Running for Office

I like door knocking. Going house to house, being outside. Most of the time, walking the streets, I was alone with my thoughts, which I loved. The rest of the time talked to a wide variety of people, which I loved more.

On the front porch, most conversations were about the people who speed down their street, maybe they had a bone to pick with the city, or we would just chat about how they grew up here just like their partners before them, or how they just moved in and are looking for ways to get involved. The conversations almost always end with how much we love it here in Lakewood.

I knocked on 5,000 doors throughout my bid for Lakewood City Council At-Large, less than I wanted, but enough to know my community better than I had ever before. And enough to earn the trust needed to become a member of the Council.

Some lessons from our successful bid for City Council:

  1. Have a vision: Is there something you want to do in your community? Is there something you and others want to change? Do some soul searching about one year from the election you are considering running in.
  2. Surround yourself with a variety of people: First and FOREMOST, I DID NOT WIN ALONE! I maybe did 10% of the total work of my campaign… and I worked hard!!
    1. Get a treasurer that has done this before, or is very bright and a quick study.
    2. Find a campaign manager WHO KNOWS YOUR DISTRICT and preferably understands the following 8 points.
    3. Have someone who knows marketing (maybe that you) and someone who can design, write.
    4. You WILL NOT be able to write and respond to everyone. Delegate this.
    5. NOTE: Experience is great, but passion is much better!
  3. Identify the particular problems (barriers) to achieving your goal: Mine were name recognition and overcoming the attack I saw coming, “He’s a Bernie Bro who wants to disrupt and obstruct the process.” Turn any and every attack into a positive for you. My response: “Maybe there needs to be some disruption, maybe we need discourse where there currently is none.” Works like a charm. Who attacks first, loses.
  4. Start Early: I started 11 months before the election. Most problems can be solved by starting earlier than others. Though it is correct that voter contact has less impact the further from the election you are… marginal effects can mean the difference between winning and losing. If you are on the outside like me, name recognition is important and not something you have off the bat. You can fix this. Time and work are what it takes.
  5. Know the numbers: I looked at what the turnout was in 2013 (the previous election) and got a general sense of what it would take… more actually I had a number, 5,000 votes to take the top spot, 3,000 votes to take the 3rd spot (three seats were up.)
  6. Target voters: Once you have a number start to model your support, create an even just basic or general list of people to start reaching out to introduce yourself. Call your state party, if you are affiliated with one, they can get you support software like Votebuilder. If that’s not an option there are 3rd party software that help you create lists of voters that you can target via phone, text, email or door-to-door.
  7. Have even just a basic plan you can follow: I started a serious effort to knock doors 150 days from the election… My goals are specific to my race… I didn’t hit every door I wanted to, but I know that a significant amount of my support came from my door knocking. I did 50 doors per day 5 days per week… about 5,000 doors, which was the number I needed to win. You may need to do less… or more.
  8. Do all the things: No idea is a bad idea at first… conversely, you need to focus time energy and money. Find a way to work in as many ideas as you think will help garner support. Go to EVERY community event. STAND on a street corner during rush hour. DO NOT take for gospel when someone tells you an idea will not work because it didn’t for them. If you start early enough you can try more innovative things.
  9. Delegate all things not voter contact: You shouldn’t be organizing volunteers, cutting turf, stuffing envelopes, spending hours strategizing… you need to be talking to voters constantly. Or raising money.
  10. Work counts: You CAN outwork your opponent. They might outspend you, get all the establishment support, but you can very easily overcome endorsements.


One thing I learned about establishment endorsements, some of these organizations may have great politics and it might seem bad to not get their support… however, most the time these groups endorse incumbents as a means to increase their importance, not to really help anyone win. And honestly, they might even prefer you to the incumbents. Power will almost always protect power, or at least appear to. Seek and care about endorsements of very active groups of people who are super motivated to the political makeup of the district. They will work for you!

If you are running for council – RUN LIKE STATE REP!

If you are running for State Rep – RUN LIKE A US REP!

3 Steps To a Winning Race

  2. PLAN
    1. Universe (who)
    2. Strategy (how)


  1. Elected Office:
    1. Term
    2. Time commitment
    3. Do your skills match well? Will you like the work?
    4. Does it fit into your life plan?
  2. The Election:
    1. The District
      1. How many voters
    2. When is/are the election(s)?
    3. How many signatures are required to get on the ballot?
    4. How much money has been historically raised?
    5. Demographics. R v. D etc.
  3. Issues and Groups:
    1. What groups are working on what issues
    2. Is the current government addressing concerns well?
  4. Your Strengths and Weaknesses:
    1. Do you have a base of support already?
    2. How many people would help you today if you asked?
    3. How much time do you have to work on your campaign?
    4. Do you have enough time to mount a full effort?
    5. What type of financial resources do you have?

