So you’ve decided to run for office. But are you truly prepared for everything that comes along with it? Most prospective candidates would probably say yes. Many of their consultants end up wishing that were true.
Too many prospective candidates simply assume their families are ready for the sacrifices and the scrutiny. Too often, they also assume they’re ready for the endless fundraisers and the toll of a lengthy and potentially nasty campaign.
To get a sense of the questions people often fail to ask themselves before deciding to run, C&E quizzed several GCs and media consultants about their experiences with clients who simply weren’t prepared for the campaign spotlight.
We came up with 10 questions that consultants wish their clients had really thought about before deciding to jump into the lion’s den.
1. Is my family on board? Your spouse is the last person you talk to before you go to bed at night. (And if they aren’t, you might want to really think about whether to put your personal life on the public stage.) They should have a lot of sway in the decision-making process, so he or she needs to be on board early. If your significant other has doubts or concerns about a campaign, don’t brush those concerns aside. When the going gets tough in the heat of a race, a candidate will need to be able to count on their spouse to be supportive, especially when the demands of the campaign mean lots of time away from home and away from the kids.
Along those same lines, the personal dynamics of politics can hit very close to home. To the best of their ability, candidates need to understand what negatives the other side is likely to hit them with and think about the impact on friends and family.
Bottom line: If you have any doubts as to whether your family is behind your campaign, or can withstand the scrutiny, you shouldn’t be running.
2. Are my finances sound? Full-time candidacy isn’t a career. It doesn’t pay the bills, and depending on your personal financial situation that may not be something you can ignore. At the very least, you will need to pour some minimal resources of your own into a campaign. It may not come in the form of self-funding, but if you’re a small business owner, the responsibilities of a campaign are likely to take you away from your business more than you’d like. If you’re supporting a family and running for elected office at the same time, this consideration is even more important.
Bottom line: Calculate the personal financial cost of running for the office you’re considering, and make sure you have a candid discussion about it with your family.
3. Do I have the stomach to ask for the cash? Many qualified candidates are unsuccessful because they’re simply uncomfortable or unwilling to ask friends and family for money. In fairness, it’s harder than it seems. But those two groups should be your bread and butter when it comes to raising campaign cash, so you’re going to have to ask and then you’re going to have to ask again. If you’re a first-time candidate who doesn’t have the means to be a self-funder, it’s going to take massive amounts of time and energy to build a fundraising base. This means hours upon hours on the phone, and it often means working hard to convince potential donors that they should invest in your candidacy.
Before you dive in, you need to appreciate what it will take to meet your monetary goal on a practical level. Good campaigns raise thousands of dollars a day, and a good campaign team will lock you in a closet from 8am to 3pm to make fundraising calls and let you out to meet with voters—seven days a week.
Bottom line: Don’t delude yourself into thinking money will come easily. If you’re not willing to spend the next year or more prodding people to open up their checkbooks, this might not be for you.
4. Do I have the stomach to go negative? For most candidates, this isn’t typically a problem. But in some cases, playing it clean may not mean the same thing to you as it does to your campaign team. As a candidate, you’re going to be expected to draw a contrast with your opponent—in some races aggressively so. If you can’t get tough and “approve this message” then perhaps some races aren’t for you. In fact, campaign politics in general might not be for you.
Bottom line: Winning in politics doesn’t necessarily mean playing dirty, but these days most campaigns tend to get ugly. Before you commit, consider whether you have the stomach for contrast.