25 questions that need answers before you can begin a campaign…

So you want to run for of%uFB01ce. Good. Now: Why? How are you going to win? How will you raise the money? Despite the volumes of articles, campaign seminars and a growing list of political consultants to call on for advice, the right answers still seem to elude potential candidates. While those of us who dedicate ourselves professionally to the cause are grateful for those of you who feel the calling, it is time for a little reminder on the basics before you jump into a campaign.

Whether you are seriously contemplating running for of%uFB01ce or just toying with the idea, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why are you running?
Clearly de%uFB01ne to the public and to yourself your reasons for running. We are grateful that you want to change the world, but you need to articulate how and why in %uFB01ve sentences or less.

2. What are your quali%uFB01cations?
Be honest. Understand that every word you put in print will be scrutinized and will test your credibility. Your resume should include your professional history, education, appointments, and achievements. Highlight your roots within the community and volunteer activities that demonstrate your connection to the voters. Provide both a bullet-point version and a written narrative that tells your story and frames the language for supporters.

3. How supportive is your family and what role will they play?
When you say, “They are 100 percent behind me,” make sure it is a true statement. Campaigning is a grueling experience for your family, and they need to be prepared for the public scrutiny, press, inevitable attacks and, ultimately, the long-term consequences of victory or defeat.

4. What are your political strengths and weaknesses?
Understand and be able to articulate what you bring to the table for your future constituents. Equally as important, know your weaknesses and liabilities—cover your %uFB02anks. If you can afford it, do opposition research on yourself. It’s worth the immediate expense for the long-term security.

5. Where are you running?
Know your district. Tour the terrain and connect the faces of your constituency to the numbers on paper. Provide a written description of the district that re%uFB02ects your talking points on why this is a winnable race. Include political and electoral history, key industries, socio-economic breakdown and voter demographics. A map for visual reference is an effective tool in demonstrating knowledge of your constituency.

6. How have previous candidates performed in the district?
What is the party registration?  Voter performance numbers? Who carried the district at the statewide and presidential level? Research the voting patterns for the last ten years to see if a case can be made for a shifting electorate in your favor.

7. What is your “win” number?
Determine the number of votes you need to win, based on a precinct-by-precinct analysis of the district. If you don’t know what it is, or what it means, you shouldn’t be running.

8. Who is (are) your potential opponent(s)?
Know your primary and general election opponents and how each affects your candidacy. Do opposition research. Develop a 30-second sound bite for each opponent that re%uFB02ects your campaign strategy and message. Concentrate on your advantages, not their weaknesses. Save the %uFB01ght for the %uFB01nal contenders.

9. What are the legal rules of the game?
Understand all applicable election laws, including %uFB01nancial disclosures, petition and %uFB01 ling deadlines, and individual, corporate and PAC contribution limits. You need a campaign attorney and accountant. Your treasurer is a prominent name and public endorsement—not the one who does the counting.

10. What will the race cost?
In 2008, the average candidate spent massive amounts of money: $1,042,000 running for the U.S. House, $4,725,000 for the U.S. Senate and $4,313,000 for governor. Your budget is the foundation of your campaign plan and is determined by the type of candidacy (incumbent, open seat or challenger), the cost of previous races, the media market, your communications and grassroots plan, your opponents’ fundraising capability, consultants, staff, travel and of%uFB01ce expenses. Establish a public %uFB01gure for the cost of the race and stick to it.

11. How are you going to raise it?
Do the math. Top 100 friends and family your personal funds lists target constituencies = your fundraising. People contribute for %uFB01ve main reasons: The candidate, party, issues, access or social af%uFB01liation. To effectively implement any plan you will need a full-time %uFB01nance director, and, for races at the federal and statewide level, a professional fundraising consultant. Regardless, the responsibility for raising funds lies with the candidate. You should be spending a minimum of four hours a day on the phone.

12. What is your fundraising plan?
A written plan is essential. Document events, mail, Internet, candidate solicitation, %uFB01 nance committee and PAC goals. This is as much your road map for success as the broader campaign plan, as one is interdependent with the other. You will need a full-time %uFB01nance director and, for statewide and federal races, a professional fundraising consultant.

