Do you find yourself arguing politics on social media or shaking a fist at the same old campaign ads from names and faces that have worn out their welcome due to their indifference or ineffectiveness? Have those feelings of frustration made you want to stand up and declare "If they can do it, so can I! How do I run for Congress?"
If you're tired of the status quo, it may be time to take matters into your own hands and run for House of Representatives or Congress as an independent.
It's a sometimes grueling endeavor, but the opportunity to affect real change in how our country is run could be well worth the effort.
Becoming a member of the legislative branch of government is a dream for many but for a variety of different reasons. For some, it's a means of addressing a specific issue that has deep personal meaning, such as gun control or violence in their communities. Others see it as a stepping stone to bigger things, like a presidential run or a position of authority and importance after their term has ended.
Still, others are just tired of the status quo and want to affect change outside of the two-party system.
Before embarking on a potentially rewarding but frustrating, expensive, and demanding run as a public servant, it's important to assess your readiness and ability to meet specific qualifications.
The political landscape over the past few years has experienced a growing interest in independent, libertarian, and third-party candidates stepping up to run for state and national offices. This trend is primarily due to the dissatisfaction of voters with the two-party system, which many feel has failed to adequately represent their interests and address important issues.
One of the main reasons for the rising interest in third-party candidates is the polarization of the major political parties. Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly ideologically divided, which has led to a lack of compromise and cooperation in Congress.
This has created an opportunity for independent and third-party candidates to offer a different approach to governance that's free from the constraints of party loyalty and ideological purity.
Another reason for the growing importance of third-party candidates is the disillusionment of voters with the major parties. Many people feel that the two-party system is dominated by wealthy special and corporate interests that don't adequately address the needs of ordinary people. Third-party candidates usually offer a more populist approach to governance that focuses on issues like income inequality, campaign finance reform, climate change, and government accountability.
The increasing influence of social media and the internet has made it easier for third-party candidates to raise awareness and get their message out to a wider audience. Using these platforms, independents can bypass traditional media outlets and reach voters directly through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook/IG, and YouTube.
Most successful politicians begin by making their name at the local or state level. For example, Nina Turner served in the Ohio state legislature as a senator before becoming a national figure during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
If you're considering a run for national office, your options are to run for House of Representatives as a congressional candidate or make a bid for Senate. Both house chambers create laws and provide oversight among the other duties outlined in the Constitution. The difference is in their scope of representation and terms.
Members of Congress represent their district and serve for a term of two years. Senators represent their entire state and are up for re-election every six years. There can be as many Congresspersons as there are districts in a state, but they are only two Senators per state.
The length of a term for a state senate seat varies by state. For example, Pennsylvania elects their members for two four-year terms and one two-year term per decade. In Illinois, senators are elected for two-year terms in each district.
Are you up to that kind of committment?
Before considering how to run for representative, it's important to analyze the "Why run for Congress?"
What are your core values, goals, and motivations for running for Congress? How is the decision to run going to impact your family and friends? Win or lose, it's a huge, and demanding undertaking that will disrupt your life.
Once you're committed, you have the green light from your immediate family circle, and you've got your platform at least in the outline stages, it's time to move to the next step: building a team and support network to assist in your campaign efforts.
Your team will be able to help with many aspects of your congressional campaign, including:
• Solidifying your message • Voter awareness and outreach • Fundraising • Polling • Troubleshooting and reputation management
One of the first barriers to break when you run as an independent or third-party candidate is navigating the requirements to qualify to run for office in your state.
There is a short list of requirements to qualify for a Congressional run that includes:
1. Ballot access: Independent, Libertarian, and other 3rd party candidates must obtain a certain number of signatures from registered voters within their state to qualify for ballot access. As with other requirements, these vary by state.
2. Financial disclosures: Candidates must disclose information about their finances, including sources of income and debts, to be eligible to run for office. The specific requirements for financial disclosure can vary by state and by the office being sought.
3. Compliance with campaign finance laws: Candidates must comply with federal and state campaign finance laws, which limit the amount of money that can be contributed to their campaign. Full, transparent disclosure of all campaign contributions and expenditures is required.
4. Primary elections: In some states, third-party candidates may need to participate in a primary election in order to be listed on the general election ballot. Primary elections are typically held before the general election and are used to determine the party's nominee for a given office.
5. Party affiliation: Unfortunately, some states still require candidates for the House of Representatives to declare their party affiliation. For example, North Carolina only recognizes four parties: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and Green. California leaves party affiliation up to the candidate to disclose.
