in: How To, Skills

• Last updated: September 16, 2023

How to Run a Political Campaign for Local Office

Man shaking hands with people.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Phil Van Treuren, a city councilman in Amherst City, Ohio.

The concept of a man’s civic responsibility, while not conceived in ancient Rome, was certainly popularized there.  Contributing to society by becoming a responsible and productive citizen was a hallmark of manliness, and running for elected office was considered the pinnacle of civic responsibility (as long as you were of the proper class to do so).

When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1787, it became the most important assertion of civic responsibility that democracy had ever seen.  Our Founding Fathers knew that democratic government both benefited from manliness and refined it, crafting better men and a better country through public service.

Today, running for elected office is still one of the best ways that a man can contribute to society. There are a lot of men these days that complain about government and lament that the only people holding office, from the local level to the national, are a bunch of lousy, corrupted bums. But it will stay that way if good men confine their political activity to ranting on the couch. Start making some changes, even small ones, by running for local office.

While being a candidate in a local political campaign can be physically and mentally challenging, it is also a personally rewarding opportunity to become more involved in your community. But if you’ve never been involved in a political campaign before, launching your own bid for city council or the local school board can initially be a bit intimidating.  As a recently elected city councilman, however, I can tell you that if you are a practitioner of traditional manliness, you already possess most of the qualities that a successful political candidate needs.

While political acumen is important to a local campaign, it isn’t nearly as important as hard work, good planning and a genuine desire to make your community a better place to live.  Here are a few tips for kicking off your campaign the right way and making victory more likely on election day.

1.  Your Family Is The Most Important Part Of Your Campaign

The first and most important step in launching a successful campaign for local office is discussing it with your family.  Even small local political campaigns can be demanding and stressful, and you need to honestly educate your family about the sacrifices that might have to be made during the election season.  Your wife and children will be most affected by any decision you make to run for office, and you need to get their input and consent before making the plunge into a campaign.

A political candidate’s family is his greatest source of support, inspiration and constructive criticism on the campaign trail.  Making them feel like contributing members of your campaign team–and not just observers on the sidelines–will make your effort more inspired and successful.  Just remember: a man’s family is far more important than his political career.  Make sure you keep your priorities straight.

2. Consider Getting Involved In Local Party Politics

While winning as an Independent candidate is possible, you’ll find that running a successful campaign is immeasurably easier when you have the help of an established local political party.  Building likely voter lists, finding volunteers and soliciting donors can be a tall order if you’re mounting a campaign by yourself, but local political parties already have the resources to immediately provide you with much of what you’ll need to launch a successful effort.

And don’t think that choosing one political party or another necessarily means that you’ll have to run a negative or partisan campaign.  While partisanship might have a greater influence on statewide and federal races, the outcome of local campaigns aren’t usually as affected by party affiliation.  The amount of work you put into campaigning is far more important than the letter that appears after your name on the ballot.

3. Put Together an Aggressive Fundraising Plan

The candidate with the largest donor base usually wins the race–not only because it allows him to spend more on the campaign trail, but because it’s a good indicator of how much local support he has.  Raising money might be a distasteful part of campaigning for new candidates, but it’s a necessity if you can’t afford to finance your campaign from your own wallet.  Even if you’re a first-time candidate, though, you can still raise a good deal of campaign cash if you put together a good plan and practice aggressive fundraising.

One of the first things you should do before launching your campaign is make an extensive list of potential supporters and donors (yet another task that is made easier with the help of a local political party).  Plan on sending out an initial donor request letter to provide “seed money” for your campaign, as well as scheduling one or more local fundraisers during the election season.  Remember: people who donate money to your campaign–even if it’s only a few dollars–are certain to vote for you at the polls.

4. The More Difficult It Is, The Better It Works

You probably already know the value of hard work when it comes to other areas of your life, and political campaigning is no different.  Campaign tactics that are the most physically and mentally demanding are also the most effective.  People like to vote for candidates who work hard, and showing them how much you want the job is a great way to gain their trust and support.

Buying an ad in the newspaper is easy; sending hand-written postcards to every likely voter in your district is difficult. Wearing a campaign t-shirt at the county fair is easy; knocking on every door in your city to meet the voters is difficult.  Reminding your friends to vote is easy; calling hundreds of voters to ask for their support is difficult.

You may be a novice at political campaigning, but you aren’t a novice when it comes to the manly attributes of working hard and taking pride in all of your efforts.  Let that guide your campaign strategy, and the voters will see that you’re the best man for the job.

5. Sometimes You Have To Lose In Order To Win

While hard work will make it more likely that you’ll win your race, you need to accept the possibility that you might not be victorious in your first campaign.  In fact, some of the most successful politicians in history have one thing in common: in spite of losing several elections, they never gave up.  Tenacity is the most valuable trait to have as a political candidate.

If you’re running against a popular incumbent or in a district that isn’t perfectly tailored to your political message, then it might take more than one try for you to win a seat.  Losing an election can be a demoralizing experience, especially if you gave it your all on the campaign trail.  But by making an effort to learn from your initial campaign mistakes and getting back on the horse after it bucks you off, you’ll be much more likely to win the next time around.

City Councilman Phil Van Treuren writes about non-partisan political campaign tips on Political Campaigning Tips.

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