How to Run for Office: Family Matters

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How the people closest to you are your greatest resource

Campaigns are tough. It’s no secret that candidates face difficult challenges like burnout and attacks from the opposing campaigns. If you’re thinking of running for office and are intimidated by the challenges ahead, don’t forget that you have your greatest resource on your side: your family.

Families typically play a large role in helping candidates get elected. A candidate’s family can be a reliable, comforting resource, especially when the race gets tough. Even before the race begins, family can be your best advisory board — a potential candidate often turns to family members when trying to make the decision to run for office. Becoming an elected official is not a decision that one can easily make on their own.

You also have to consider the impact your bid for office will have on your family — when a loved one runs for office, the campaign can take a toll on the whole family. In this blog, we’ll discuss how best to prepare your family for your bid for office and what they can expect while supporting you on the path to victory.

Money is always a stressful topic of conversation: the addition of a bid for office to the already-existing finances can be daunting. That’s why it’s best to go in with a financial plan so that your family members know what to expect. How much of the family funds can be used for your campaign? Is the family willing to go all-in on your campaign to help you get elected? Having this conversation before the campaign even begins helps avoid a ton of stress that could flare up later down the road.

No matter the size of the race, candidates’ families will get attention from the local press, nosy voters, and a challenger’s opposition research team. While you as a candidate may not have much control over this, it’s important to discuss this with your family in order to prepare them for the level of attention they should expect for the duration of the campaign, and how this likely will continue once you get elected. A candidate’s family is an extension of the candidate — your level of publicity affects them just as much as it affects you!

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Let’s say you have family members who want to help and have already given what they can financially — what can they do outside of monetary support?

Everyone running for office needs a space where they can unwind and be a human, not a political candidate. One of the biggest resources your family can provide is a space for you to decompress and take your mind away from the campaign. This is enormously important in avoiding or managing the burnout that can come with the campaign trial.

During our Nebraska training in November, our guest speaker Michael Blake had some important notes regarding candidate burnout. One of his most important pieces of advice was this: “Find your spaces to recharge yourself away from the campaign trail.” While this was said in the context of specifically candidates of color and women candidates, his words ring true for any candidate running for office. The constant campaigning takes a large toll on everyone. It’s important to have designated spaces where you can unwind, and your family can help provide that.

Some of your family members might be suited for your kitchen cabinet. I would recommend having only one or two family members be on your advisory board. Family members can provide valuable insight into your campaign, but you should also be aware of how constructive their feedback actually is. Are they being honest in how they feel, or are they protecting you from feedback that you need to strengthen yourself and your campaign simply because they don’t want to hurt your feelings? For other people who might be better suited for your kitchen cabinet, you can check out our blog here.

Your family can also help out as volunteers on your campaign. They can join others in canvassing, phone banking, preparing campaign literature, and any other task your volunteers might need help with.

It can be helpful to discuss how much your family helps out with volunteer duties before they commit to volunteering: you can tell them your expectations and they can tell you how much time they’re willing to commit.

Communication is the key to having your family be a reliable resource during the course of your campaign. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help, and have open and honest conversations with one another. While your family might be your biggest support system, NDTC is here to help, too.

Tomorrow, your political vocabulary guide.

How to Run for Office: Family Matters was originally published in National Democratic Training Committee on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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