13. Who is on your %uFB01nance committee?
The %uFB01nance chair should have the personality, resources and rolodex to engage major donors. Your committee should be re%uFB02ection of your district, with a cross-section of individuals with geographic, political, fundraising and professional strengths who are committed to writing or raising a speci%uFB01c dollar amount.

14. How much are you willing to spend personally?
There’s a delicate balance. A candidate needs to demonstrate a willingness to invest in his or her own campaign, even if a token amount. There’s no question being a “self-funder” is a major asset (and a consultant’s favorite) and can deter others from running, but it can back%uFB01re on you politically depending on the campaign environment.

15. Who will support you politically?
Endorsements are a critical validator, particularly in a primary contest, and should be utilized to expand your voter base and fundraising lists. Endorsements from elected of%uFB01cials provide press, public recognition, votes and if utilized correctly, donors. Membership organizations and labor unions can provide money, organized %uFB01eld support, phone banks, volunteers and coalition resources.  

16. Does your party support you?
In any race, this will have an in%uFB02uence on viability and resources but if you are not the chosen one, it should not dissuade you from running. The competency of local and state political parties varies signi%uFB01cantly and is not a guarantee of success or, under any circumstances, committed resources.

17. What are the major issues in the race and where do you stand on them?
If you have never run for of%uFB01ce, make sure you understand the issues and their full implication for your candidacy. While polling will provide you with the top issues of importance to the voters, you need to be prepared with research, position papers and a de%uFB01nitive answer on all local and national issues. Once you have taken a stance, do not %uFB02ip-%uFB02 op.

18. What is your media strategy?
Your media and communications plan is the largest component of the budget. Your paid media plan should be the product of a media consultant and driven, at least initially, by the issues. This should be partnered with a formal earned or free media strategy that engages the press and voters through editorials, events, public appearances and interviews.

19. What is your Internet strategy?
This is now an essential part of any campaign. Before you announce your candidacy you should have a website ready to go, a way to accept donations online and a plan to grow your list of supporters. This list will be a critical component of your fundraising, messaging and %uFB01eld efforts.

20. Who is your campaign manager?
The campaign manager is the most signi%uFB01cant player in shaping the race. Hire an experienced manager with a credible resume who can put together a professional operation and team including a %uFB01 nance director, scheduler, press secretary and, eventually, a %uFB01eld director. Make sure it is someone you have con%uFB01dence will sweat the details. You will lose if you try to run the nuts and bolts of a campaign yourself.

21. Who are your consultants?
No matter how seasoned you are you will need the advice of, at a minimum, a professional pollster and media consultant, to provide you with the political and technical expertise necessary to run an effective campaign. PR consultants and academics are no substitute for experienced campaign veterans. Make sure they have a track record working with campaigns of similar political dynamics, particularly if you are running for an open seat or a challenger that requires more hands-on strategy and time. Af%uFB01 liation with a well-respected consultant can add instant credibility to your campaign.

22. Have you done a poll?
Ideally you should do a benchmark poll prior to running to accurately determine what issues are important to the electorate, as well as the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. If you can’t afford polling at the beginning of the race, check with the party, press and like-minded organizations that may have done public polling that can be used to your advantage.

23. What is your grassroots/%uFB01eld strategy?
This is the heart of the campaign and if not executed well, can negate all other successful components. Although initially developed by the campaign manager, you will need to budget for a %uFB01eld di- rector in the %uFB01nal months of the campaign, if not sooner, depending on the level of of%uFB01ce. Your grassroots strategy is people-driven and should incorporate the resources and manpower of endorsing organizations as well as the party if you are the endorsed candidate.

24. What other elections are on the ballot and how will they affect your campaign?
A high pro%uFB01le race at the top of the ticket or a controversial ballot initiative can make the difference between winning and losing. Understand the political and statistical impact other campaigns will have on your race and your message.

25. When are you going to announce?  
Traditionally this comes in the form of a well-orchestrated campaign rally but many candidates are choosing to announce online to maximize coverage and generate immediate fundraising results.  Your announcement signals the of%uFB01cial start of the campaign and your readiness to formally enter the public domain, prepared with plan, message, money and answers to my %uFB01rst 24 questions. Good luck and, of course, should you need a consultant …

Kimberly Scott is president of ConklinScott, a Democratic political consulting %uFB01rm specializing in national political relations, strategic fundraising and labor relations.

Bliss Institute Intern Erick Rigby contributed to this article.