So, you want to run for local office; maybe county commissioner or city council or even a state congressional position? First, let me say bravo! The task you are about to embark on is no easy one. You will be excited, depressed, annoyed, frustrated, and grateful, usually all in the same day, maybe in the same hour. However, the decision to run for office is a brave one, a sacrificial choice and, for that, I say thank you! So, what does it take to run a grassroots campaign? Here I share my experience.
In 2012, our family moved to The Woodlands, Texas. When I was sure that both my children were settled and happy in their new school, I started paying more attention to what was going on politically, both nationally and at the state level. I began attending our local tea party group, the Texas Patriots PAC. There, I learned more about local issues and met several of our local elected officials; township directors, my county commissioner, county attorney, county constable, state representative and some of our judges. It was good to put faces to names and get to know these folks as more than just their position.
The first step in running a grassroots campaign is meeting your local elected officials.
I’ll come back to this step one but let me continue here so you can understand why it matters – a lot!
In 2013, I was asked by my then Texas Representative to help him run his campaign during a special election to fill our open Texas Senate seat. At first, I declined because I hadn’t ever participated in a campaign, much less run one. He insisted, and I eventually accepted. Talk about trial by fire! It’s good to participate in a campaign before you choose to run but it’s not mandatory. I’d love to say there was a true step-by-step process, but most everything happens in parallel. I list these steps as a loose guideline.
At the beginning of 2015, I stepped into the role of community activist. The county was asking for a road bond to pass and a portion of this bond would be detrimental to my town. I started speaking out. I spoke during public comment at commissioners court and at our township meetings. I was invited to speak at forums and to newspapers to explain “our side”. I had to tighten up my position points, and give answers that were understandable and concise. I also had to develop a thicker skin because I was being criticized publicly, which is never fun.
If you run for office, people will lie, misconstrue your words and call you names. Deal with it.
All of this, along with some other issues, led me to consider a run for office. If you are a Christ-follower, I strongly urge you to pray, ask your friends to pray and then pray some more. Running a campaign as a Christ-follower brings spiritual warfare and you want to be fitted with all the armor of God. Once you get the go-ahead from God, it’s time to get to work.
My first move in running a campaign was to meet with people and ask them to support me. Remember I said that knowing your elected officials is the first step? These are the first folks I met with because they not only had experience, but they had won! I asked for their advice, I asked for their support and I asked for them to help me understand those issues I was aware of but didn’t fully understand. I also met with “regular” people, those people who shared the same passion and ideals I did and were ready to help me in the campaign. I invited them to help me and, more importantly, to pray for me, to be my sounding board and to check me when I wasn’t doing what was right. You need people to support you. It’s nice to know you’ve got people out there who have your back.
The second step in running a campaign is raising money and it’s the hardest step.
Campaign money is used to buy materials and ad space to catch a voter’s attention. I despised this part and you will too, at first. The best advice I can give you for gearing up to ask for money is to envision how your victory will benefit your community. You are asking for money to pay for the things that will help you win; it’s not for selfish gain. Open a bank account in the name of your campaign, set up a Piryx or other online donation website and start asking people for money. Ask your neighbors, ask your church friends, the Cub Scout parents…anyone who you know that you know is able to give you money, be it $10 or $1000. These are the people who will benefit from you being in office so they can invest a bit in getting you there.
Check with your state’s laws about having a campaign treasurer. I needed one but she wasn’t expected to do anything in my local campaign. Also, put any campaign filing deadlines on your calendar now. Keep all receipts. Work to be above board when it comes to your campaign finances.
The third step is creating and using social media.
Create an email list, a website, Facebook page and an Instagram account to easily share pictures with media. I found Twitter less useful in my local campaign. Then, either you or a friend should update these accounts regularly. Email is great for our older supporters who do not use other social media. Anything you share on Facebook, you should share over email as well. Your website is great for sharing static information like who you are, where you stand on issues, any other information you’d like to share AND your donation site. Facebook is good for posting news articles, inviting people to forums and sharing your thoughts on the issue du jour. Remember that your Facebook page is yours – you have the right to delete offensive comments and you do not have to respond to every comment. Instagram gives reporters a place to find your headshots, pictures of you in action and pictures of your family, as you wish to share. Social media alone doesn’t win a campaign but it is an essential part.
The fourth step is strategizing how you will campaign to win.
Now that you have your initial campaign up and running, you need to determine how you plan to win. There is a natural timeline to campaigns and your plan should follow along. I liken campaigns to weddings….lots of planning at the beginning, some nervous activity in the middle and then a sprint at the end to the final event.
Blockwalking, yard signs, recruiting volunteers, placing advertisements in the paper, attending forums, going to local political club meetings, asking groups to give you five minutes to speak, participating in forums, wearing your campaign t-shirt, standing at the polls to meet voters, election day watch party, these are all things to consider and plan. I did all these things and I would do them all again. Block walking is absolutely essential and just a bit less intimidating than asking for money; however, I grew to love it.
