How To Launch a Political Career

Winning political candidate

So you want to run for office? Senate, perhaps? Governor? Maybe even President? 

Let's start a little closer to home, first! Many people dream of a political career, but don't know where to start. Or perhaps you're tired of just complaining about local issues, and you're ready to be a decision-maker. Whatever your circumstances, if you have the drive and the desire to launch a political career, there's a way to do it successfully.

  1. Evaluate your goals. Are you passionate about a single issue, or type of issue?  Or do you  simply want to serve the public as an elected official? The answer to this question could  determine how you proceed. For instance, if you're passionate about the school curriculum, don't run for a county council seat - they won't have any jurisdiction over school issues. 
  2. If you're concerned about local issues, start with local office. Research your city, township, parish, or county governing structures. How are offices divided - at large, or in districts? 
  3. Pinpoint your available options. Don't overlook available school board seats - in most areas, this can be some of the hardest-hitting political gamesmanship around! 
  4. Once you've decided what office you want to run for, go to the meetings of that body. If there is public input, ask to be included. Pick an issue that you feel passionately about and that's relevant to the body's jurisdiction. While it would be inappropriate to campaign directly from a spot on the public input agenda, you can and should treat the opportunity as face-time with the voters. Take it seriously, look your best, deliver a personable and engaging speech, and spend some time before and after the meeting getting to know the board members and other attendees. 
  5. Spend some time getting to know your local political party leaders (assuming you identify with a party, that is). Go to meetings. Ask to be included on a mailing list (most local party groups will have email lists for events and information). Volunteer to assist with events, mailings, canvassing, election support - whatever needs to be done. People will remember this come election time. 
  6. Research your state's campaign laws and finance disclosure requirements. Nothing can derail a fledgling campaign faster than a failure to file a necessary form. It may be unfair, but the perception is that the candidate plays fast and loose with the rules or may even be unethical. If that's the sort of press you start getting, you could be doomed before you even get out of the starting gate. 
  7. Keep a detailed calendar of timelines for filing requirements and advertising deadlines. Most states and local government subdivisions have rules on when, where, and how advertising for political campaigns can be placed - and when the ads have to come down. Monitor those deadlines with obsessive precision. 
  8. Draft your family, friends, and colleagues to help your campaign (but on personal time - not work time). They can make phone calls, write letters, post to a blog, canvass the area, drive people to the polls on election day, etc. Running a campaign can get expensive, so don't hesitate to call in favors. 
  9. Keep reminding yourself why you're doing this. Don't lose sight of your desire to serve. Securing the office is only the means to an end - not an end in itself! 
  10. Draft a high school student or college student with skills to set up a website. If your campaign doesn't have a web presence, you're missing out on one of the most powerful forms of voter communication ever.
  11. Also look into maintaining a blog - you can set one up with no cost and little web skills, and it's a great way to communicate directly with your potential constituents. 
  12. Do you want to pursue a full-time career in politics? You may want to consider another approach. This method puts you in a background office environment first, in order to gain contacts and valuable work experience. After three to six years working for a state administration, Congress, or a federal agency administrative office, you can leverage that experience into your own campaign. Look carefully at state legislative offices and Congressional seats, which are generally easier to win for those without extensive political backgrounds. You'll need to court and maintain close contacts within your political party throughout your working career; when you decide to run, those contacts will translate into strong party support for your candidacy.


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