How to Run for Local Office – And Win

If humanists want to make a real change in Mississippi, they have to get involved in the local political scene. Change starts at the bottom and goes to the top, so you can make a big difference by running for local office. A position on the city council or the school board will give you the power to change minds and policy in your own community.

If you’ve never run for office before, this can be a little overwhelming. What do you need to do to win?

It’s not as difficult as you might think. Follow some tips to improve your chances of winning local office.

Choose a Race to Join

Choosing a race to join is of the most important decision you will make. There is a significant incumbent advantage, meaning that incumbents are much more likely to get re-elected. This is especially true in local elections that have low voter turnouts, according to a paper by Jessica Trounstine of Princeton University.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run against an incumbent. You can do just that, but understand you’ll have to put more work into the process. You’ll need to raise significant funds and work hard on voter turnout to overcome the incumbent advantage.

Learn More About Your Electorate

You know what you want for your community, but what does the electorate want? You can’t simply push your own issues. You have to be a representative of the people, so that means you need to get to know them better.

This is simple to do when you attend community meetings. Go to open meetings and listen to what the people say. What issues are most important to them?

You might not share all of those issues but look for common ground. Then, pick out three issues to put at the heart of your campaign. One issue will be your passion project, and the other two will be important to your constituents.

For instance, let’s say that the separation of church and state is your main issue, but your constituents are interested in school funding and road repairs. You could lead with school funding and road repairs while including the separation of church and state as well. You have to branch out beyond your personal passion to get votes.  

Join Political Groups

Mississippi is full of political groups that sit on both sides of the aisle. These groups often have connections with party officials, so join them and start networking. You need to make a name for yourself before you put your hat in the ring. Rubbing elbows with people who are important in the party is a great starting point.

Start Fundraising

As someone who is new to policies, you likely don’t have a list of big potential donors. You will have to take a grassroots approach to fundraising.

Start the process off by coming up with a list of family and friends who are likely to donate. Open your smartphone and look at your contacts. Ask yourself who you would invite to your wedding if you were getting married. If they’d make the invite list, then send them a fundraising letter.

Then, you’ll need to write the letter. It doesn’t have to be too involved. Keep it short and to the point. Mention that you’re running for local office and you are gathering funds to get the ball rolling. Include a disclaimer at the end of the letter letting the recipient know that the correspondence was paid for by your campaign.

Be sure to include a reply envelope so people can send you checks. You should also have an online payment option set up for those who don’t want to mail checks.

Next, have a friend or family member throw a fundraising event for you. Have an event theme, such as “Get to Know the Candidate” or “Backyard Barbecue.” You can either sell tickets as part of fundraising or make donations optional.

Then, it’ll be time to land some big fish. Call local businesses and ask them to support your campaign. Don’t expect them to just give you money over the phone. They’ll want to meet with you in person if they’re interested. See if you can schedule a time to talk about the campaign.

You’ll also need to reach out to those connections you made when you joined local political groups. Let the people in the group know you’re running for office and ask for help. Many people who are active in politics have deep pockets and they’re ready to help.

Finally, use social media to your advantage when fundraising. Ask for donations from time to time and provide a link where people can easily donate online.

Build a Campaign Team

In the beginning, you’ll go at it on your own. Once you start raising some funds, though, it’ll be time to build your team. You’ll likely have some early supporters, so ask some of those people to volunteer.

Be sure to seek out people who have different skill sets. For instance, you’ll need someone who is good with money to take over the campaign fundraising and spending. Then, you’ll need an online guru to take over web marketing, just as you’ll need some volunteers to go door to door. You can also get a team of volunteers for phone banking.

Get Your Campaign Material Together

You need yard signs, brochures, and other campaign material to raise your visibility. You should have someone with design experience on your team. Let that person take the lead. Then, use your campaign funds to print the materials so you will have them on hand.

Reach Out to Voters

Once you have your materials in hand, it’ll be time to reach out to voters. Attend events, go door to door, and get a radio spot if you can afford it. Also, hit social media hard. You want to reach people in as many ways as possible.

This is time-consuming, but it’s important. Name recognition is a must if you’re going to win at the polls.

File Your Paperwork

Don’t forget that you have to file paperwork to run. You can download your candidate qualifying form on the Mississippi Secretary of State website. Once downloaded, complete the necessary actions and turn in the form. 

Take the First Step Today

You don’t have to wait to get started. Go through these steps so you can build your campaign from the ground up. If enough humanists do this in Mississippi, we can change the state one municipality at a time.