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The Candidate Manual – Getting Ready to Run

So, you’ve worked through everything in section one, and you’ve decided to “throw your hat into the ring” and run for office. Now what?

Here are some important next steps to take, in more or less the order you should take them.

Do some networking

Let people know

In the beginning stages of the campaign, the candidate should first be reaching out to their family, friends, and circle of influence, from which they can get donations, volunteers, and possibly expertise.

Once you get beyond your own contacts, it is important to have people who are experienced in campaigns to help you. Locate some and ask them if they will help your campaign get started. If they agree, then ask them who they know who is an office holder, donor, or belongs to the county party apparatus. It is far more effective for those types of people to make the initial contact for your campaign, if they're willing to do it (and that's an indicator in itself). This is how you build the credibility of a campaign in the early stages. When you have that, it's far easier to reach out to people that you don't know, because you may now have the support of people they do know. Use those connections.

Let KDP (the Kentucky Democratic Party – main office in Frankfort) know you are running for office and ask them for any information they have that might be helpful. Let them know your mission and some basic information about why you are running.

If you are running for a local office, let your local party know you are running.

If you are running for a legislative office, reach out to the House or Senate Minority Leadership office or caucus, which have offices at the Capitol and in the Legislative Annex next to the Capitol, and let them know your plans.

Get advice

Put together a “kitchen cabinet” – this consists of political allies, close friends, and party leaders. This is the team to help craft your message, and to keep you grounded as you run. They are also there to give you good advice, and to keep you from making mistakes.

Ask for help

When you reach out to the local, district, or state party apparatus, their response will be driven by whether or not there is a Democratic primary happening for that particular office. If there is, most executive committees will give any Dem candidate a chance to address the committee at a meeting. If the party has a local office, they will also usually let any Dem candidate have campaign literature available to anyone who wants it. This is generally the limit of what they can do in a primary, since they are not allowed to endorse in a contested primary

(And if they do let you put lit in the office, someone needs to stay up on keeping that supplied. It's also advisable to check very shortly after stocking said info to see if it's still there, as it can easily be trashed by anyone who doesn't like you as a candidate.)

Immediately after the primary, though, appropriate party organization can help, if they choose to do so. Whether they choose to do so or not will depend upon their perception of the candidate, of their campaign, and what resources the party has available.

And don’t be shy: talk frankly with KDP and your local party as to whether they are going to give you money or in-kind contributions. If they are not going to contribute, you need to know that up front. Let KDP and the county know what you need, what you want, and a timeframe for any contribution.

Many first-time candidates believe that the House, Senate or KDP will be giving them funding. Most of the time, that is not going to happen, or if it does, it will be in the last few weeks of the campaign.

This is where the sense of legitimacy becomes a strong factor. Whether or not they like the person also matters. Local party officials are more likely to respond to what they're hearing about the candidate from others they respect.

Learn the district

As you get ready to run, it is critical that you know the district and the voters in it. Since you live there, you may think you know it well, but odds are you only know a subset of what you actually need to know.

Here are some reasons learning the district is so important:

  • Honing your message to address the concerns across the various constituencies.
  • Figuring out the best times to do canvassing
  • Targeting a voter universe for canvassing and outreach
  • Identifying persons who can help your campaign

Here are some questions to ask in order to learn about your district and how it will interact with your campaign:

  • What are the demographics of the district?
  • Have the demographics of the area changed recently?
  • How would you describe the voter mood?
  • What local, regional, or national issues are important to voters?
  • What will motivate voters to go to the polls?
  • How do my voters get to the polls or access information about candidates?
  • Who are the political leaders in the area that I should meet?
  • Who are the important political players in the area?
  • How strong are the various political parties in the area?
  • Who are the civic and business leaders that can influence the campaign?
  • What are the local media outlets?
  • Who are the reporters and what are their deadlines?
  • How will the election be covered and how does the press view the various candidates?
  • What other races will be on the same ballot?
  • Will candidates in other races help or hurt your campaign?
  • Is there the opportunity to work with other campaigns in a coordinated manner?
  • What effect will other campaigns have on the election?

