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When I ran for local office, I learned through trial and error how to compete against a better-funded opponent. Since becoming a practitioner, I have worked with a host of campaigns in almost every capacity including: campaign manager, door walker, phone banker, data coordinator, donor, fundraiser and advisor. Here are a few common mistakes I’ve seen local candidates make.
They’re too focused on raising money
Most local candidates seem to focus on raising money first and garnering votes second. These should be parallel paths. Prioritizing raising money over garnering votes can be one of the biggest mistakes local candidates make.
Most assume that you have to raise money first. What they forget is that if you convince one voter the day before election day, you can only get one vote from that interaction. But if you convince a voter six months before the election, that interaction could lead to a chain reaction, resulting in hundreds of votes on election day. The longer you wait to garner votes, the less chance to benefit from such chain reactions.
They start slow
Starting early and being organized are probably the most important ingredients in winning a local election. To win your race, you have one simple goal - to get more votes than your competition. The earlier you start, the more time you will have to get more votes. In my race, starting early helped me get more votes for less time and less money.
They don’t reach out to key influencers first
Once a candidate receives an endorsement from a local community member or elected official, it’s highly unlikely that it will be reversed. As a result, it’s critical to lock up key endorsements as soon as possible. More importantly, once you can identify who knows the most people, you can leverage their networks to help you. In my race for local school board, I focused on the senior community and parent leaders at our local schools.
Their yard signs go up late
While at the national level practitioners are debating the use of yard signs, they remain effective for local candidates. But time is of the essence. The sooner you can get yard signs on display, the better.
If your signs are the first ones up, they will be the most noticed and the most remembered. It will also be a neighborhood conversation topic that your signs are out so early. As Election Day approaches, there may be signs everywhere, and it will be hard to stand out.
Their message is too complicated
Local candidates face a lot of competition for voters’ attention. Be sure that when you do a have voter’s interest, he or she can understand quickly why you’re running. When I ran, if anyone asked me why I got into the school board race, my response was always the same -- “for the kids.”
They don’t leverage technology
Whether canvassing, phone banking, or fundraising, local candidates can leverage technology to enhance their efforts. Technology that was once exclusively available to big-budget campaigns is now more easily accessible. In fact, many digital advocacy and campaign tools have scalable fees.
Sangeeth Peruri is the CEO and founder of VoterCircle, a friend-to-friend outreach platform that dramatically reduces the time and cost of outreach. He serves on the boards of the Los Altos School District, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, Principal’s Exchange, Think Together and Beyond12.