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Winning Tips For Political Candidates

By Ron Faucheux

The following bits of advice are offered to candidates as they jump into the campaign fray. As you read each one, stop and think about what it means and how you can benefit from following it in your day-to-day thinking and campaigning:

Don’t let the tough days get you down.
Every day, you will hear bad news. If it’s something you need to deal with, then deal with it instantly. If you can’t do anything about it, then forget about it and move forward. Candidates have a lot of tough days, even bad days. Expect them, get past them, and move on.

Always keep your cool.

Campaigns run on chaos and unexpected events. Don’t let them throw you off your message and your game plan. Stay in control and keep your eye on the ball at all times.

The goal of being a candidate is winning the election.
It is not to indulge your ego, to make people like you, or to get even with your enemies. Aim to get more votes than the opposition. Nothing more and certainly, nothing less.

No matter how hard you try, you won’t get every vote that’s cast and you won’t get everybody to like you.
That’s true with every politician, even the most popular and best loved. So, calculate the number of votes you need, then go out and get them. Elections aren’t popularity contests, they are more appropriately defined as strategic combat.

If you want a political career, never let defeat stop you.
Instead, learn from defeat and apply the lessons to your next campaign. Some of the most successful politicians have suffered stinging defeats along the way. As AL Smith once said, let’s look at the record:
  • Abraham Lincoln lost his first election for the Illinois State legislature. Before he won the presidency in 1860, he suffered two U.S. Senate defeats.
  • Franklin Roosevelt lost the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York by a landslide in 1914 and six years later lost the vice presidency by a landslide while running on the ticket headed by Gov. James Cox of Ohio. Shortly thereafter, he contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. But that didn’t keep him from rebuilding his political career. In 1928, he was elected governor of New York and in 1932, president. He won re-election to the White House an unprecedented three times.
  • After a meteoric six-year rise from young veteran to member of Congress to U.S. senator to vice president, Richard Nixon lost the presidency in 1960 by a razor-thin margin. Two years later, he lost the governorship of California and, in a bitter morning-after press conference, made his famous “you won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore” comment. Six years after that humiliation, he was elected president.
  • Before Ronald Reagan won the 1980 GOP presidential nomination, he had lost two prior attempts, in 1968 and 1976.
  • George H.W. Bush lost two U.S. Senate races in Texas and one Republican presidential nomination bid, in 1980, before he was elected vice president and then president.
  • Bill Clinton lost his first race for Congress. He went on to get elected state attorney general and then governor. But then he blew his first gubernatorial re-election campaign in Arkansas. That didn’t stop him, however. After being out of office for a term, he came back, and won the governorship back from the man who had beat him.
  • Incumbent President George W. Bush, like Clinton, lost his first race for Congress. Eighteen years later, he sought the Texas governorship, and won it. Only six years after that victory, his first, he was elected president.
  • How about the two presidential nominees this year? Just eight years ago, Barack Obama lost the 2000 Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives to an incumbent by a margin of two to one. Also eight years ago, John McCain lost the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.
All of these candidates – who went on to the highest levels of American political success – could have let defeat destroy them, but they didn’t. Instead, they picked themselves up, started over and went on to the ultimate victory.

Moral of the story: Don’t give up when you lose. There is always another day, another election, another set of opportunities.

Ask every voter for help.
Don’t miss anybody. That includes waiters, parking lot attendants, bus boys, janitors, your next door neighbor, your dentist, your child’s soccer coach, and the bank teller where you cash deposit your funds.

When someone tells you they’re voting for your opponent, don’t get angry.
Do not lash back, no matter how rude or nasty someone may be. Candidates filled with anger and hatred look like losers. You also never know. Today’s adversary may be tomorrow’s supporter. Give people the opportunity to be your friend and supporter.

Listen, listen, listen.
Don’t just shake your head as if you are hearing what people are saying when, in fact, you could not care less. Really listen to what they have to say to you. The best one-on-one politicians are those who, when you meet them, seem as if they’ve tuned out everything and everybody and are focused on you, what you have to say, and how to provide a solution to your issue.

Remember the basics; do them very well.
In modern campaigns, everybody wants to run smart, sophisticated, creative, cutting edge campaigns that utilize the latest techniques and tools. But in trying to do so, don’t forget the basics: Develop a clear, simple strategy and stick to it. Develop a strong message and use it. Go directly to the people and ask everyone for their help. Let the voters get to know you and stand for something that matters. Bring new people into the political process. The basics separate winners from losers, mediocre campaigns from great campaigns.

Always remember to say thank you.
Plenty of people will help your campaign and you need to thank every one of them. Whether it is just expressing gratitude or writing personal thank you notes, always show appreciation to supporters, volunteers, contributors, and staff. Former President George H.W. Bush was known for the handwritten thank you notes he wrote to acquaintances and supporters. Over the years, those notes accumulated into large numbers and they became a big part of his success.

Ron Faucheux is author of Running for Office and editor of Winning
Elections, popular books on political campaigning. A political
strategist and analyst, Dr. Faucheux teaches at George
Washington University’s Graduate School of Political
Management. Ron can be reached at Click here to contact this Author

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