Take care of the basics

Set up your finances

As you begin your campaign, one of the key areas to get right is your campaign’s finances. Not only will you be handling other people’s money in the form of donations, where being trustworthy is vital; in addition, mistakes in this part of your campaign can have serious legal ramifications for you and others. So, let’s be sure you know what you have to do.

Research the finances of past campaigns. Ask someone who held your seat before, or pull the Financial Reports filed by the incumbent. Gather this information is by checking the Federal Election Commission (FEC) or from the KY Registry for Election Finance (KREF) filings.

Be realistic about your own campaign’s finances. Ask yourself or your kitchen cabinet these questions:

  • Will you be able to invest in your campaign?
  • Do you think you will be able to raise as much money as previous candidates?
  • How willing is your personal circle to donate money to your campaign?
  • How much do you think they will donate?
  • What about your challenger?
  • Will outside groups get involved in the campaign?

Be realistic about outside help. Don’t expect KDP, your County Party or House/Senate Leadership to give your campaign money. They may, but that is not a given. Many campaigns do not get official party aid. Be honest with yourself about whether you are going to be able to come up with the funds for your race.

Develop a solid finance plan. Your campaign finance plan should include a number of specific items. Those specific items include:

  • Your overall fundraising goal
  • Details of each revenue source. These should include:
    • Expected date
    • Person responsible
    • Budget and cost
    • Revenue target

Choose a digital fundraising platform. Most campaigns today will receive a significant percentage of their donations online. Therefore, it’s important to choose a digital platform that fits your campaign.

Here are some frequently used digital fundraising platforms:

  • ActBlue – a non-profit fundraising technology available to liberal candidates, whose mission is to make small donor fundraising more accessible. It is solely a fundraising platform.
  • Action Network – a progressive platform built for campaign organizing, events, fundraising, list-building and email delivery. Good for smaller campaigns. Very inexpensive.
  • NGP/VAN – a technology provider for Democratic and progressive candidates, which integrates fundraising, compliance reporting, emailing, list-building and events. Version 7 is used in Kentucky.
  • Campaign Deputy – Kentucky based election finance platform for Democratic and progressive candidates. Fundraising, call time manager, compliance reporting, emailing, list-building, events, and Kentucky fundraising data included.

Get an Employer Identification Number

Even if you don’t plan on having any paid staff, it is still important to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for your campaign. For one thing, you may need an EIN to open your campaign’s bank account.

Fortunately, getting an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service is free. (Yes, that’s right, something in your campaign that you don’t actually have to pay for!)

To get an EIN for your campaign, use the official IRS website, not a paid service. Just go to IRS.gov and use the search tool in the upper right to search for ‘EIN’ (without the quotes). The top result will be a page explaining all about employer identification numbers, which you can read if you wish.

Right under that is the link to apply online. There are some introductory explanations, then the Apply Online button.

  • For “Identity,” choose “View additional types” at the bottom of the page.
  • On the next page, select “Political Organization.”
  • Fill out the form and submit.

You will get an electronic letter with your EIN within a few minutes. Print it and also store it in multiple places. (It is very hard to get a copy of it from the IRS if you lose it.) Print a copy of the letter for your bank as well.

Select a campaign treasurer

Of all the positions on your campaign where you need a solid, trustworthy, detailed person, your Campaign Treasurer leads the list. This is not a job you give to someone because they are a friend, or because they “just want to help.” This job requires strict adherence to campaign finance laws, the ability to keep detailed records and file reports on time, and an acute sense of responsibility to you, your campaign, and to the law.

There is training available for persons serving as a campaign treasurer. Insist this person take the training. (You should take it with them.) Training is available nationally online from Democratic sources. KDP or your local county party may have links to some online training as well. The Forward Kentucky site will also have training links, webinars, and training bulletins to help keep you and your team successful and compliant.

