Last May I put up a detailed post called Strategies for Running a Montana Statewide Campaign.
You’ll get lots of turnout numbers there, so it might be worth a look.
Today I’d like to offer a few more ideas. Mostly, these are directed at the numerous people that filed for office yesterday, many of whom are probably dipping their toe into those turbulent waters for the first time.
So…what do you do?
Here are some ideas that I’ve come up with after running for office in this state three times.
#1 Get Your Bank Account
Candidates need to have a candidate bank account, one separate from your personal bank account.
For the past two cycles, I’ve used First Interstate Bank. It’s free checking and the minimum opening balance is $50.
I simply use it for that cycle, letting it run out of money when the race is done. At that point the account usually closes after 30 days. Today I went and opened a new account at the same bank after my previous candidate account closed in December.
Once you have this it’ll be easier to track and match things with your COPP report.
You can also begin raising more money, and spending money. Donations are supposed to be reported within a few days of receipt, and they should get into your account as soon as possible.
Campaign treasurers usually do this, but I’ve always acted as my own treasurer so I do it.
#2 Get Set Up with COPP
COPP is the Commissioner of Political Practices Office, which is located on Eighth Street in Helena.
As soon as you file with the Secretary of State, you need to file a D1 form, which lists all your assets and income. I send them a copy in the mail, as they require a hard copy.
You need to get this to them within 5 days of filing.
After you do this, start your C5 form. It’s best to stay caught up on this, updating your donations and expenses on the COPP website.
There are numerous training sessions for candidates around the state beginning on March 28.
I attended one of these in 2014 and if you’re running for the first time, I suggest going or sending your treasurer.
#3 Start Writing Letters to the Editor
You’ll have 8 chances to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper between now and November; 3 if you’ve got a primary.
You typically get 250 to 300 words to make your case, whether it’s why you should be elected or just what issues you care about and what you’d do to address them.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people read these letters in their paper. It’s a cheap, easy, and effective way to get your name out there.
Once the letter is up, you can share it on social media.
And please don’t forget that you can have friends and supporters write letters for you, too.
This will become increasingly important as you get a month or two away from the election. Also remember, newspapers will stop taking candidate letters about 2 weeks before the elections.
#4 Get a Candidate Website
I’m always surprised by how many legislative candidates don’t have a campaign website.
There are tons of companies that will allow you to do a free site, and many more charge a pittance to get one going.
In the post I linked to at the top of this article, you’ll also find lots of Montana companies that will set up a site for you. Trust me, you want a Montana company listed on your campaign finance report, not an out-of-state company.
Now people typing your name into Google can find stuff about you that’s not coming from other people.
This is important.
Some candidates think that their personal Facebook page is good enough, and this is a result I often see when candidates don’t have a website.
Personally, I don’t think this cuts it. If you have a special Facebook candidate page, this often cuts it.
Mostly, you need a place people can find your message. If you don’t have a site or candidate Facebook page, people simply won’t find that. Worse, your opponent could be dictating ‘your message’ for you.
I discussed this a lot in my book Social Media Politics.
#5 Begin Designing Walking Cards and Yard Signs
You can do this on your own, or you can contact a printing company and their graphic designers can do it for a nominal fee.
If you’re running as a Democrat and the Party supports you, they’ll do this for you…or at least try to.
I suggest not letting them do this. They’ll pawn you off to a Billings company that’ll charge you about $200 to $300 more than you need to pay.
You’ll be encouraged to get hundreds if not thousands of walking cards, and ones that are bigger than they need to be. Most of these will never be passed out.
Back in 2014, I actually had the same cookie-cutter walking card as my opponent. You’d think someone in the Dem office would maybe call you and inform you, but they don’t care. This is a way to take your donations, skim a bit off the top for themselves, while giving you a lackluster product in return.
Yard signs are the same way. Just get these done locally, on your own.
While I wouldn’t order these yet, I would begin thinking of the design and the message.
Personally, I believe yard signs are more important, as more people will ultimately see those.
