Campaigning 101 – Training and Gut Check
If you are a going to be a candidate you have a lot of things to do, but there are even more that are not yours to do at all. That is kind of a cryptic way of saying you have to know your role and stick to it if you are to achieve your goal of being elected so you can make the changes that the people need. How much you need to delegate depends on the size of your race, but make no mistake unless you are running for Dog Catcher of a one dog town, you are going to need other folks to help you.
They will need to be people with particular skills sets and abilities. You will find them or you will wind up loosing. That is just a standard fact. As part of this deal you have to know what your responsibilities and skills are and practice them, a lot. You are, after all, trying to master a new (if mostly part-time) profession. The Dog is a big believer in training. If you want to be a carpenter, you go and find some one to teach you carpentry, if you want to be a progressive politician, you go to Camp Wellstone.
That is exactly what the Dog did this last weekend. Camp Wellstone came to Denver to give their three day seminar. There are three tracks in the seminar, the Activist track, the Campaign Worker/ Manager track and the Candidate (talkers) track. There are many areas where these tracks overlap, but each group comes at it a little differently. One of the major take away points for the Candidates is that you have only two responsibilities in the campaign and if you are not doing one of them you are actually wasting time you can never, ever get back. What are those two activities? Direct voter contact (in all its forms) and fund raising. Yeah, the Dog knows, you cringe at the thought of fund raising. Thinking of making all those calls, and in each and every one of them asking for money sounds exactly like no fun. The thing is that with out the money that will bring in, you will not have the ability to do the direct voter contact.
The Wellstone Candidate training focused most of its effort on getting the potential candidates up to be speed with the way to do the things they need to. Working on a stump speech that connects with the voters and lets them know who you are, in 90 seconds (try it; it is a hell of lot harder than you think!). Practice sessions in door to door canvassing, and making fundraising calls all give an aspiring candidate a taste of what your life might be like if you decide to follow this path. There were briefings on targeting, establishing your win number and most importantly how to determine your budget. This is a heck of a lot to cover in only two and a half days, so while it does not leave anyone a master of these issues and techniques, it does give you a framework to fill in with your own hard work.
If you are a first time candidate, even if you have worked campaigns since you were in the womb, the Dog is recommending that you get some kind of organized training. At the very worst it will confirm to you that you really do have all the areas that you need to win nailed down. Camp Wellstone is very affordable. They have a sliding scale based on what you can afford with the top cost being $200. You are not likely to get this level of training and focus for this cost anywhere else. If you are interested in knowing where the Wellstone group is holding trainings you can find it at this link. Now, obviously that cost is heavily subsidized. Even if you are not going to go, if you believe that we need more progressive politicians, you should strongly consider giving them a donation to make sure that the opportunity for the next progressive star is there when that person needs it.
One area that the trainers focused on is the decision to run. Basically this is the gut check time. There are a lot of data factors (district composition, cost, timing, opponent’s strengths and weaknesses) that go into the decision to run, but the first one is all on you, if you are the candidate. You need a little quite time alone to really ask and answer why you want to do this.
First off you need to recognize what it means to be a candidate (which will be your first job, you may or may not get to be an elected official based on how well you do this first job). Think of a campaign as a plane trip. You have the plane, you have the pilots, you have the stewards, and the passengers. As a candidate you are not the pilots, that is your campaign manager and your campaign committee. As a candidate you are not the stewards, they are the volunteers and donors. As a candidate you are not the passengers, they are the people of your district. No, as a candidate you are the plane, the tool that gets all those people to the destination, namely you in elected office. Once you are there, you can be the pilot and make the choices, but until then you are the plane. It is pretty humbling (let’s face it, if you are considering being a candidate, you have a pretty healthy ego), but it is a good model of the reality of the situation, are you up for that?
Also you should remember this is a job that even if you get it, you are going to get a lot more criticism than thanks for your work. If you are doing this for ego, for the card that says “State Rep X” is that really a good enough reason? The Dog is not going to tell you it is not, just be sure of your personal return on investment for this. You will be going through a hell of a lot of brain damage for that little card. The Dogs boss recently told him that he thought we might have to get an IQ test for the Dog for even thinking about wanting to run, let alone serve. He was kidding of course, (maybe not?) but the point is a good one, this is not an easy thing, there are a lot of hoops to jump through and it is rare that you get a clean and clear win.
What are the one or two issues or changes that you feel passionate enough to commit this huge amount of time and effort to? Can you make that same level of change some other way? Maybe by being an advocate for your cause outside of government? The answer to that question might clarify your choice. Or it could just make it more confusing. For the Dog the reason to consider this is his belief that the people, all the people, deserve to have a good government. The skills that make the Dog suited to this come from his work in process improvement, which is basically doing the most, for the most, with the least resources. Having had opportunity and success, it comes down to wanting to be in a position that can help to assure that for others, in this generation and the next.
So, now that you have had your training, you have been thinking and planning, have that talk with yourself, you have the information that you need to make a good (if possibly not very rational) decision. Is this what you want? Will you do what it takes to win and serve, and if you do, what is the reward to you? Is it enough? No one but you can tell you this, so you take your time, think it through. If you decide it is not for you, there is no shame in that. If you really come to the conclusion that you are doing this as a stepping stone or because you always wanted to be called Senator, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but know it and be comfortable with it. It will make you a better candidate and legislator.
No matter what you decide, be sure, then act.
The floor is yours.