If this post got you fired up, thinking that I’m a defeatist who sees nothing good coming from the efforts of Libertarians/libertarians and other grassroots candidates, keep reading. I rarely identify a problem, oppose an idea, or “play pessimist” without having an alternative or a plan.
Anyone considering a run for office should attend meetings for that office, long before announcing or qualifying for the post. Our civic involvement should have others asking us to campaign and lead, rather than being an afterthought once already committed to running. Not only will we garner the attention and favor of those already involved, this is an opportunity to get to know the intricacies of the procedures and practices of the body, the “power players,” and to have people know you. How many of you know why your City Council or County Commission uses a “consent agenda”?
I vaguely and briefly noted my advocacy (in the aforementioned companion post) for serving in a volunteer capacity in an appointed position prior to seeking elected office, but I would like to strongly state that this is a result of involvement at the local level and a way to further build your network and name recognition in the community. Additionally, it removes the need to run strictly with a platform of philosophy and promises on which you may not be able to deliver.
Planning For the “Long Game”
You may have noticed that, thus far, my suggestions seem aimed at municipal and county level races. There is a reason for that. Politics is a “long game,” and the people you see running for Congress or Governor have put in a lot of effort, time, and planning to get to that level. Excepting the very wealthy, the famous, and various mixtures of both, there is no realistic expection to win a high-level office the first time you run. The very wealthy can “buy” the recognition and press they need to seek a statewide or Federal office, and famous former athletes, actors, and musicians have “built in” name recognition due to their efforts in pre-political life. If either the very wealthy or famous label apply to you, skip ahead two paragraphs.
I noted above that seeking an appointed office before running for an elected one helps you with your first campaign. First, it builds your reputation and name recognition within the community, as well as the existing power structure, by showing all that you are genuinely interested in serving your city or county. The board or commission on which you serve does not matter, because this is an opportunity to” get your foot in the door” and start a voting record.
You can also similarly accomplish these goals outside the government by being actively involved in an issue-based group, like a taxpayers group, focusing on issues of taxation for the city or county, or an ethics watchdog group, focused on the actions of elected, appointed, and hired officials within the city or county, as a couple examples. The issue-based group route is a little trickier, because it could pigeonhole you as a single-issue candidate, when you decide to seek elected office, but it can be beneficial if there is a lot of cronyism in your local government.
Keep Your Aim Realistic
With no “name ID,” money, or network to speak of, the best plan is to run for Congress or Senate, right?
Keep your aim realistic. In fact, take your aim and bring it down a level or two. Just because Senator Do-Nothing or Congressman Votes The Wrong Way got you “off the couch” and interested and involved in politics does not mean he or she should be the opponent you seek right off the bat. Keep in mind that they have years and years of experience legislating, raising funds, and building the campaigns necessary to win the votes of the masses and you do not.
There is nothing wrong with starting small. It might even be better, as you work to unseat the petty tyrants at the local level that probably have more influence over your liberty at the local level. You may find that you can make more of a difference in your town by serving on the City Council. Even if that is not the case for you, you are an elected official with an established record on issues that will bolster your campaign and platform for higher office.
Be Friendly With The Media
“…never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”
In 2012, former Indiana Congressman Charles Brownson’s quote is more appropriately adapted to be “never fight with someone who buys server space by the terabyte.” Making contacts with the media, being available ANY TIME they have a question, and being a useful source for good quotes/soundbytes, as well as related news that may not be directly beneficial to you are how I maintain fantastic relationships with the news media in my area.
There is no reason to expect “equal coverage” as a candidate if you are not doing something newsworthy. Newspapers, radio stations, and television outlets are not required to cover your campaign, especially when they stand to benefit from the 2-person “horse race” perspective on stories. This is not a recommendation to “make news” for the sake of receiving coverage, but you should issue timely, well-written press releases on the issues of the day. Seeking to provide commentary on with your established contacts will help you to get your name in front of voters. This goes for the time prior to your candidacy as well, as it helps build that important metric of “name ID.”
There are far more ways that libertarians can win elections, but this should be a starting place for most of us interested in influencing public policy in a more libertarian direction.