Open a political bank account

You’re going to raise gobs and gobs of money, right? Well then, you’re going to need some place to put it – and that cannot be your personal or business bank account. You are going to need a bank account for your campaign.

You’ll need to set up a meeting at your bank to open the account. But before you do, be sure you have all this information ready to go:

  • The name of your campaign
  • The name and address of your campaign treasurer
  • A photo ID as required by the bank for both yourself and your campaign treasurer. (Be sure to put BOTH names on the account.)
  • Your filing papers for the campaign (get a copy from the Secretary of State)
  • Your campaign’s employer identification number (see “how to get an EIN” in the candidate manual)
  • The mailing address for the campaign: a P.O. box, the campaign office address, or your personal mailing address
  • The physical address for the campaign headquarters, or your physical address
  • An initial deposit. Typically, banks require at least $100 to open an account, but check with your bank to be sure.
  • Record the sum in your bookkeeping system, because you need to report that as campaign income on your KREF filings.
  • Any other information your bank requires in order to print checks (ask the bank ahead of time)

Most banks require all signatories (persons allowed to sign checks) to attend the account set-up meeting with the bank.

File your paperwork

Properly fill out the candidacy paperwork and campaign finance documents related to either the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) or the Federal Election Commission. Reach out to KREF or the Legislative Ethics Commission with questions. They are happy to help you.

Ensure the individuals who witness and sign your candidacy papers are verified residents and registered voters of the same party affiliation.

Set up your record keeping

You are going to need two main types of records: voter and financial. Both have to be kept up to date, and both require a certain amount of detail.

Your initial voter data can be obtained from a number of sources. (See the section below.) Once you have it, though, it is up to your and your campaign staff (paid or volunteer) to enter every contact with any voter throughout the campaign. There are ways to automate this process to some extent, but it has to be done.

Your campaign treasurer must (by law) get and keep certain information about every donor to your campaign. This includes in-kind donations, where someone does something for the campaign or provides some of value to the campaign, instead of giving money. If the party does an in-kind contribution to your campaign, get the information immediately and record it.

Sanitize your social media

Sanitize and update your social media pages and those of your family. Whatever is out there will be made part of the dialogue during your campaign.

(If you and/or your family are not willing to do this, then be sure you are prepared for anything that might come up during the campaign, including in attack ads and mailings.)

Educate yourself

Take all the candidate and campaign training you can. There are many good and free trainings available online. But remember, no training can replace asking questions of people who have run for your office before or handled campaigns before.

Part of educating yourself includes learning and following all the laws and rules about campaigning and elections. These include not just financial rules, but such things as the “paid for by” disclaimer that must be on every advertisement put out by your campaign.

Do your planning

Plan your campaign in advance. Successful campaigns don’t just happen. You need a concrete plan, preferably a year in advance of the filing deadline for the race. It is time right now to plan your 2022 and 2023-4 races.

Do you already have a plan that you are working from? It can be somewhat fluid in the early stages, but eventually it needs to be firmed up. Having a solid plan is foundational.

Set your goals

Establish a win number – This will serve as the number of voters that you are projecting will turn out in the election. Your win number is 50% of this number, plus one. You will come to determine this number by previous election turnouts, using data from previous precinct, legislative district, or county election results, or from the SOS website.

Establish a vote goal – This is based on two data sets - 1.) projected voter turnout percentage and 2.) projected number of voters who will turn out. Using these data sets will help you determine the number of votes needed. A candidate should always set a higher vote goal than 50% plus one additional voter, which means that your vote goal is high enough that you avoid a tie vote. Common vote goals are 65% of voters who usually turn out. That is the number of people your team hopes to get to commit to your race before the campaign ends. That allows for you to still meet your vote goal, even if people don’t show up to vote due to illness or other reasons.

