Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: Retirements

Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: Retirements

Welcome to Nuts & Bolts, a guide to Democratic campaigns. I’ve helped write this series for years using information from campaign managers, finance directors, field directors, trainers, and staff, responding to questions from Daily Kos Community and staff members, and addressing issues that are sent to me via kosmail through Daily Kos.

Retirements are a part of the political process. Some members of Congress retire early, deciding to go home or that they have done their service. Others serve lifetimes. People can leave their statehouse or local elected office because of family issues or because they might need to leave their own district. It really doesn’t matter how someone retires; when they do, it creates an immediate surge of interest in who will run for an open seat.

Because this series focuses on small races that do not often get the attention they deserve, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the U.S. Senate or House—you can find great consultants who can help you. But let’s talk about what retirement can mean for a statehouse or local elected official.

Immediate retirement by cause or need

In order to understand retirement at a state and local level, we have to realize that one of the most frequent forms of retirement at those levels is by cause or need. A cause-related retirement is due to a situation change that means an elected official can no longer legally serve within the role for which they are elected. This could be a grave outcome like the passing of an individual, but often this is far more simple at the state and local levels: They could accept a job that is in conflict serving elected office; they could purchase a house or need to move outside of their district; or they could run and win another office and are prevented from holding two offices at the same time. All of those are retirements of cause. The individual has no choice—they must retire and submit their resignation upon anything that makes continuing to serve impossible.

Meanwhile, a retirement for need is at the desire of the elected official. You can retire simply because you need to get out of office, stating you just don’t like it or to protect your mental health. Whatever your need is, it is not a requirement that says you must retire. It is a decision you make for yourself and you can make at any time.

How can retirement be handled when it is a reason of cause?

Retirements for cause often must happen immediately. They can happen through several different methods. An elected official can be replaced by a special election, by the selection of party precinct members to appoint a replacement, or by the appointment of other officials including the governor or county board, for example. 

If you need to wage a special election campaign, the viability of a candidate often comes down to who can raise funds the fastest in order to fill a seat, as the timetable can be short to build up name recognition and create a team that can get a win. You’ll need to determine who else has an interest in the race and how quickly you can put together a plan. 

Finally, if you are thinking about a race for a retiring official where the action will happen in a precinct committee or through appointment, evaluate your chances quickly. These races can involve a very small number of people who will cast a vote that decides who will replace a retiring member. In many cases, you can make these phone calls in a few nights and can get a feeling for your ability to run. If the number you need is even smaller, that is an appointment by a council, county commission, or governor, and your direct connection needs to be even stronger. 

How can retirement be handled when it is a reason of need?

Retirement of need often means an announced retirement at the next election cycle. This announcement often puts into play immediate considerations for who wants to serve in that post. If a state-elected official announces that they will not run for a followup term, then there will be several others looking to run. Was the reason they retired because the new district that they are in post-redistricting is more difficult? Are they just ready to retire? Do some background work as to what makes up the district this office holds before you throw your hat into the ring.

Once you’ve decided, make careful notes of the deadlines that are ahead. Line up early support. You may face a crowded field or an empty field. Take time to find out if there are internal favorites with longtime party authorities. This may not have any impact on your decision, but it can let you know how you need to use your early time to outreach. You can’t get through to run in a general election if you cannot escape a primary!

Unlike a retirement for cause, a retirement for need can give you a bit more time to prepare, but it does not give you infinite time. Just like retirement for cause, you will need to start building name recognition as quickly as possible in order to set up the circumstance by which you can be elected to office. 

Do not miss the layups; if you are running for need and will face a primary, Democratic voters in most states are essential to win a primary. Many states are closed primaries, which mean early time spent with Republicans is a waste of resources as you need those Democratic voters to cast ballots for you in a primary slot. Goodwill among Republicans for a general election will do you absolutely no good.

Raise money, raise money, raise money

In both of these cases, the first thing you need is not a campaign manager or a communications person—you need a treasurer and someone who understands finances. You need to be ready to raise money and have someone who can help keep you on the task at raising money. If you win a retirement by a precinct vote, fewer than 100 people could have voted for you to be in office. You’ll need far more votes to hold that office and that will have a cost. Preparing yourself for that means raising the money to defend the seat you now represent. If you enter a race to fill an outgoing elected, you will need a war chest to power your campaign through the primary.

The moment you decide you are committed to run, your very first call should be to a potential treasurer, and then a finance director. The size of your race may determine if that’s a small volunteer effort or something you need to budget for right off of the bat. Either way, plan to start raising money.

Next week: How do I tell I have a good campaign finance person?

RELATED STORY: Who could run to succeed Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan? Pretty much everybody

Powered by WPeMatico

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: