How To Run For Office – The Complete Guide

How To Run For Office

If you’ve been wondering how to run for office, look no further! Navigate the complex process with this clearly written, step-by-step guide and begin your journey into public office.

How to run for office – Things to consider before you run:

  • Holding a public office position can be time consuming and labor intensive.  Understand that you will be representing your local community and your constituents and you need to decide if you are really committed to serving others.  Don’t decide to run for office on a whim, think it through.
  • If you have a family, consider how running for office will affect them and others in your life.  Public office may also put them in the spot light and may decrease your available family time at home.
How To Run For Office

Lincoln Memorial—Dyanna Hyde (

  • Campaigning for public office is also time consuming and can be expensive.  Fundraising can help you build financial backing but it is important to understand your financial situation before you declare a run for office.
  • You will be in the public eye, both during your campaign and while in office.  You must uphold the highest civic and moral standards for yourself and understand that you will be representing your local community.  Think hard about how you conduct yourself; is it in a way that others would admire?
  • Identify ‘skeletons in your closet’.  During a campaign your opponent will certainly attempt to dig up dirt on your past.   If you have a particularly sketchy past, you may want to consider how you will combat this during your campaign.
  • What is your background?  Education, experience and occupation all play a critical role in running for office.  You do not need a Political Science degree from Harvard to run, but voters will look at your background and education when they are deciding whom to vote for.  If you dropped out of high school, voters are not going to be convinced that you can make a huge change in government so expect to address this.
  • Carefully consider the position you want to run for.  What is important to you, what issues are you passionate about and what do you think that you can do differently to make a positive change?  If you are involved with the local PTA and are passionate about local school issues, you should probably look into running for the local school board rather than governor.
  • What are the requirements for your chosen position. Once you have determined which position you want to run for, determine the requirements of running for that position.  Different positions have different requirements that must be met, for instance age, residency and sometimes citizenship.

You can learn more about requirements in your state by visiting your Secretary of State website here

If, after considering all of the above, you are still interested in a run for local office, take this crucial next step:

Become a Candidate on Next In Office and create a free public profile.

Use this profile to determine your overall support by indicating which position you are considering, presenting your messages and ideas to the public, interacting with constituents, and pre polling your community.  “Testing the water” is a crucial first step to running for local office, and you want to do it before spending any money on filing fees or campaigns.

Next In Office connects voters with aspiring candidates, helping candidates promote themselves and gain initial exposure while simultaneously providing voters with a platform to search for and support new, local candidates.  You can use your public profile to explain your background and qualifications, explain which issues matter to you and what you plan to do if elected, link to any personal websites or social networking sites you may have, engage in dialogue with your community, and ultimately tally the votes cast for you on Next In Office.  You can continue to build your profile as you learn more about issues because your profile is a dynamic, ever changing picture of who you are and what you are about. Next In Office is the critical first step for anyone who is serious about declaring a run for office.

A bit of advice: Do not create your profile and then walk away from it.  Use it to promote yourself as your reach out to your intended constituency.  Encourage likely voters to visit your profile often, learn about you, and vote for you.

If you did well on Next In Office and are ready to declare a run for office, here is how to get started:

  • Review the legal documents required to run for your intended position.  Here are some that you will need to review and/or submit to your State Government, or the Federal Government.
    • Affidavit of Candidacy
    • Address of Residence Form
    • Filing Period
    • Filing Fees
    • Withdrawal
    • Write-in Votes
    • Campaign Lawn Signs
    • Disclaimer Requirements
    • Supreme Court Ruling on Corporate Political Expenditures
    • Compatibility of Offices
    • Campaign Forms and Handouts

You can learn more about requirements in your state by visiting your Secretary of State website here: Candidate Resources

