When I ran for local office, I was outspent more than 30:1 and was still elected by almost a 50% margin. Since then I have worked with more than 100 campaigns in almost every capacity including: candidate, elected official, campaign manager, door walker, phone banker, data coordinator, donor, fundraiser and advisor. Here are my top 10 tips to win a local election.
Running for office is a lot of work. And you have to finish all of that work before election day. Strong organization is critical to making the most out of the candidate’s, supporters’ and volunteers’ limited time.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Starting early is probably the most important ingredient 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.
Identify key influencers.
You will never have enough time to talk to every voter in your district. If you can identify who knows the most people, you can leverage their networks to help you. VoterCircle’s friend-to-friend canvassing platform is particularly good at identifying and leveraging such influencers. In my race for local school board, I focused on the senior community and parent leaders at our local schools.
Get to endorsers first.
Once a candidate receives an endorsement from a person or organization, it is highly unlikely that endorsement will be reversed. So it’s critical to lock up key endorsements as soon as possible.
Place yard signs early.
For local elections, placing yard signs early can be particularly effective for name recognition. 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. When I ran for office, I had placed fewer signs than my competition but I was often asked why I was the only candidate with signs out. And don’t forget to put your signs in key intersections that get a lot of traffic. (Be aware that placing yard signs early goes against conventional tactics, which use yard signs to mobilize voters and get them to the polls on election day.)
A committed team is better than a large team.
Winning an election is hard work. So you need to spread the work and build your team. What is often forgotten is that one dedicated volunteer can be as productive as 100 flaky volunteers. Focus on recruiting dedicated, committed volunteers who have the time and desire to help you win. And make sure to treat them well!
Know and have simple and consistent messaging.
If someone asks you why you are running for office, you should always know your message. When anyone asks me why I ran for my local school board, my response is and was always the same — ‘for the kids’.
Leverage your friends.
The best people to convince a voter are the candidate and the friends of the candidate. Getting all of your friends to tell all of their friends about your campaign is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to spread the word. VoterCircle is a great way to do this effectively.
Raising money should be a parallel path, not a primary objective.
In my experience, prioritizing raising money over garnering votes can be one of the biggest mistakes local candidates make. Most local candidates seem to focus on raising money first and garnering votes second. These should be parallel paths. 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.
Your time and your volunteers’ time is valuable. One of the best ways to make the most out of their time is to leverage technology. Whether you want to walk doors, phone bank, leverage direct mail or try a friend-to-friend canvassing strategy, make sure you leverage technology to accomplish your goals.