Build a background portfolio

Collect a “scrapbook” (digital or otherwise) of photos, newspaper stories about you, and other information you can share on your campaign page or materials. Prepare a candidate biography, including a good picture of you. And make that good picture clearly available on your web site for media outlets to use.

Build a campaign budget

Again, realism is the order of the day here. You need two sections of your budget: fundraising (income), and expenses.

If this is your first campaign, you are probably grossly misinformed about how much your campaign will cost. Ask someone who has run a campaign at a similar level to give you a copy of their final budget.

You can also go to the financial reporting organization for your race (KY Registry of Election Finance or the Federal Elections Commission) and examine financial reports from other campaigns.

The Vendor Spreadsheet available on the Forward Kentucky site has links to a variety of vendors (graphic artists, copy and mail vendors, campaign fundraisers and staff, media folks) and you can review that spreadsheet to get an idea of what services you may need and how much those might cost.

Get voter data

You build the most complete picture of the data in your district by starting with a bird’s eye view of the demographics, population trends, and voter rolls, and by working your way down to the individual level.

You earlier asked a number of questions to learn about your district. Now it is time to learn about the voters in your district.

  • How many people live in the district?
  • How many voters are registered?
  • What is the male-female/minority/party/age registration breakdowns by total count and percentage of the population?
  • How often do people generally vote in my district (based on the last 3 primaries/generals)?
  • Of those that vote, what is the breakdown by party?
  • What are the voter and voting breakdowns in each precinct?

The answers to these questions can be found on the Kentucky Secretary of State’s web site. You can pull reports that answer all these questions, although you may need to take some of the reports and enter them into a spreadsheet in order to analyze the data.

The next step is to get data on the individual voters in your district. Obviously, the one piece of data you cannot get is how they actually voted in the past. However, you can get a large amount of other data, including name, age, gender, party registration, and voting history.

To get this data, most candidates use Votebuilder, a software system from NGP Van that is provided by the national Democratic party to the states, and then leased by KDP to candidates. It contains all the data and tools you need to build and run your field campaign (assuming you have people to keep the data entry current).

There are other software systems and voter data providers out there, and some are cheaper than Votebuilder. Talk with some persons who have managed data for other campaigns and ask them about their experiences with Votebuilder and its competitors.

Build a communications plan

Your communications plan includes both tasks to take care of to get ready to campaign, and tasks that must be done throughout the campaign. It also should clearly lay out who is responsible for each task (such as managing your Facebook page), and what deadline they must meet.

An entire communications plan is beyond the scope of this manual, but here are some key tasks to get your started:

  • Choose and purchase your campaign’s domain name on the Web. (Do this as early as possible!)
  • Design a campaign motto or tagline that reflects your campaign message.
  • Design a campaign logo. (Keep it simple, more colors more cost in printing).
  • Establish your social media accounts and set up each one.
  • Build your campaign web site. (For smaller campaigns you can save money by using social media instead of paying for a website.)

Ultimately, your communications plan will include your plans for direct mail, advertising (including television, radio, and digital), literature for canvassing, and so on.

It could also include items you either give away or sell (commonly called “swag”). Swag is fun to have and fun to hand out, even though most experts don’t think it moves the needle in the actual election. Use caution buying swag – costs mount up fast. Also, be creative with swag. You want it to make voters think of you, and you want it to last a while. Ballcaps get more visibility than a coffee cup. A pin lasts longer than a sticker.

Build a field plan

The DNC (Democratic National Committee) and other national political organizations have good, free, online programs that help teach volunteers how to work in the field.

A field program has two main components: knocking on doors (canvassing) and making phone calls (phone-banking). Both of these are based on having access to a voter file, either from KDP or your county party if you can afford those, or from an alternate source if the campaign is currently financially challenged. The Kentucky Secretary of State provides detailed lists of every election, who voted, and what party they voted for or how the party divisions are reflected in the vote totals. Those are free to you.