Some simple tests:

  1. Is the job something you are able to do or want to do? (qualified?)
  2. You will need a lot of time – more than an incumbent to get rolling. If your opponent has already started campaigning the clock is ticking.
  3. Can you make this your part-time (at least) or full-time job?
  4. Do you think you can raise as much as the winning candidate for this position in the last contested race? [you should shoot to out raise your competition, but matching them is a good first test




  1. Use info from research and create a list of voters that you can begin to target.
  2. Lists available for download at the BOE website.
  3. This list can and should change over time.
    1. NOTE: The sooner you reach out to the Ohio Democratic Party to purchase Votebuilder the better. This software makes creating lists and tracking data very easy and saves you time. Also, the fee is per cycle, so the sooner you buy it the more it will be worth it
  4. Base size of universe on how many votes you think you will need to win. Include a margin. [look at historic elections data]
  5. Target people based on two factors.
    1. How likely will they vote? (turnout score)
    2. How likely are they to support you? (support score)
  6. Ideally, the core of your universe should consist of people who are likely to vote and likely to support you.
    1. ie. Support: You are a politicly progressive mother with children in the schools. You will likely find support with women 21-34 year of age who voted in two recent Democratic primaries.
    2. ie. Turnout: Filter by people who voted for in the election where you are seeking a seat, the last time around.

You know how many and who you need to reach… now we need to establish a plan for how to win.

Develop a Strategy

  1. Your Team
    1. Treasurer – Find someone good with numbers and trustworthy to be your treasurer.
    2. Manager – someone how has done this before or is very willing to learn very fast. – This is CRUCIAL you will need to have someone organizing things while you are doing the voter contact that ONLY you can do.
    3. Digital/Design/Messaging – The more roles you fill with others the more time you will have to do voter contact and fundraise.
  2. Fundraising
    1. Setup your committee, account and online fundraising (Jennifer’s part)
    2. Rule of thumb – Shoot for 150% of what your opponent will likely raise.
    3. Base your budget on what you are likely to raise.
    4. Plan at least 3 big fundraisers – A kickoff, mid-election and, end-of-election.
    5. Make lists of all the people you know and call them, explain what you are doing and why, and then ask them for $100 or more. Send them to follow up emails, mail whatever to collect.
    6. Plan time to make calls throughout your campaign.
  3. Literature (Lit)
    1. Message (matt covered this) – script – palm cards.
    2. Plan to mail to your entire universe 5 times.
      1. Once in the beginning
      2. Two times during the election season
      3. Two times during Get Out The Vote (GOTV)
    3. Great way to save money and get volunteers active is to lit drop. This means sending volunteer door to door and they just leave lit.
  4. Your Visibility
    1. If you identified that you need much better name recognition double down on visibility.
    2. Op-eds in papers.
    3. Signage.
    4. Earned media.
    5. Creative ideas that draw attention to you and your name.
  5. Your Voter Contact
    1. Doors – This should take 80% of your time at least.
      1. This begins with collecting signatures to get on the ballot
      2. ALWAYS collect the maximum allowed or more.
    2. Phone Banks – Great way to engage volunteers that would rather stay in and call rather than go door to door.
    3. Use every opportunity you can to list build and collect voter support data.
    4. Attend events – your manager should help you put together a comprehensive list of events in your area. Attend as many as you can.
  6. Social Media
    1. More now than ever this is a mix of visibility and voter contact
    2. Build in time, volunteers and funds to do a competitive and consistent social media push throughout the campaign.
  7. Case the Vote
    1. BOE will make available lists of people who requested a Vote By Mail ballot. You should time one of your GOTV mailers to hit at the exact same time.
    2. This takes time, planning, money and you should have a dedicated coordinator/volunteer doing this for you.
    1. Create a timeline for what you need to get done to make your winning plan work.

EXECUTE – Work you plan!!

Basic Example of an Outline of a Campaign Calendar

  1. December
    1. Conclude your research.
  2. January
    1. Setup your committee and fundraising machinery.
    2. Select a treasure and manager.
    3. Begin working on your universe.
    4. Set a date for your announcement.
  3. February
    1. Complete universe
    2. Complete strategy – includes mailers
    3. Start collecting signatures (always collect the maximum allowed.)
  4. March
    1. Announcement fundraiser!
    2. Plan more events.
  5. April
    1. Knock doors
    2. Make fundraising calls
    3. Send your first mailer
  6. May
    1. Knock doors
    2. Submit signatures
  7. June
    1. Hold 2nd big fundraiser
  8. July
    1. March in your local parade
    2. 2nd mailer/newsletter
  9. August
    1. Ramp up Doors
    2. Plan house parties
    3. Attend community type meetings
  10. September
    1. 3rd mailer  
    2. [possible primary]
  11. October
    1. 3rd big fundraiser
    2. 4th Mailer (late October)
  12. November
    1. 5th Mailer
    2. Chase the vote mail.
    3. GOTV