This could become a barrier for potential candidates who want to break away from the two-party system and are unwilling to join an established party or start a new one.
One of your first questions might be "Who can run for Congress"? At a minimum, each candidate must be:
• 25 years old • A US citizen for at least seven years • A resident of the state they hope to represent
Next on your mind is probably "What are the requirements to run for Congress?" or "How many signatures do you need to run for Congress?"
There is no one-size answer to those questions. Aside from age, residency, and citizenship requirements, qualifications to run for Congress include a commitment to your cause, clear and actionable goals, plenty of money, and passion. While you don't need to be the best public speaker, it does help to have some charisma and the ability to connect with voters on a meaningful level.
Additional requirements and more detailed qualifications like specific signature and filing deadlines vary by state.
If none of this information has diminished your drive to represent your state and run for Congress, you're ready to begin your campaign in earnest!
Political campaigning is marketing at its heart. Although it's important to be authentic and honest with voters, you still need to use marketing best practices to position yourself as the candidate who can deliver.
You're selling yourself, yes. But more than anything, you're selling solutions.
Before you reach out to voters, you have to clearly define where you stand on the issues that matter most to your future constituents. You also need to differentiate your campaign from those of the major party candidates.
Here are some steps that will help you develop a strong campaign plan:
1. Define your political ideology: Before developing a campaign plan, it's essential to define your political ideology and the key issues that matter most to you. This will help you craft a message that resonates with voters and positions you as a viable alternative to the major parties.
2. Identify your target district: Determine which district you will be running in and gather information about the demographics, political leanings, and voting history of the area. This information will help you tailor your message and outreach efforts to the specific needs and concerns of the district.
3. Set campaign goals: Determine your campaign goals and objectives, including fundraising targets, voter outreach goals, and desired election outcomes. Use these goals to guide your campaign strategy and decision-making throughout the campaign.
4. Develop a campaign message: Develop a clear, compelling campaign message that highlights your key issues and positions. Your message should resonate with voters in your target district and differentiate you from other candidates in the race.
5. Identify and mobilize your supporters: Build a base of supporters by identifying and mobilizing key influencers and interest groups in your target district. This includes engaging with community organizations, political clubs, and other groups that align with your political ideology.
6. Develop a comprehensive campaign plan: Develop a detailed campaign plan that outlines your strategy, tactics, and timelines for achieving your goals. Your plan should include elements such as fundraising strategies, voter outreach efforts, volunteer recruitment, advertising and media plans, and events or rallies.
7. Monitor and adjust your plan: Monitor your progress regularly and adjust your plan as needed based on feedback from supporters and stakeholders. Be prepared to make changes and pivot your strategy as circumstances change throughout the campaign.
Overall, developing a comprehensive campaign plan tailored to your target district and political ideology requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and effective execution. By following these steps and leveraging the support of your network, you can build a strong, successful campaign that resonates with voters and positions you as a viable alternative to the major parties.
Because you probably lack name recognition, igniting strong grassroots support is critical for successful political branding. Recruit a strong team of volunteers and staff who share your vision and can help you execute your campaign plan effectively.
Your team should have the skills and expertise needed to execute your plan and achieve your goals. Hiring a political consultant who has experience with national or state campaigns will help you create a network of supporters and keep your campaign focused throughout your run.
This is an area where social media literacy will really pay off. You may not have a powerful party and major donors behind you, but you do have the power of the internet to engage with voters on a more intimate, emotional level.
Leverage technology to analyze how your message is being received and tailor it for sharper focus. Attend community events, and host your own. Don't be afraid to go door-to-door and talk with constituents in their homes or at their jobs. Let them know that you understand their concerns and explain exactly how you plan to address them once you're in office.
Case Studies: Successful Congressional Bids From Independent Candidates
Most people only consider politics as a two-party dynamic, but a surprising number of representatives have made successful bids for national office. Many more third-party and independent politicians are representing their constituents at the state or local level.
Names you're probably familiar with include:
1. Bernie Sanders: Although he briefly registered as a Democrat for his 2020 presidential run, Sanders has served as an independent US Senator from Vermont since 2007. Prior to that, he was the mayor of Burlington.
2. Angus King: Another New Englander, King is an independent who has served as a US Senator from Maine since 2013. He also served as the Governor of Maine from 1995 to 2003. Both he and Bernie Sanders caucus with the Democrats in the Senate.
3. Justin Amash This former Republican served as the U.S. Representative for Michigan's 3rd congressional district from 2011 to 2021. In 2019, Amash left the Republican Party and became an independent.
