Dear Dr. Bob,
I’m going to run for the state legislature, but I’m not yet ready to make a formal announcement since I don’t have much money and no campaign materials. When should I start my campaign?”
Thinking About It
Seriously, it makes more sense to go the other direction: announce now and then continue to announce as long as people show up.
With state legislative races, the reality is that you’re not going to get much news interest or coverage — this is particularly true in the major metro areas, less so in rural Arizona.
So get yourself in front of every group you can think of and tell them that you’re “proud to be here today to tell you that I am running for the state legislature…” That doesn’t require much more than your time and, as it turns out, is a good way of getting known, raising money and collecting petition signatures.
What is more important, by the way, is making dead certain that you know what your campaign is going to be before starting. You need to be able to explain exactly how you are going to win in a brief summary. This should be tried out on your spouse or BFF before jumping off the cliff.
Think of it this way, a campaign has a destination called “winning the election.”
The sole purpose of a campaign is to get the candidate from a starting point to the destination. Period. That’s why its often referred to as the “campaign trail.” The best candidates can close their eyes and see the trail with great clarity. The worst can’t seem to see past that day’s events — which usually involve begging for money.
So, when you should start your campaign is a bit more complicated, isn’t it. If you’re hung up on when to start, you’re already behind because a better candidate has already figured out a roadmap to get from here to there. But that’s okay. Rookies always make mistakes. Just make then early enough to be fixed. A former business partner of mine used to say that a campaign can make “three mistakes” before its time to turn out the lights.
So close your eyes and try to see how you are going to move along the trail, taking into account the likelihood that mistakes will happen and your plan is going to have to change now and then. Everyone can envision being sworn into office. So be one of the smart ones and start thinking at that point and then go backwards, if you like, laying down each and every step that your campaign will need to make to account for having arrived.
A word of caution: There is an endless supply of political tradesmen out there these days. Many are newbies who were along for the ride when a frontrunner amazed everyone by winning. But there are some who’ve fought the hard battles and won. Those are the folks you want to check out. There’s nothing like hitting the campaign trail with someone who’s been there.