How to decide if you should run for political office

run-for-office2014 is now a month and  half old and election season is well underway. Some candidates for the 2014 cycle announced as much as a year ago. Others still have not made the decision to run, but with caucuses on March 20, time is growing short.

If you are considering running for office, how do you know if it is the “right time” to throw your hat in the ring?  (If you are a woman, you might be waiting for someone to ask you to run. Consider yourself asked. Please do run. We need more women in elected office and to get there, we need more women as candidates.)

Here are some questions you should consider before you decide to run for office.  They will help you make the most informed decision possible.

  1. Your personal situation. How would being a candidate and then elected official fit with your personal and professional life? Do you have young children? Care for aging parents? Travel out of state for your “day” job? Have an honest conversation with your spouse. Are they on board? Will they be a key part of your campaign or will they keep the home fires burning will you are on the trail?  Be realistic about the time commitment required for a campaign. (It’s a lot – usually far more than expected if you haven’t done this before.)
  2. How do you handle criticism?  Not everyone will love you. Social and traditional media may be unfriendly or downright hostile.  The comment boards on traditional news media sites are brutal. Will you lash out? Stew over every critique? Learn from the useful feedback and disregard the rest? Can you develop a tough skin without becoming cynical and hard-hearted?  How will it affect your family?
  3. Are you ready for nasty campaigning to come your way?  I think we all wish it wouldn’t happen to us, but nastiness happens far too frequently in political campaigns. (And I’m not talking about the necessary contrasting that needs to happen.)  Can you handle it? How about your family? Neighbors?
  4. Can you afford it? Can you afford the costs of a campaign? How about the costs associated with lost productivity in your day job (unless the office you are running for IS full-time). Can you raise money?  WILL you raise money?  (Here’s a tip: It’s scary and awkward for almost everyone. It’s also a necessary part of the political process.) What are the increased costs associated with the office you are seeking? Can you afford them?
  5. Can you afford the non-monetary costs?  Campaigns exact a physical, mental and emotional toll. Do you have enough in reserve to be able to “afford” those campaign costs?
  6. What is the political environment? Are you running for a partisan race in an area dominated by your party? The other party? What’s the mood of the electorate in your area?  Have you been a candidate before but did not win? What has changed that would increase your chances of victory this time?
  7. Who else is running? Are you running against a popular, well-funded incumbent? Are you running against someone with high name ID and lots of donors?
  8. What makes you a good candidate? Your education? Your experience?  Who are you? Why would voters want to choose you?  Are you a business owner? Experienced at running a household? Do you have a family? Are you involved in the community?  Do not discount your chances of winning even if you think your “on paper” resume is a little thin.  Many a candidate with a “great” resume has lost to an “upstart” with passion.
  9. Why are you running?  That is the number one question you will be asked. Can you get a concise, meaningful answer in 25 words or less? Not 27. Not 30. 25.
  10. Are you ready for the spotlight that will be turned your direction?  Is your family?  Do you have things in your past you would rather stay quiet? You must plan on everything seeing the light of day. If you can’t or don’t want to deal with that, you may want to reconsider running for public office.
  11. Do you have or can you get the necessary support to run an effective campaign?  Can you fundraise? Get volunteers? Know the nuts and bolts of campaigning or know people who do? Successful campaigns take planning and work.
  12. Can you win?  A few people run in political races to have a public platform for a few months. Most run to win. Get advice from outside “the bubble” as to your viability. Be open to blunt feedback and be careful who you get it from.
  13. Are you prepared to lose? It happens.  Is your identity wrapped up in this one race?
  14. What does your gut say? Is now the time?

If now is the time, get started!

If the timing is not right, learn as much as you can. Get involved in some political campaigns.  Go to meetings. Learn about the job you are seeking. Grow your network.

Help. Observe. Learn. Serve .


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