Nuts & Bolts—Inside the Democratic Campaign: The No. 1 rule in all campaigns

Nuts & Bolts—Inside the Democratic Campaign: The No. 1 rule in all campaigns

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Over the course of more than a decade, I’ve taken time to speak with campaign managers, field directors, communications directors, finance directors, and, of course, been a part of as many campaigns as I could. As election season gets close, there are always questions we ask of candidates who are considering running for office. 

You would think the first question that the local party or campaign help would ask might be, “Can you raise money?” Another guess is, “How is your name ID?” Those are good guesses, but they exist way in the rearview mirror of the number-one question every candidate should be asked: Does your spouse or partner support you running for office? Because if that answer is no, then the campaign itself will be a trainwreck for everyone involved.

Candidates with full support have respite and comfort

Running a campaign at any level as a candidate is a grueling event. You may face personal attacks, opposition, and people who will suddenly decide they don’t like you without knowing much about you. In that environment, candidates need encouragement around them that picks them up and keeps them going. Campaign staff can do that, now and again, by reminding the candidate of the goals at hand and where they are going. They go home at night to their spouse or partner, and they receive all the support they need to continue their run for office. 

In a supportive environment, their significant other becomes their best campaign surrogate. In these campaigns, having someone this close to you vouch for you says a lot to the community about what you believe in, your commitment to seeking this job for the good of your own family and the community. People come to love your family, your partner, and the story you tell together. On tough days, your significant other can be your best cheerleader. Not only do they help you pick yourself back up, unlike campaign staff or any person within the party, they remind you that they know you in ways no one else does and that their love is unquestioned and not determined by your daily call time numbers. 

Now, imagine that your partner or spouse is not supportive

Imagine that the person the candidate loves most in the world opposes them running for office. They don’t want them to run, and they are opposed to what it will do to their family. Still, the candidate has been convinced to run because they check all the other boxes or have always wanted to be an elected official.

Every night, though, they go home to someone who is, at best, someone they know did not want them to be involved in this endeavor. On bad days, they will be reminded of “my spouse said,” “my partner said,” and it is more and more challenging to overcome. It will wear at them. The support system they need to survive is not available to them, leaving candidates feeling more isolated rather than supported.

If you are recruiting candidates, you need to ask this question.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If a candidate comes to you and tells you they are thinking about running, one of the first questions you need to ask is if they have a support system behind them that is OK if they are running. They can be single and run independently, and I welcome them to run. I also follow up by asking: Do the people around you like this idea? Are they with you?

If someone is married or in a long-term committed relationship and tells me they are running for office, but their spouse will not support them, I immediately know that campaign is doomed. It will not succeed, and the amount of work put into it will result in a bitter candidate who is upset at everyone around them and upset at the decision at the beginning. Hard pass, You are better off finding another avenue to support a candidate that can win.

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