The 2014 candidate filing period is upon us.
That means this is your chance to go from challenging people to debates at parties (or, writing a weekly political column) to actually making a difference in the world around you. One of my favorite stories from working with the Libertarian Party was a group of Libertarians who attained a majority on a Soil and Water Conservative Board in Lee County, Florida. Even on such an obscure board, they eliminated many of the wasteful programs within their control, and were able to send checks back to property owners from the tax money they saved.
Running for office sounds intimidating, but if you know the basics, it can be a great experience. Most of the time, the candidates I worked with at the Libertarian Party did what they could in their spare time after working full-time jobs, and were funded by whatever money raised from friends and family. Not every candidate won, but they spread their message, and made otherwise-unopposed candidates work a little harder for their position.
You can too if you follow these tips:
Filing – The filing period for South Carolina is between Sunday (March 16) and March 30. The South Carolina GOP has a great filing guide you can find at www.scgop.com/filing. If you’re running as an independent, keep in mind that the state requires you to collect signatures of 5 percent of registered voters in the geographic area in which you’re running, but no more than 10,000 signatures are required. So, for Horry County elections, an independent candidate would be required to collect 8,900 signatures (yeah, ballot access laws suck). For more information on filing, contact your local party or the Secretary of State office.
Web site – If you’re running for office, you have to have a Web site. No question. If you’re not a tech savvy individual, Blogger and WordPress are great tools for building a simple, effective Web sites. And, pay the extra money to get a real domain name instead of the default URLs. Ensure you have a separate section on the Web site for biography, issues, contact information, press releases/campaign updates, and most importantly – a donation page. Stripe, Pyrix, and PayPal are easy-to-use donation processors for your Web site. Remember, your Web site is how voters will view you as a candidate, and it should convey the professionalism of public office.
Social Media - Like a Web site, social media is a must for all candidates. Not only does it allow you to connect with supporters one-on-one, your message is amplified across the network as your posts are shared. More importantly, it is free. The three most important networks for you to be on as a candidate are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Facebook is a great platform to get personal with supporters (in other words, be human), and give them a behind-the-scenes view of the campaign. Twitter is great for instantaneous dissemination of campaign news, or blasting short sound bytes on hot issues. Use YouTube regularly to host campaign videos, and remember that not every video has to be Hollywood-quality. Even 30-second video shot on an iPhone can be effective. Remember, social media content should have what social media marketing expert Steve Barnes calls “F.I.R.E.” -- funny, intriguing, relevant, or emotional. Also, ensure your personal social media accounts are set as private; that’s the first place your opponent is going to look.
Fundraising -- Campaigns need money, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be expensive to fundraise. E-mail fundraising is cheap, easy, and the single-most important asset to your campaign. Make it a habit to ask for e-mail addresses of supporters wherever you can. This can be e-mail sign-up forms at campaign events, or on the front page of your Web site. Use a bulk e-mail platform such as MailChimp (my personal recommendation as a professional e-mail fundraiser) to send e-mails to your campaign list. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for money: During peak campaign times, even one donation e-mail per week is not aggressive. Your e-mails should have links to a donation form on your Web site where folks can contribute. For help on writing successful fundraising letters, read the primer “Political Direct Mail Fundraising” by Bruce Eberle. However, before you start fundraising, make sure you know all of the applicable campaign finance laws, especially if you are a candidate for federal office.
Press and Media -- Reporters are not your enemy, and if you treat them with professional respect, they can be very valuable for your campaign. Find out who are the relevant contacts in the media for your campaign, and reach out to them with a phone call. Ask them if you can add them to your media list for press releases. It’s a formality, but if reporters know who you are, they are more likely to read your press releases, or pass them along to the right people. Give reporters ample notice for events, and set aside some time for them to answer questions. Also, have a high resolution (so it can be used in print publications) professional headshot somewhere within easy reach on your Web site. Reporters don’t have to be your friends, but if you make their job easier, it will be reflected in the amount of coverage they give you.
If you’re thinking about running for office and have more questions on the basics of running a shoestring campaign, send me an e-mail to the address listed below.
Andrew Davis is a Myrtle Beach native and former Director of Communications for the national Libertarian Party. Contact him at SCPundit@gmail.com, or follow on Twitter at @SCPundit.