Canvassing is going door to door, whether it be the candidate or a surrogate/volunteer. You will need:

  • A map of voters in the district and a list of target streets to start canvassing on
  • A flyer, door hanger, business card, or something to either give to the person at the door, or to leave if no one answers
  • A short script for canvassers to use, depending on the purpose of the canvassing

Phone banking is calling potential voters (in some rural campaigns this is easier than canvassing). You will need:

  • A list of phone numbers to call
  • A way to track the responses to the calls
  • A short script for phone bankers to use, depending on the purpose of the calls

If you hire a volunteer organizer or field person, that individual will be responsible for planning the field program, signing up volunteers, and tracking progress. If you have a smaller campaign, you may have to do that work yourself. Phone banking takes up a lot of candidate time. Expect to spend multiple hours a week on the phone with potential donors and supporters.

Introductory meeting: Organizing a meet-and-greet for a candidate introduction to new or possible future volunteers to the campaign is a good start to the field program. Your organizing meeting should be a short session where you explain the campaign goals and mission to your canvassers, whether they are professionals or your friends and family, and hand out the materials they will share with voters.

It is a good idea to have a formula for what they will say to voters. “Hello, I am ____, with the candidate campaign of ___, who is running for _________. I would like to share a flyer with you and tell you a little bit about the candidate.” You should also remind your field staff to keep information short, upbeat, not disparage other candidates, and always behave in a polite and culturally competent manner. If you have campaign shirts or hats, have your canvassers wear those. If not, a paper nametag with your campaign and their name written on it works just as well.

Remember: Volunteers need comfortable shoes and clothes that protect them from the weather. Your campaign can provide them with water and snacks free. This is an acceptable campaign expense.

Voter registration is an important part of your field campaign. It includes both registering new voters and assisting voters who may have recently moved. As your team canvasses and engages with voters, you will meet potential voters who have not registered. It is helpful to have material on hand to give to those voters so that they can go ahead and register. Registration materials are available from your county clerk or online. Remind voters who have recently moved that they need to update their address with the county clerk and share the contact information for the county clerk’s office.

Get Out the Vote – The goal of GOTV is to turn out your supporters and yours alone. If you can, it is a good idea to canvass ONLY for your campaign and not to canvass for multiple campaigns at once. If a voter has strong negative feelings about someone else in another campaign, they may dislike you too, just because you are associated with that person. This is particularly so where there are hotly contested races in your district. The candidates in that kind of a race may invite public discord and you don’t need your campaign to be part of that. Run your own race. Be kind. Have fun!

Select vendors

You will want these for everything from tee shirts to yard signs. Be an informed consumer. Ask former candidates which vendors they use. Check out the Vendor Spreadsheet located on the Forward Kentucky site. Vendor ownership (female owned, POC owned, LGBTQ) is identified on the list. Also note that Democrats encourage using vendors and suppliers with a union affiliation.

NOTE: Consultants and vendors recommended by KDP may not be competitively priced. Use the vendor/consultant list online to find the consultants, vendors, and suppliers that fit your needs rather than simply accepting anyone recommended by KDP or any third party.

A note about purchasing polling – Polls sound great, but they are expensive and most of the larger polls have been extremely inaccurate for the past 6 years. Seek a lot of advice before you agree to participate in and pay for a large poll. You may want to let your county party or KDP know up front that you do not want them to expend money on polling in your race that could otherwise come to your campaign to help with mailers or other activities. If you decide to let KDP or a third party do polling for you, make sure you (a) have input in the questions that are asked, so that the pollster’s word usage and questions are appropriate for your race and supporters; and (b) that you see a full copy of the poll results promptly. If you don’t know the results in real time, they can’t help you on your campaign and may be essentially valueless.

Hire a staff

Depending on your fundraising, you will be able to hire one or more people to work on your campaign. Before you do, be sure you have a standard contract and a standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA) ready to go, then use them with anyone being paid to work on the campaign.

