written about your campaign in the press). Depending on the size of the campaign, you may also want a deputy director as well as a digital director if your campaign is investing a lot of money into reaching voters through digital.
Office Manager — this person plays the role of HR Director as well as making sure the office stays tidy and that volunteers feel appreciated
Political Director — this person will take a lot off the campaign manager’s portfolio in larger campaigns. If you hire a political director, make sure they have strong ties to the district or at least to the state.
Policy Director — these people generally don’t exist except on the largest of campaigns, but even having someone unpaid to help the candidate think about policy on a non-regular basis is a good idea if the candidate is likely to be participating in candidate forums and debates.
- There are only three resources in a campaign that matter: time, money, and volunteers. You can always raise more money or recruit more volunteers, but time is finite so it is important to have an understanding of how every single day will be used between the launch of the campaign to its end. With that in mind, the candidate should work with the manager to create a calendar in the first week of the campaign. This calendar should be developed working backwards from Election Day. Below is a sample, where Week 1 refers to one week before the campaign, Week 2 refers to two weeks before the campaign, and so on.
Week 16 — Launch campaign (need to have website up to accept online contributions; senior staff/consultants hired; and a budget written)
Week 14 — need to hire field director and start field program
Week 13 — Commission research (need $8,000 in the bank to pay for this); field director should present a plan and timeline for hitting weekly canvassing/phone banking goals
Week 12 — Commission a poll based on the results of research (need $20,000 to pay for this)
Week 11 — finance deadline (need to have raised $45,000)
Week 9 — start developing and approving paid media plan based on the results of the poll
Week 8 — first paid media (TV ads, mail, etc.) hits
Week 7 — finance deadline (need to have raised $90,000)
Week 3 — finance deadline (need to have raised $115,000)
Week 2 — final paid media hits
Week 1 — pre-election finance report due (need to have raised $125,000)
- Developing paid media is a role that will likely fall on the shoulders of the campaign manager and consultants. Specifically, organizing TV or mail shoots will be the campaign manager’s responsibility. Typically, the consultant will send you a “shoot memo” with the kinds of interactions they’d like to record the candidate in. For instance, if education is a big issue in your campaign, the consultant may want to take photos of the candidate interacting with children or photos of children inside a school. It is the campaign manager’s responsibility to make sure that when the consultant visits the district (as most consultants will live well outside the district or even the state), the day’s shots have been organized with volunteers on hand to make sure no one is wasting their time. The last thing you want is to spend $600 on a photo shoot and not have the proper volunteers or locations arranged to get the shots you needed.
- Beyond establishing relationships with the local committee and obvious stakeholders in the district, like unions or activists, the campaign manager should reach out to other Democratic officeholders in the state. If you are running for state house, the manager should arrange calls for the candidate to introduce themselves to the Democratic leadership of that body, and then the manager should be updating them regularly about the progress of your campaign in at attempt to get buy-in from them so they host you a fundraiser or let you use their name in email blasts.