  • Determine your budget and analyze how much money you can really afford to spend on a campaign.  Reach out to officials of your political party to see if they
    can offer any financial assistance and gauge your fundraising abilities.  Fundraising is an important part of financing a campaign and if you performed well on Next In Office you will already be a step ahead.  Consider costs such as campaign signs, literature, campaign staff, travel and technology.
  • Build your campaign team. This is crucial, and you need people on your side to help.  You must be concerned about your message and your ideas, not the day-to-day technicalities of running a campaign.  Some key campaign team positions include:
    • Campaign Manager
    • Volunteer Coordinator
    • Chief of Fundraising
    • Chief of Finance
    • Chief of Technology
    • Chief Strategist
    • Opposition Analyst
    • Campaign Attorney

      How To Run For Office In

      US Capitol—DC Public Library Commons (

  • Consider your position and continue to learn about important issues that are affecting the community as some of them are ever changing.  Stay up to date on new policies and the effect they have on the local community.  During debates, speeches and interviews you will be expected to know these things, and if your responses sound memorized and rehearsed it will be obvious.  Immerse yourself in what is going on so it is clear to voters that you understand the problems and have clear, concise solutions.
  • Research your opposition.  You may know everything about yourself and what you plan to do, but if you know nothing about your opponent you have no tools to counter attacks from the other side.  If you are blind sided by your opponent, you may be left wondering “what just happened” and you may never recover in the polls.  Consider your opponent’s position on issues and how they differ from your own.  If you see gaps in his or her methodology, exploit those gaps and capitalize on them.

NOTE:  A major source of the disgust with politics is fueled by negative and dirty campaigns.  Bashing ones opponent is often done because studies show that it has worked.  But as people grow more irritated by these attacks, the effectiveness of these attacks is likely to decrease.  It is highly recommended that, like in business, instead of trash talking the competition, upsell yourself.  Simply put, people do not like to support negative people, so stay positive and explain why you are the best candidate.

  • Develop a clear strategy with your campaign team.  Start by addressing the problems in your community.  Learn the issues, talk to the community about what they are unhappy with and what they want to see changed and understand the demographics of your constituency.  Once all of that is clear, move on to the solutions.  Determine what the solutions are and what outcomes you would like to see.  Next, bridge the gap between the problems and the solutions.  What actions can you take to turn the problem into a solution?  Politicians are supposed to be problem solvers and although you will never make everyone happy, aim to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
  • Consider how you are going to get your message of change and improvement out to the public.  Utilize your campaign team, volunteers, print literature, signs, press conferences, technology and social media.  There are many moving parts to your strategy and this is why having a sound campaign team is key.
  • Develop meaningful campaign literature that gets your name and message out.  Campaign signs are a traditional method and critical to a ‘legitimate’ candidacy, but keep in mind they can be expensive.  Direct mailings can also be expensive depending on the number of people you are aiming to target.  Buttons are a low cost way to spread your name to a variety of people and they can be handed out at town hall meetings, rallies and demonstrations.  Technology offers a very low cost means of reaching many people; so find creative ways to use it to your advantage.  Create social media campaigns; email marketing lists, and YouTube videos to promote your message.  These require constant upkeep but can be invaluable in you campaign.
  • Practice debating as well as public speaking.  This is going to be a huge part of campaigning so get good at it, very good.  If you are shy in front of a crowd, find a way to reduce your apprehension.  Hold mock debates with friends, family members and neighbors and understand when people come to watch you speak, they are interested in your message.  They want to hear what you have to say so tell them about your ideas.   Depending on your budget, you may want to hire a public speaking coach.
  • Develop a short, concise campaign slogan.  Look at the presidential slogans for guidance: “Change We Can Believe In, or We Built It”.   Your slogan should be short enough  that it is easy to say and pass around, but long enough that it gets your message out.  It should not be too vague, or too narrow.  Spend time with your campaign team brainstorming ideas and ask outsiders what comes to mind when they hear a particular one.  It’s important, so come up with a  good one.


    Whitehouse by James Vilija (Flickr)

Additional Resources:

Center For American Woman and Politics

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

U.S. Federal Election Commission

How To Run For Office

How to run for office

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