#6 Get Professional Photos Done
Now’s a good time to go and find a professional photographer to take official campaign photos for you.
Perhaps you want your family in there too, and maybe you want to go out to local places that people know.
Here in Missoula, the UM campus, down by the river, and the M walking trail are popular campaign photo spots.
You’ll need to get these images done before you get your walking cards done, as most of the time there’ll be an image of you on there.
Lots of times there’s a big image of you on front, and a family-style image on the back.
Lots of times you’ll want to use an old photo you like, but many times the quality isn’t good enough for the printers.
So expect to spend $50 to $100 to get some professional images done, maybe more if want more images that can be shared on social media.
Please don’t rely on family or friends for this important task.
#7 Decide Your Stance on Candidate Questionnaires
When you run for office, there’ll be tons of nonprofits and business groups that want to get your take on the issues.
They’ll send you questionnaires via email, and sometimes the real mail.
It’s up to you whether you want to fill some or all of these out.
Back in 2014, I remember local Dems telling other candidates to skip a lot of these, especially from groups like the NRA.
That might be a good idea in some cases, but you’ll most likely get an ‘F’ rating from those groups, and you definitely won’t get their endorsement.
- In 2014 I filled out a bunch of these, and got one endorsement – Planned Parenthood.
- In 2016 I don’t think I filled out more than one or two, and didn’t get any endorsements.
- In 2017 I didn’t much fiddle with ‘em at all, and I think I’ll probably do the same this year.
Personally, I don’t think that most voters care about this…unless they’re somehow affiliated with those groups.
I think you’ll get more votes out of your yard signs than questionnaires.
#8 Develop Your Walking Maps
What’s your district? Where the hell is it, exactly?
This can be a tough one for new candidates, especially if you’re in the city, where you’re not technically required to live in the district you’re running in.
Each time I’ve run for office, I’ve used Google Maps to figure out the boundaries of my district.
Then I make little map images using MS Paint.
On the days I decided to go out and knock on doors, I look at those small maps and pick out my streets.
When I get home, I put a red line over the streets that I’ve done.
This is a simple and easy way to keep track of things.
#9 Get VAN Access
You’ll want to get access to your Party’s voter access network, or VAN.
This will have all the address and contact information for voters.
Categories include things like: strong Dem, leaning Dem, likely Dem, and so on.
What’s more, you’ll see little dots on the VAN’s maps so you know which houses are really worth your time.
Sadly, I find most of this info is out-of-date, and I’m not sure how much it’s updated.
In 2014 I kept records of houses that were no longer Dem, or where the people had moved.
No one in the Montana Democratic Party was interested in this.
Beginning in 2016, I took on the strategy of knocking on every door on every street I went down.
Lots of people liked this, saying a candidate hadn’t knocked on their door in years. Some were argumentative, saying I was a member of the wrong Party.
Most just didn’t care, though. That’s what you’ll run into the most when running for office: indifference.
It’ll cost you $150 to access your Party’s VAN. Start talking to your Party as soon as possible so you can begin compiling useful information for when you do begin knocking on doors.
#10 Have Fun!
I always enjoy running for office. It’s fun.
If it’s not fun, people will notice and they won’t like you.
So try and have fun and smile. Enjoy shooting the breeze with people.
And don’t worry about attacks or what people are saying about you – hardly anyone outside their little groups gives a shit.
Your biggest problem will be getting your name out there.
Most people are busy and aren’t that interested in politics, especially at the local level.
It’s hard getting them interested, but with a good combination of door knocking, yard signs, letters to the editor, and perhaps even some phone calls and mailers, you can get your name out there.
That’ll take time and money, and perhaps a vast network of support.
And you can do it.
You’ll get tired and burned-out and you’ll want to quit at times, but if you stay focused on your goal, you can do it.
I’ve never done it – I’ve lost three times, usually getting the lowest number of votes out of anyone in the city – but maybe you’re different.
Maybe you’ve got what it takes.
I think so.
For more ideas on running for office, check out my book Social Media Politics on Amazon or iTunes.