I love the passion of first-time candidates. They are bright-eyed, energetic and full of ideas on how to make their town, county, state or nation a better place to live and work. However, many of these first-timers struggle to understand that simply talking about the issues won’t get them elected. To be successful, a campaign has to introduce the candidate long before the issue debate begins.

Perceived experience, qualifications and judgment contribute significantly to how voters cast their ballots. A quick look at the Democracy Corps’ post-election survey confirms that non-issue related aspects played a significant role in who voters chose in the 2008 Presidential race—a contest that featured enough money and time to develop a deep issue debate. Constructing a strong image is even more critical in races with smaller budgets and timeframes.

I know it’s a struggle to convince first-time candidates that they must focus on selling themselves first; however, after spending years polling in hundreds of races, I can tell you that failure to develop a strong image before transitioning into a heated issue debate can leave your candidate weak on Election Day. No matter what the issue (or solution), most voters still cast a ballot for who they feel they know and like best.

Tyler Harber is vice president and director of the political division for Wilson Research Strategies, a public opinion research and political consulting firm for Republicans. You can follow Harber at
www.w-r-s.com or on Twitter @tharber.