As we hit two weeks to go before Primary election day, I figure it might be my final chance to give some last minute advice to those brave and/or fool-hardy souls who have chosen to run for public office. I see too many people who throw their hat in the ring but seem unable or unwilling to do what it takes to win, so here's some free advice based on seeing where people get it right and where they go wrong...
I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when they run for local office is never telling people where they stand on actual issues. It's not enough to say in your campaign materials that you are trustworthy or that you're a nice person, what church you attend, that you have 2.5 children and a yellow lab, etc. Too often people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars running for local offices but never seem to give people a reason for voters to take time out of their day before or after work to cast their lone ballot. Campaigning is a form of advertising and the first thing you do when you try to sell something to someone is tell them why they can't live without the product (which, if you're running for office, is YOU). Give concrete examples of how and why you'd do a good job. Voters need information and too often campaigns spend lots of money without telling voters anything besides where a candidate graduated, what they look like and other generic and meaningless factoids.
The flip side of convincing people to vote FOR you is convincing people that they also need to vote against the other person, not because they're bad but because you'd do that much better of a job. "Negative" campaigning gets a bad rap but it works because it's how you tell people that the other person is not as good as you. Many politicians get it wrong and give negative campaigning its bad reputation because their attacks aren't substantial and on message- they are mean-spirited and personal where they should be about issues and drawing a contrast between choices. I find too many candidates seem to do either too little or too much negative campaigning- too many don't understand the subtle difference between highlighting areas of difference and just being nasty. As a voter I need information that gives me a reason to vote for you and not stay at home, but a campaigns that gets too bitter and personal can keep people at home (which can be an intentional strategy used by politicians who know the other person is a stronger candidate). If I think the other candidate is also an acceptable choice then maybe voting isn't that important and I can just get home and fix dinner for the family and mow the lawn instead of choosing which little circle to fill in with a number 2 pencil.
I'm also surprised by how many people are willing to spend a bunch of money to buy campaign signs, send mailers, put their ego and pride on the line and then suddenly seem to get cold feet when the going gets tough. Elections can get expensive (why do you think so many politicians are people that already have money?) and if you're facing a tough opponent you can find yourself writing check after check to keep up. Too many times people jump in a race because it seems fun and exciting when people are telling you that should run, but then start to chicken out when they realize how tough it is. If people see you aren't willing to invest your own money and time on a race, they'll be less willing to help you out when the going gets tough.