4. Ron Paul: - A former Republican who served 12 terms as the US Representative for Texas's 22nd congressional district, Ron Paul left the party and ran for president three times as a third-party candidate under the Libertarian banner.
5. Rand Paul: Son of Rand, Ron Paul has served as a US Senator from Kentucky since 2011. Although he is technically a Republican, he unsuccessfully ran for president as a Libertarian and has been a vocal advocate for libertarian ideals like limited government, fiscal responsibility, and individual liberty.
It's unlikely that you will have access to funding and name recognition of others running for office, so it's important to carefully craft an effective campaign strategy for fundraising and voter outreach. Highlight small, individual contributions and let voters know that you're not beholden to special interests.
Here are six alternative fundraising tactics that will help independents and 3rd-party candidates stay competitive enough to remain in, perhaps even win, their congressional races.
1. Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and CrowdPAC can be useful tools for candidates to raise money from individual donors. Crowdfunding campaigns can help candidates generate buzz and gain support from a wide range of donors, including those who might not have even been aware of their candidacy otherwise.
2. Grassroots fundraising: Grassroots fundraising involves reaching out to individual donors directly and asking for contributions. This can be done through in-person events, direct mail campaigns, email marketing, and social media outreach. Candidates can also use volunteer networks to help them reach a larger audience of potential donors.
3. Alternative funding sources: Candidates can explore alternative funding sources that comply with campaign finance laws, such as public financing or Clean Elections programs. These programs provide public funds to candidates who meet certain eligibility requirements and agree to specific spending limits.
4. PACs and super PACs: Political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs can provide significant financial support to candidates, but they must operate within the bounds of campaign finance laws. Candidates can work with PACs and Super PACs that align with their political views to raise funds and gain exposure.
5. Digital Advertising: Digital advertising, including social media ads, search engine ads, and display ads, can be an effective way to reach a wide audience of potential donors. Candidates can use targeted advertising campaigns to reach specific demographics and geographic regions, increasing their chances of raising funds from interested supporters.
6. Merchandise sales: Candidates can sell merchandise, such as t-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers, to raise funds and increase visibility. This can be done online or through in-person events.
Media and public relations are essential for any successful congressional campaign. But, these forms of raising candidate awareness are especially important for independent candidates who don't have name recognition and the political machinery of an established party behind them.
Fortunately, the internet has levelled the playing field somewhat, at least in terms of engagement and voter outreach.
Your media strategy should be as tailored and strategic as any digital and traditional media marketing campaign. You need to as clearly and effectively communicate your message to journalists, bloggers, and influencers as you do your ideal voter base.
Craft compelling press releases and media pitches to generate coverage for your campaign, arrange interviews on local news and morning shows, and be present within the community at important functions whenever time allows. If there's something important going on, whether it's a sporting event or a natural disaster, make sure that you're present and seen.
Host live events on social media when you can't make personal appearances. That way, you can engage more voters in a wider geographic area. Respond to comments and questions honestly and immediately. Choose surrogates from among notable local figures and influencers to act in your place while you're on the campaign trail.
As election day draws near, the excitement, anticipation, and anxiety will build. Don't let that stop you from last-minute preparations like administrative functions and finally get out the vote efforts. Have your team in place to monitor polls and analyze returns as they come in.
It's essential to stay engaged and in contact with your supporters right up until your election is called. Visit as many polling stations as you can throughout election day, and be prepared to celebrate or concede with grace when the votes are all in.
Make sure to take a few days to decompress and then begin the task of analyzing your campaign's effectiveness and preparing for what's next. Close elections may trigger legal challenges, so you may need to be prepared for that regardless of whether you won your election or you're the one challenging the results.
If you're the victor, celebrate and thank your team and supporters for sticking by you. Ensure them that you're on course to fulfill your promises and obligations to the best of your ability.
Then, it's time to prepare to take office in a few months. That could mean making preparations for moving your family or renting a second home in Washington. Make sure to keep your constituents engaged and informed of progress after the election is over and throughout your term.
If you don't make it on your first run, don't despair. Use the experience, connections created, and lessons learned to sharpen your campaign for the next election.
If your dream is to stand up and shout "I want to run for Congress", this guide was meant for you. Although there will be many challenges, especially in terms of name recognition and fundraising capabilities, the ability to serve your community and hold the United States up to its full potential are priceless.
This country was built on a spirit of independence and representation by and for the people. Rather than being someone who complains about politics from the sidelines, become part of the solution by organizing your third-party run today!
It will take determination, resilience, and a thick skin to stay committed to your goals, but it will be worth it.