Q: Should my first run for office be for a local seat or Congress?
A: The temptation to give in to impatience in spite of inexperience can be strong; the voice that tells you to go for it before you’re ready, damn the consequences, both to yourself and your constituents, even if (banish the thought) you’re not ready for the job, compelling. Nonetheless, I cannot help thinking of first timers who blundered into congressional wins only to be destroyed by their own demons. For example, the congressman who resigned a year ago after allegations of sexual misconduct including “tickling” his staffers and, this year, another congressman who resigned after sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. Staying local is a great way to start. It offers opportunity for direct contact with voters on issues that affect their lives concretely in settings that are never abstract and always immediate (and that require much less time away from family and friends). It also allows you to become known and learn how to juggle conflicting issues and agendas. As former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas once said, “Everything I needed to know in politics, I learned on the Lowell City Council.”
Q: We’re hosting a formal sit-down dinner as a fundraiser for a friend running for office. Please provide a quick overview regarding table seating arrangements.
A: As a general rule, the guest of honor should sit at the head table next to the host or hostess. That is, unless there is a higher-ranking guest, who might consider waiving his or her claim on a better seat in favor of the guest of honor. Alternatively, the senior guest can be asked to serve as a co-host. Couples should not be seated together. Some hosts prefer round tables to rectangular ones since they provide greater flexibility. Overall, there are way too many details and nuances involved to summarize here even half-adequately. I would recommend getting a copy of Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official, and Social Usage, which includes tips on everything from seating arrangements to invitations, forms of address, and online etiquette.
Q: We need to spec out our field program. Do you have ideas on identifying personnel, tasks, and an overall approach?
A: Hire an experienced field director or consultant to put together the first draft of your field plan. Instruct them to perform in-depth targeting analysis using recent election results, polling data, and voter file data to prioritize options. Then decide how much you can afford and pursue the top options, followed by second-tier items. Finally, identify operations that you cannot afford but that can be taken on by your volunteer program.
Q: I am the director of a political group dedicated to major ethics reforms in my state. I am not writing you to discuss details of legislation, but to begin a dialogue about how my organization can generate a grassroots campaign to energize voters to join our cause.
A: Find like-minded organizations and meet with their leaders and members. Inform reporters, bloggers, and online ethics reformers of your plans. Start a website or microsite as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account. Identify national organizations with similar goals and cold call them to ask for help identifying in-state resources. Perhaps most importantly, define the problem and its negative consequences (e.g., ethical lapses lead to influence peddling, which leads to bad decisions, which lead to ordinary people getting hurt)—and be sure to use vivid real-life examples. Otherwise your “reform” movement will be a solution in search of a problem, more or less guaranteeing the failure of your good intentions.
Craig Varoga has managed and consulted on local, state, and presidential campaigns for more than twenty years. Send questions using Facebook, LinkedIn, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.