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IUPolitique: A beginner’s guide to campaigning

02/21/2014
Jake Williams
Columnist

Over the past few weeks, the IUPolitique has focused on campaigning and campaign-like activities. Whether it’s the gubernatorial or lieutenant governor race – though both continue to grow – the congressional races in and around Indiana, or the president’s visit to West Mifflin to emphasize his State of the Union agenda, it’s 2014, and campaigning is in the air.

But what actually goes into making a campaign work?

Not every campaign is the same, but overall, the process is similar from one campaign to the next, up and down the ballot.

The first thing that needs to happen for a campaign to occur is the willingness of an individual to decide to run for office. That may sound basic, but it’s actually an important step.

Not only is governing hard work, but life on the campaign trail can be just as difficult, if not harder. So an individual deciding to make the leap from citizen to candidate takes a bit of work.

After one decides to run for office, the next step would be to surround oneself with trusted friends, advisers and experts in specific fields to help shape the campaign’s policy and process.

In some cases, campaigns may announce the formation of an exploratory committee, which would examine the possibilities of what could happen if the candidate were to actually run for office. An exploratory committee is a good way for a potential campaign to evalu-ate public perception of their prospective candidate and to determine whether or not their candidate could garner the support necessary to be competitive in an actual race. Although an exploratory committee is not always used, it is often used on upper-ballot campaigns – pretty much from Congress and up.

If the campaign proceeds past the exploratory phase, the next step would be to meet the necessary legal requirements for the candidate to be placed on either the primary or general election ballot.

In Pennsylvania, according to BallotPedia, a candidate must receive 1,000 signatures on a nomination petition to get on the ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives. For U.S. Senate, candidates need 2,000 signatures.

To run for governor, candidates must receive 2,000 signatures, including at least 100 from each of at least 10 counties.

The requirements differ for independent or other third party candidates but are consistent for either Republican or Democratic candidates.

After the nomination petition requirements have been met – and as long as they are turned in to the Pennsylvania secretary of state’s office on time – the candidate will officially be on the ballot.

Both during and after the petition signature period, a candidate should be meeting and interacting with voters and making calls to solicit fundraising donations from potential supporters.

When the official requirements are out of the way, it comes down to the race to 51 percent (in a two-candidate race). To win, a candidate must receive more of the vote than their opponent, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the margin between the two must be high. Oftentimes, campaigns simply seek to win just the numbers they need.

The campaign strategy transitions from an idealistic view of an entire district or region to a strategically targeted area that the candidate will need to hit to win.

On a presidential scale, for instance, campaigns focus on red and blue states and examine what swing states they can change to one side or the other with voter turnout and candidate visits.

As election day grows closer, campaigns decipher the areas they need to reach that 51 percent and inundate the areas with advertising, campaign volunteers, door knocking, phone banking, candidate-driven events and earned media strategy.

But it does come down to strategy – politics can be a mix of math, luck, passion and skill – but when the day arrives, one side wins and the other side loses. One side had a successful strategy, and the other side fell short.

Then, in a few years, it all happens again.

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