There are few things that compare to the feeling of running for office. I have heard some candidates say that running was the best way to lift spirits and do something for the betterment of mankind. But, maybe running for Congress isn’t for you.
The average Congressional race in America costs $1.7M. If a seat is occupied by an incumbent, especially a popular one, a newcomer to the race could anticipate raising almost $3M in order to win. Although some have opposition to money in politics, the current culture and legal boundaries that surround campaign finance are here to stay. You have to be able to compete financially, and fundraising is hard. The 10|100 Committee raised $600 at our first fundraiser, and we were backed by current and former U.S. Representatives, former State Representatives, school board members, and high-profile civic leaders. Six hundred dollars. Unless you are independently wealthy or have solid commitments from a rich donor, it takes a tremendous effort by professionals to raise enough money to support a Congressional campaign.
In addition to fundraising, a Congressional candidate should be well networked within the party they’re running for. Some hope that parties would go away and not control the political process. But again, the parties are here and here to stay. Congressional candidates need the party infrastructure to help them win. Parties come with built-in advocates and volunteers, donors who will routinely give to the “party” candidate, and marketing that will supplement the candidates ability to reach over 700,000 people in their district.
To become well networked within the party it is helpful to have a resume that includes “doing the work.” Prior to running, the best candidates have served other campaigns by knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, attending and throwing fundraisers, walking in parades, and supporting local political clubs. When it is time to run, successful Congressional candidates visit every political club in their district, make an offer to support the club, and personally reach out to every precinct and caucus leader. This is a lot of work, but to win the party loyalist’s support in the primary, this is how it’s done.
The best way to win a Congressional seat is to do the work and then run down-ballot. Decisions that impact your everyday life are made at the local level. Precinct committee persons are the first elected officials in party politics. Township and county boards are also a great place to start. From there, school boards, city and county councils have also been a fantastic starting point for new politicians. The preceding seats will help a candidate build name I.D. on the ballot, build a following of volunteers, and create a fundraising base that can follow them from campaign-to-campaign and build over time.
Running for Congress feels good, and your candidacy can help so many people. If you want to win and make a long-term impact on your community, start small, do the work, and grow in to your Congressional dreams.