Winning on Principle Newsletter #5



Why are you running for office?

If it takes you more than 30 seconds to articulate a response to this question, then take a step back, and rethink what you’re doing. Running for office may not be the job for you.

You are a candidate — not a professor, not a radio host and not a long-winded televangelist. You do not have the luxury to take all day and explain your positions. Be prepared to answer questions, even the complex ones, in 30 second or less sound bites. This takes practice, but it is essential to effectively convey your message.


Ask yourself some more basic questions: How many votes do I need to win in my district? How much money do I need to raise to get my message to voters?

These are questions of message and mobilization. They mean everything in your campaign. Can you sell your message and confirm it with votes in the ballot box?

Look at your district and its demographics. If your dad, next-door neighbor, or grandma represents the average voter more closely than you, craft your message so it resonates with these folks.

This is not advice to change your positions or philosophy, but it is about how to persuasively present your message to likely voters.

If you’re lucky, you may run when there is an open seat. But if not, incumbents are difficult to unseat. Even when there’s a prevailing desire amongst the electorate to “clean house,” an entrenched incumbent often still maintains an advantage.

Calculate your chances of winning before you even consider challenging your potential opponent.

Make certain that the number of votes required for victory can be won with your message and your party’s platform. Develop a path to victory from the outset.


Where do you find voters? How do you reach them?

If you are your party’s nominee, you should have access to extensive voter lists. Additionally, you can purchase lists from consultants, but be careful not to pay too much.

Once you have gathered voter lists, it is essential to identify your supporters, your opponents supporters, and any undecided voters — this segmentation is your key to victory.
If a voter supports you, mark this down in your database, and make sure you turn them out to vote on Election Day.

If they support your opponent, mark this down in your database, do not waste time communicating with them again, and hope they forget to go vote on Election Day. DO NOT TRY TO PERSUADE THEM. Your time is severely limited and extremely valuable — focus on your supporters and undecided voters.

If they are undecided, mark this down in your database, and focus your message and outreach efforts to earn their vote.

The undecided vote is where elections are won and lost. You and your opponent are competing for this vote, so you should give them the most attention. Hone your message and target your communications to engage these undecideds and earn their support.

Remember, your base, new voters, and undecideds will determine your fate on Election Day. Don’t waste your time trying to persuade your opponents supporters to cross over into your camp. “Hunt where the ducks are.”

Finally, walk, walk, walk. Knock on doors and talk to voters as often as you can. But don’t just knock on everyone’s door. Generate walking lists from your voter lists and target undecided households.


Before you run, understand it takes more than just you to operate a winning campaign. Build a coalition of supporters, and ask them to commit their time, talent, and energy to your race. They will fuel your effort.

Encourage them to attend grassroots training and prepare to play an active role in your campaign. Even if they can only dedicate a few hours a week, never turn away a volunteer — no matter what. There are always meaningful ways for any volunteer to contribute: licking envelopes, making signs, or answering phone calls are a few examples of tasks anyone can complete.

Finally, you cannot run without a campaign budget. Can you raise enough money to win in your district? If you are not confident and have trouble asking other people for money, then you either don’t believe in yourself or you aren’t willing to do the work necessary to win.

Independently-wealthy candidates routinely do well, but it is unlikely that you are in a position to fund your own campaign. So you must make plans to raise enough money to win. Remember, elections are all about numbers: dollars, volunteers, and voters.


Political and community leaders — local businessmen, and well-respected individuals in your district — should be asked early on for their support. They have prestige within the community that often influences others. Their endorsements are important because they may lead to checks and votes.
Furthermore, these local experts may provide sound advice on area issues. This is extraordinarily valuable because as the saying goes, all politics is local.
List endorsements on your website, but be careful not to overdo it. Your site should be light on text, heavy on pictures, and easy on the eyes. If a voter cannot figure out who you are, what issues you are running on, why they should vote for you in less than a minute, potential voters may get frustrated and leave.

Your message should be clear and concise, especially online.  Always remember that studies have shown people have about half the attention span online than they have when reading print materials.

Printed materials are also an important outlet to share your endorsements. You can send them in the mail or pass them out on the streets. Always have clear, straightforward campaign literature with you and your staff at all times. You never know when you may grab a vote or a donation — running for office is a 24/7 commitment.


In order to run a successful campaign, you must devise a strategic battle plan from the start. Ask yourself the right questions, and be reasonable with your answers. In fact, walk through this process with a close friend or confidant who will give you an objective, honest assessment of your chances for victory.

Campaign season runs at a frantic pace. Unless you have a well-orchestrated plan to implement your strategy, your campaign may crash and burn quickly. But if you invest your time wisely and provide your campaign with clear direction, victory may be in your future.


Forget everything you think you know about politics and prepare to question your outlook towards government power.

In the next issue of YAL’s Winning on Principle Newsletter, seasoned political strategist and campaign consultant Mike Rothfeld bluntly explains “The Real Nature of Politics.”

If there is one newsletter you must read, Mike’s is it.

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