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Winning a local election often takes months, or at least a year, of hard work. The work starts long before you shake your first hand or make your first campaign speech. You must decide what issues to emphasize; to better your chances of winning, select issues popular with the electorate. Meet all deadlines and regulations. You don't want to lose an election because you filed papers a day late or because you are embroiled in a scandal for forgetting to report campaign contributions.
List why you are running for election. You must be able to articulate your vision if you are going to win. Think about why you are the best candidate and what sets you apart. Also list your traits, strengths and weaknesses. If you have any personal issues that might hurt you, such as unpaid tax bills or a divorce because you were cheating, plan for that issue in case it becomes an issue. A big part of your plan should be refocusing the campaign on political, not personal, issues. If the issue is huge enough, address it up front rather than wait for it to emerge.
Write a campaign plan. Include your platform, which is a summary of the issues you will campaign on. How many issues depends on what office you are running for and the size of your locality, but you should have at least three. Also, visualize how you see the office and the locality in the long run. Write how you would like the situation to be when you leave office and your plan to get to that point.
Prepare a campaign budget, either yourself or with the person you appointed to oversee accounting and fundraising. Many successful campaigns, no matter how small their scale, require money. Take out any necessary preliminary loans and begin fundraising by showing your campaign plan to potential donors. Hold fundraising events.
Study the issues inside and out, and have answers ready for the opposing side of the issue. For example, if you are running for a school board seat and you oppose school uniforms, be aware of arguments the other side will present and how to address these arguments.
Know your opponents' strengths and weaknesses. If you know one opponent is weak on a particular issue, you can emphasize that.
Build a solid campaign team. Enlist your family and friends, although for the most part, avoid asking co-workers for their support. Keep politics out of your workplace. You save time and effort if you select someone else, rather than you, to be campaign manager. If your candidacy is low-key, though, such as a school board seat, you might be fine acting as your own campaign manager.
Practice your speeches and your interviews. Take speech classes if necessary. You want a clear, strong, friendly speaking voice. Run your speeches by other people with a focus on clarity, relevancy to the issues and your likeability.
Clear your schedule as much as possible and get to know the media. Get speaking engagements at civic clubs and do media and blogger interviews. Go out into the community. Attend town hall meetings and go door to door. Get online. Build a campaign website and a presence on social network sites. Encourage commentary and discussion of issues. Weigh in on citizens' comments so they feel they are getting personal attention from you.
Find other ways to reach voters. You're getting out into the community, and you have an online presence, but that might not be enough. You might want to do postcard mailings, yard signs, TV and radio advertising, and word-of-mouth.
Check in about once a week on how your efforts are paying off. If funds allow, you could hire an organization to do a poll. Otherwise, people in your campaign can ask voters what they think of you, if they would vote for you, and why or why not. Refine your strategy accordingly.
Go all out as much as possible in the week running up to election day. Work as many hours as possible and reach as many voters as you can. However, do not work so hard that you are fatigued and stumble mentally.
Kelly Short has a bachelor's degree in English writing and a master's degree in deaf education. She has more than nine years of newspaper experience as well as career center experience, White House experience and teaching experience.