Good candidates for office do not just grow on trees, they often need to be cultivated, grown, and nurtured. Like applicants for any other job, they should have some level of understanding of what the position entails, be qualified, and share a genuine interest in the community’s goals and values. In these digital days, vetting qualified candidates matters more than ever. Some online sleuth is out there, waiting to find flaws in the candidate, the campaign, or the cause.
Candidate recruitment, like every other part of a campaign, is strategic in nature. Let’s examine some steps to follow when recruiting and considering candidates to back for office, be it a spot on a local school board, city council, county government, state legislature, or national office.
Goals and Objectives
As with any other strategic plan, start by clearly defining the goals. Here are some factors to consider when shaping a plan to run a candidate for office, beyond simply winning the race.
Is the goal to unseat an incumbent? These are some of the most costly and challenging races out there, a more seasoned candidate, with some level of name recognition, an established base, and financial support may be a better choice than a raw, green candidate, all other factors being equal.
Is the goal to gain support for issues and causes your group supports? Selecting a candidate whose views are in sync with the group is an easier sell than persuading a potential candidate to flip-flop from previously held views. Establishing candidate credibility from the start is easier than selling a pivot. Also, consider if an already established point-of-view held by the candidate meshes with the goals of the campaign.
Factors like geography and the political makeup of your area may influence the candidate selection process. Knowing the types of issues and personalities that resonate with the community may help. Understanding the chances a candidate faces of winning, especially in highly competitive races may make it easier to recruit a candidate if there is a demonstrated possibility of winning an election. Look at the data and analytics beforehand, they go part and parcel with the candidate recruitment and selection process.
Where to Look
Once your organization has figured out which races are worth fielding a candidate for, where do you find qualified candidates? Start close to home, within your own membership, and the membership of like-minded groups. Consider teacher unions and PTO groups to recruit school board candidates. Are there members of the local Chamber of Commerce that might be interested in serving on the city council? Are there trade union officers interested in becoming local or state representatives? Ideally, candidates are selected by the party or organization rather than self-selecting. Candidates who self-select often have different reasons for running that do not always align with the campaign’s goals.
Voter registration rolls and local political organizations are other good resources for finding potential candidates. Ask existing elected officials if they have someone on their staff or in their district they might recommend. Many current members of Congress were interns long before running for office themselves.
Local political organizations will also know which members of their community regularly attend local government and school board meetings, help with fundraising efforts, or support other campaigns by working phone banks, knocking on doors, and distributing campaign literature in the past. Former campaign delegates may have gotten bitten by the political bug, and you can explore if they are ready to take the next step. Attend local events and meetings to get to know the active members of the community. Remember, finding the right candidate is a long game, it may take years for a candidate to gain the skills, reputation, and support they need before actually running.
Sometimes people who have held an elected position in the past decided to step away from politics may be interested in returning. The pressures of family, finances, and other outside demands along with the changing political climate have all led to people sitting it out for a few years. Don’t forget, former elected officials are good resources to consider when seeking candidate endorsements down the line.
Do your homework. Be proactive. This cannot be stressed enough. Vet any and all prospective candidates, be they ones your organization has approached or those who approach you. No longer reserved for just big offices, in-depth vetting of a potential candidate can help alert a campaign to potential pitfalls and problems ahead of time. Do your due diligence. Review their online presence.
Always be thinking strategically when vetting potential candidates. Verify credentials, work experience, educational background. With so much unsubstantiated information about candidates and elected officials floating around, be above the fray, leave nothing to doubt.
Recruit Candidates of Color, Women, and Minorities
The color, gender, and age of American voters are changing, rapidly. Finding candidates who reflect the demographic changes in the community is one way to bring new blood into the political landscape. For example, both parties ran more women in 2020 than ever before, leading to the election of more Black, Latina, Native American, and Asian women. This trend is expected to continue, as the US population becomes more diverse.
What does your organization bring to the party? Be prepared to pledge your support when approaching potential candidates. Help get them the training they may need to take their interest to the next level. Let them know you are there to support them with resources of time, money, staff, office space, technical support, expertise, and compassion. Elections are hard work, be prepared to help shoulder the load.
Filling in the Blanks
You have the cause, we have a collective ready to apply data, analytics, public relations, and proven results to work for your campaign and candidate. Contact us to learn how we can help you take that next step toward successful candidate recruitment and strategic campaigning.