HOW CAMPAIGNS WORK (Part One of Two)
There are about 537,000 elected offices nationwide and that means at least double that number of campaigns (because, of course, there are at least two candidates in each race!). In every town, village, congressional district, city, and state, the process of campaigning to win elective office is playing itself out right now. Campaigns can involve a few people or thousands, but the process is pretty much the same.
There are 435 members in the House of Representatives,
(+ five Delegates), 100 Senators, 50 Governors,
50 state legislatures (each with a House and Senate), judges, school boards, village trustees,
mayors, alderman and others---all vying for your vote.
Someone who is thinking about running for office has to check a few things out to be sure they are eligible. There might be some non-negotiable requirements, such as age: for example, a candidate must be 25 or older to run for Congress, 30+ to run for the Senate, 35+ and a citizen of the U.S. to run for president.
But, of course, there are more qualifications than just those!
Prospective candidates need to ask themselves what they want to accomplish if they win. They need to think about what they can offer, in terms of talent and experience, consider the sacrifices, time and money that will be required.
After that, a prospect needs to file the appropriate paperwork with the Board of Elections, get the required number of registered voters' signatures for their nominating petitions, and complete this whole process by the Board's deadline, to gain a place on the ballot.
The two types of elections are PRIMARIES and GENERAL ELECTIONS.
PUTTING A CAMPAIGN TEAM IN PLACE
Putting a strong, experienced campaign team in place is critical to winning an election. At minimum, a campaign team will include a campaign manager, a treasurer, a volunteer coordinator, and most likely an IT/computer person, a publicist (or public relations firm), and of course, lots of volunteers (as many as possible)!
The campaign manager leads the campaign and acts as the coach for both the candidate and the rest of the team. The campaign manager analyzes and plans the overall 'game strategy' and has to be prepared to revise the strategy if something starts to run off course. This person wears many hats, works incredibly long hours, and has to try and make things run as smoothly and calmly as possible for the candidate. They're responsible for coordinating the efforts of everyone on the team, and is THE key player for any candidate running for office.
The campaign treasurer is the accountant and money person, the one who makes sure all campaign finance and contribution regulations are obeyed, that separate bank accounts are maintained, that fundraising is tracked, and that records are accurate and transparent. The treasurer is responsible for any financial reports due to the Board of Elections and for preparing documents for tax purposes. They're also responsible for keeping a campaign on budget.
The volunteer coordinator is critical to getting the volunteer team up and running efficiently. This person recruits volunteers, schedules their time, assigns tasks, and takes care of them in any way they can (making sure there's coffee or snacks, arranging for rides, etc). The volunteer coordinator has to figure out what needs to be done each day/week (with direction from the campaign manager) and makes sure there are enough 'hands on deck' to get everything done on time. They ensure back-up volunteers are available should the need arise. They motivate their volunteers and keep them 'on message' (representing the candidate in a way consistent with the overall campaign strategy). Bigger campaigns usually have more than one volunteer coordinator.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 63.4 million people,
or 26.8% of the population, volunteered through or for an organization at least once
between September 2008 and September 2009,
a small increase from the previous year.
Campaigns can also include publicists and media consultants (who work with a candidate on how to best present themselves to the media), computer/IT people (to network computers and set up websites), attorneys, pollsters, ad agencies, political consultants, social media experts, and others.
Candidates will often seek out 'strategic partners' for their campaign, such as elected officials, former senators, judges, key members of the community, and business leaders who will endorse the candidate, appear at certain events, help with fundraising, etc.
Unfortunately, it can cost a lot of money to run for public office, and the amount of money spent seems to increase every election season.
That makes fundraising and having enough financial backers a critical piece of the campaign process.
Money is needed to print banners, yard signs, and bumper stickers. Postcards need to be mailed, websites developed, radio and TV ad time purchased. It costs money to hire people for the team. It costs money to travel and meet with voters: hotels, a campaign bus, etc. A candidate will need an office with phones, computers, and support staff ... the list can grow from there.
Candidates need to be 'official' before they can even ask for contributions, and have to track how they spend this money. As mentioned, separate accounts, strict records, and adherence to campaign finance limitations are essential (for example, not accepting more than $X dollars from one particular company).
The Campaign Finance Institute reported that to win
a House seat in 2008 cost $1,362,239 and to win a seat in the Senate cost $7,500,052.
In the continuation to this article, we'll talk about how campaigns determine a overall plan, strategy, and messaging.