A guide to Democratic campaigns—candidate recruitment for activists

Who makes a good candidate?

Before we start we have to clarify one thing: if you are looking for someone to run who you 100 percent agree with all of the time, there is only one option: you have to run. No candidate you ever recruit for office will ever do exactly as you would do on every single issue unless the person IS you. Knowing this, let’s talk about how you can help find candidates.

Look for these traits:

  • Community leaders in organizations whether they are private or public
  • Civic Club leaders—from PTA to Action groups. If they have a network of support already, great.
  • Career professionals, business owners, established community members. These people can afford to take the time out and run for office.
  • People who have been involved in your party organization. If they are someone who has been involved in any way, they will have more people inside of the party they know, and are more likely to gain early support.

Red flags you should avoid

Candidate recruitment can also throw up some red flags. Don’t immediately latch onto a local candidate because they seem nice and are the leader of the local PTA. Talk to a potential candidate about the issues important to your specific form of activism. If you care about, say, access to sex education in schools, you might want to talk to your potential candidate about the issue before you back them to run. It is very awkward to distance yourself from a candidate after you have recruited them. 

The below are the significant red flags that can upset your campaign:

  • Are there public arrest record, violent offenses, or criminal complaints?
  • Is the candidate financially prepared to run a campaign? Will the campaign damage their ability to support themselves?
  • Is the spouse or significant other onboard?  Do not promote a candidate if his or her life partner is opposed to them running. It will not end well.
  • While supportive of your issue, is there any major democratic issue on which they are in complete opposition? 

Supposed red flags that just don’t matter

Too many candidates get wound up about supposed red flags that just don’t matter. Or, I should say, they matter less and less and until we start to back candidates with some of these issues we will run into a smaller and smaller pool of potential candidates moving forward.

  • “I’ve posted dumb stuff online and I don’t know where.” Unless you physically threatened people, or unless you are unwilling to apologize, too many of those under 40 have done exactly this at least once. 
  • “In college, I dressed up as Han Solo and had fan fiction battles.” NO ONE CARES. Republicans who attack you on issues such as these look petty, and frankly, they also look out of touch with current culture. 
  • “I’ve been attacked by online trolls for XYZ reason.” Again, this can influence older voters some, but year after year, with more people using the internet, more people understand trolls.
  • People will know I’m a: lifelong Democrat/New Democrat/Was once Republican/Was Hillary Supporter/Was Bernie supporter/Supported O’Malley/Supported Jim Webb/Campaigned for Lyndon LaRouche, etc. Again, most people DO NOT CARE. In smaller races, almost no one will bring these issues up either. They don’t want to talk about any of these issues, they want to talk about what you plan to do right now. Remind your candidates of this.

Setting up opportunities to talk to candidates

Candidate recruitment can occur in many ways. In some cases, it is individuals going directly to potential candidates and asking them to consider running for office. This direct approach has been ongoing for decades.

As more groups like PSN, Indivisible and Daily Kos communities form, alongside traditional groups like Democratic Caucus, Labor, Environmental and women’s rights groups, we have more opportunity for individuals inside of our organizations to think about running for office. I encourage many of these organizations to have at least one meeting a year focused on “could I run for office.” Put the question before members of your group and ask them if they could run for office—or if they know someone they think would be ideal to run. 

Crowdsourcing your recruiting practice sounds new, but it has gone on for decades. Who do you know, and why do you think they would be a good candidate? In a large group, you might get quite a few suggestions with names and numbers for your organization to reach out to and make the pitch: have you thought about running for office?

Final thoughts

Candidate recruitment doesn’t occur five months before the election. In some cases, it can occur years before an election, even cycles away from an election. Building up a list of potential candidates who can’t run now—but could run later, helps make sure that you always have a pipeline of potential candidates.

In a state house seat, a fictitious candidate tells you they want to run, but their child is still too young. “When she is in high school, though, I want to run.” Pencil that information down.

Keep track of potential future candidates so that when recruiting time comes up again the next time around, you have a quick starting point. Building up your potential recruiting database will make all future efforts to recruit candidates more successful.

Next week on Nuts & Bolts: You can’t be everyone’s friend

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