Here are some of the positions you might hire for your campaign:

Campaign Treasurer – When you are selecting a campaign treasurer, they must also be someone you trust. On local races, a close friend with accounting experience would be ideal. On countywide or statewide races, it is recommended that you hire a full-time accountant to handle finances. The campaign treasurer will handle payroll, taxes, and campaign finance disclosures.

Campaign Manager – The campaign manager is often the most visible person on the campaign. For smaller races, they volunteer their expertise and effort. For larger races, Campaign Managers are paid. The campaign manager coordinates the various campaign operations: field, communications, polling, advertising, and finance. They are responsible for planning and executing the campaign plan. On larger campaigns, modern Campaign Managers often cede the responsibility of strategy to outside political consultants and pollsters and focus primarily on executing the campaign plan. On lower-level campaigns (some state and local races) the campaign manager works together with the candidate to devise a campaign strategy.

Finance Director – The finance director is responsible for executing the fundraising plan crafted by the campaign consultants or campaign manager. They ensure the campaign has enough money to operate effectively.

Field Director – The field director coordinates all direct voter contact. This includes knocking on voters’ doors, phone-banking, and hosting house parties and meetings with the candidate that are not fundraising-driven. They are also in charge of voter registration and GOTV if there is no specific person assigned to do that.

Legal Counsel – Every campaign needs a lawyer. This person can review Kentucky law to make sure your campaign is in compliance. Your lawyer can review vendor and supplier contracts for your campaign, and personalize the template contracts for campaign staff so that those fit your needs. Your lawyer will also be able to answer campaign finance questions and guide responses to any legal challenge to your campaign, such as a disqualification lawsuit. Usually, you can find a local lawyer who will do this work for you as an in-kind contribution to your campaign. Your lawyer can reach out to Anna Whites (Annawhites@aol.com) for more expert assistance and brainstorming free of charge.

Digital Director – The digital director is responsible for digital communication strategies, social media strategic planning, and digital ad buying and planning. They are also responsible for website updates, campaign file management and storage, project management software, and online security. This person may also be your communications director on a smaller campaign. In larger campaigns, these may be separate roles.

Political Director – The political director is in charge of reaching out to different constituent groups and organize their involvement with the campaign.

Political Consultant – Consider hiring a political consultant, depending on the type of race. This person will know the “ins and outs” of campaigns; will write your campaign plan, budget, and timeline; and can help navigate the political landscape, particularly if you are in a contested primary.

Other – It’s nice to also have the following roles, if you have lots of money or lots of friends:

  • Scheduler
  • Volunteer coordinator or manager
  • Fundraising director

BEFORE hiring any consultant or staff, ask for a list of all recent clients, not just some which are “cherry-picked” – both winners and losers. Reach out to ALL of them, particularly those who were unsuccessful and ask how the experience was, etc... – this will be very telling information. If they refuse to be thorough in this request for information then you should ABSOLUTELY not hire them.

Hone your message

You need to be able to say why you are running in one or two sentences (no more.) This is your “elevator” version of your message – short enough to say between floors on an elevator.

Then there is the “front porch” version. Instead of “why are you running,” this one is in answer to the question “Why should I vote for you?” It can be longer, but not much: probably 20-30 seconds. (Time yourself.)

Finally, there is the “debate closer” message. This is used when you have two minutes to cover both why you are running and why people should vote for you. (Again, time yourself.)

Hone your platform

If you have done the work outlined above about knowing your district, then you need to consider which issues will resonate with the voters you’ll be meeting, and how you stand on those.

This is NOT about shaping your political philosophy or your beliefs to fit the voters in your district, just so you can win. It’s not about being a chameleon. Rather, it is thinking through the issues you are most likely going to be asked about, and have a well-thought-out position on the issue. And, of course, being able to share your thoughts on that clearly and calmly.

Back to the Candidate Manual home page.

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