When I was considering running for my position, a wise friend told me “You don’t have to be the smartest or the best, you just have to be bold.” Boldness is what separates those who run from those who don’t. Be bold.
The fifth step is to work the plan.
Now is the time to execute. Depending on how big your voter base is and what time of year your election falls determines how soon you need to get out there. Voters have actual lives and really don’t start paying attention to an upcoming election until close to early voting. If the office you are running for is local, block walking six months out will be a waste of time. However, if you wait until the last minute, your opponents may have already won your votes away from you. There is no right way to do this, but there are many wrong ways….choose wisely.
The sixth step is to hone your message.
Again, some of these steps work in parallel. Working on your messaging will happen throughout the campaign but it gets honed during forums, phone interviews, vetting by political groups and block walking. Generally, during forums, you get a short amount of time to answer – sometimes only one minute to speak on the question. Practice being concise. Most people don’t care about your mother’s brother’s kid who did that one thing that one time that is sorta kinda related to the question. Truthful and direct answers work the best. Even if the question is controversial, choose your stance and stick with it. You may experience a negative reaction from some but there are others who will agree with you, possibly silently due to the other attendees at the forum. Same with phone interviews. The journalist may seem antagonizing to your responses. That’s their job. Yours is to politely and firmly share your platform.
Choose your vetting with care. If you KNOW that a group has a less than admirable past or causes you pause, go with your gut. You don’t have to accept to be vetted by every group. And, for the ones that you do choose to interview with – tell the truth. Be honest with your plan, your concerns, and your need for help. Generally these groups represent an active community of voters and volunteers, and you want their help and support, if you can get it.
As you blockwalk, you’ll sense a theme with most voters that you get to talk to. Ours was traffic and the recent bond initiative. Hear out their questions, answer concisely and truthfully and, if they don’t like your answer, that’s okay. I spent 20 minutes with a woman who disagreed with everything I said. But, I was probably the only one who knocked on her door and spent that much time with her, so I may have earned her vote anyway. You never know.
The seventh step is to meet with potential voters individually.
Wherever you go, when you speak with potential voters at forums or at their door, be sure to leave them your phone number and/or email address. You want them to know that you are available to speak to them later. At one point I felt like I had bought enough coffee to buy a small country but it was worth the investment. I heard good feedback, better understood what people’s concerns were, and I made friends along the way. Investing in others is what life is all about.
The eighth step is to work the early voting polls.
I was astounded at the number of people who showed up to vote in early voting and had no real idea what positions they were voting for. I didn’t get to be at the polls every day nor all day, but when I was there I was able to talk to undereducated voters, and almost every person I did talk to ended up voting for me. With a friendly smile and a generous amount of personal space, you can chat with most people. You won’t get every one and you shouldn’t try because that’s weird and kinda creepy. Work the polls whenever you can. It can make the difference.
The ninth step is to pick one or two heavily trafficked polls to work on election day.
IT’S HERE! Election day is a long day, so get ready. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat a good breakfast. Turn “Eye of the Tiger” up to 11! It all comes down to this. Research the top one or two active election day polling places & plan to split your time between the two. I stayed at one all day because it was the busiest and, based on my research, was going to have more of “my” potential people voting there. Work the polls, smile, give plenty of personal space…by now you should feel very comfortable talking to random strangers. I stayed at the poll until it closed. I was a hot, sweaty, exhausted mess. Mission accomplished!
The tenth step is to celebrate with friends at a watch party.
Win or lose the election, you won. You worked hard, stood up for your principles and values and, mostly – you didn’t quit. When I walked into my watch party, early voting results had already posted. I was six votes ahead of my opponent. Six. You only need one more than the other guy to win, but that was like a punch in the gut. Was I going to continue to stay ahead or would I come in second? A watch party is ideal for you, as a candidate on election day, because these are your friends who supported you, prayed for you, gave you money and voted for you. They are as invested in your campaign as you are and, win or lose, they love you and are proud of what you did. When the final results are in, you have one more speech to make. It’ll include thanks to everyone, highlighting special people who did more than most, and gratitude for the opportunity to go through the process with friends. Win or lose, no one can take away everything you’ve learned through the process. You can be proud of yourself.
Ultimately I won my election but a fellow candidate didn’t win his. There were so many factors in both our races that acting as though I know why he didn’t win is fantasy. I have loads of respect for him. This wasn’t his role, this time, but if he ever chooses to run again, not only does he have much more experience, he also has many people ready to support him.
I believe everyone should participate in campaign, be it for city council, utility district or president. Investing in your community and your elected officials reaps ten times what you sow – a worthwhile investment. Let me close by saying that I’m proud of you for considering a run to become a servant to your community. Be bold. Plan well. Get involved locally!