I Might Run for Office Someday: How Do I Prepare?
Be ready when the time comes to launch your political campaign
Expand your network
One of the biggest assets you can bring to a future campaign is a large network of people who know and support you. If you’re interested in running for office in the future, start expanding your social network now. the simplest way to do this is to become active in community organizations. Try attending a wide range of groups that you already have some kind of connection to. Good examples would be professional organizations, partisan groups, neighborhood associations, or service orgs for causes you care about. You should also show your face at the local Democratic Party organization. Feel free to get more involved there, but try to avoid the factional disputes that always arise. Ideally, you will attend the meetings of a lot of community organizations and become more involved with 2 or 3 of them. As you meet people, make sure you’re getting phone numbers whenever it makes sense.
Build a reputation
You’ll also want to burnish your credentials for your run. This is about proving to other people things you already believe about yourself. So if you are passionate about conserving the local environment, make sure that other environmental conservationists in your community see you working alongside them. For each plank of your reputation, you are proving yourself to two important constituencies: 1) the insiders who are also doing the day-to-day work, and 2) the broader population who care about the issue in question but don’t devote a lot of time to it. If you become President of the local Sierra Club, but don’t do much as President, you will have a credential for the general public, but word of mouth coming from serious advocates will undercut that credential. On the other hand, if you work hard as a rank-and-file member of the Sierra Club, you will earn the respect of those serious advocates, but you may struggle to convey your contributions to the general public. That’s why it’s best to both a) gain some kind of credential, and b) work hard and gain the respect of insiders. You can see how building your reputation can fit nicely with expanding your network - local community organizations are good places to work on both these goals.
Grow your Name ID
This one can be more difficult, but be on the lookout for ways you can grow your Name ID. As a political candidate, it is extremely valuable for voters to recognize your name when they see it or hear it. It’s especially valuable if people associate your name with something true and good about you. If you’re an attorney working with the ACLU, for example, look for ways to reach a broader local audience as part of your job. Take interviews on the community radio station or teach continuing education classes. Be a guest speaker about your pet issue at other community orgs also interested in the subject.
Talk to professionals
Before you ever run for office, you should have a sense of how a professional political campaign is run. Reading the guides on My Campaign Guide is helpful, but so is talking with campaign pros in a casual setting. If you don’t know any, you should be able to identify some by attending local Democratic Party meetings and Democratic club and caucus meetings. Ask around and people will eventually point you toward organizers, consultants and campaign managers in the area.
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