Running for political office is a major decision that requires a lot of thought. Candidates must consider the type of office they want to run for, develop a strategy, and raise funds. They also need to think about the dominant issues facing their voters. This guide will walk you through some key considerations for planning your campaign, and explore the top public offices first-time candidates choose to run for.
Running for office is a lot like job hunting. A new candidate should consider the name of the office and the responsibilities that come with it. You should review the details and think about the qualifications needed to do a good job. And most importantly, why should people vote for you? Candidates should explore their political ambitions by giving these questions serious thought.
A great way for a new candidate to start their political career is to begin at the local level. As you prepare to launch a local campaign, follow these steps:
Decide which political office to run for. Take some time to research which offices will be up for election during your community’s next election cycle, and check out the descriptions below to learn more about different entry-level political offices.
Make sure you meet all the qualifications to run for your chosen office. These can include requirements for age, citizenship, residency, and so on.
Determine your party affiliation. Many candidates choose to run as a Republican or Democrat, but running as an independent or third-party candidate can be a powerful way to let voters know you are committed to reform and positive change.
Research your contenders. Who else is running for election? What is their platform? Who are their most likely supporters? Think about how you can stand out from your competitors, especially if there are many candidates running for the same seat.
Listen to your community. Do some more research to understand the demographics, political preferences, and needs of your community.
If any of these steps sounds overwhelming, don’t worry! Check out Good Party’s free AI Campaign Manager, which can help you through all of the above steps. And if you want to run for office in the future but aren’t quite ready to launch your campaign, think about some of these options for building your reputation and becoming more involved in your community:
Volunteer with local nonprofits and community organizations.
Volunteer on another candidate’s political campaign team — ideally supporting a candidate whose values closely align with yours.
Become more involved in local politics by attending meetings, such as school board meetings and city council meetings, and staying up to date on local events.
Apply to work for a local elected official, and absorb all you can about the political process.
Many first-time candidates step into the world of politics at the local level. Here are some of the most common offices first-time candidates run for:
A position as a city council or town board member is an excellent place to start a political career. These elected officials serve on town boards or city councils. The specific size and structure of a town board or city council depends on the town or city where it serves.
The basic duties of city council members include:
Attending board meetings: City council members are expected to attend important meetings to discuss local issues that impact the community. These include current policies and legislation. They are expected to discuss new laws and vote on them. It's an excellent way to meet local citizens and gain a reputation. Residents and council members are encouraged to interact and discuss local concerns.
Direct communication with citizens: This includes direct phone calls, emails, and meetings. Council members should be comfortable listening to voter concerns and addressing them. This gives citizens the opportunity to know the individual on a personal level. Trust is established at this point.
Introducing new legislation: Council members can propose new bills and debate on needed changes. This gives individuals an introduction to the inner workings of the legislative process. City council members are expected to vote on city charter amendments as needed. A political novice will learn how to have open and honest debates. This is a necessary skill for a future campaign trail.
Participation in a local legislative process is an excellent way for new officials to impact their local communities. Direct communication with city residents increases personal trust and boosts political efficacy.
A school board member is someone who advocates for education. The requirements include setting and enforcing new policies. This includes working with existing or new budgets to ensure that current funds are meeting the needs of schools, parents, and students.
Like any candidate for office, anyone running for school board must have a strong vision for the future. This vision should include standards for academic achievement in a school district. It is the responsibility of a school board member to evaluate a superintendent's job performance and help establish recommendations for improvement. A good school board member must reflect on the goals and values of their local and state communities. This requires direct communication with parents, teachers, and school staff on new and existing policies.
The political campaign checklist for county commissioner or supervisor includes requirements for managing county budgets and finances. Their primary focus is on overseeing county affairs and operations. Those seeking election to this local office should be familiar with public safety, state park systems, and other areas of local interest.
County commissioners are required to review and adopt annual capital budgets. They must operate within financial limits and be ready to make changes as needed. County commissioners act as supervisors who make contracts with various cities within the county. The ability to balance rural and urban affairs is vital to anyone running for this position.
County commissioners oversee and disburse funds for the following organizations in their district:
Vocational and technical schools
Public parks and libraries
Prisons and correctional departments
Sheriffs and courts
They must provide periodic evaluations of the county executive and make suggestions as needed. Their job is to ensure that the county executive is doing their job duties in an ethical manner that's fair.
Running for your state legislature is the next step up from running for your local city or county government. The general criteria for running for the state legislature include a minimum age of 18 to 30 years old. Most states have minimum residency requirements at the time of filing.
Legislatures review and consider new laws and concerns of the governor and house members. Their role includes working within the governor's budget. They have six major functions:
Legislatures research, write, and pass new bills. Each member is expected to represent their local districts and communicate with their citizens. They must hear and address concerns, complaints, and questions. They oversee the executive branch and hold them accountable for everything.
The race for mayor happens at the municipal level. Once they win, a mayor assumes the role of policy maker in their town or city. Duties include making policy recommendations, approving or vetoing new legislation, and enforcing local laws. They must ensure that city government officials and employees are performing their job functions as stated by law. They must communicate directly with city department heads and assign duties.
A mayor acts as a CEO of a city or town. Their role is to enforce local and state laws. Their job is to oversee city council members and their job performance. If the city council has a tie vote, the mayor often must cast theirs to break it. They are required to represent their city in businesses and with other districts. Mayors have a duty to speak to the media on local issues and concerns in an open, honest, and direct manner.
Those wishing to begin their campaign for a judicial position must consider a few points. Judicial positions require sound knowledge of the law and the ability to make decisions that are fair and just. Criteria for these positions include a law degree and previous legal experience.
Those who run for magistrate must be appointed by a judge. Magistrates must work with the judge to uphold the law. Their duty is to oversee disputes in civil matters. These include divorces, annulments, child support, legal separation, and custody. Magistrates can make important legal decisions enforced by judges. However, a judge can modify, reverse, or approve these decisions at their own discretion.
Anyone making a bid for Congress must meet the following criteria. To run for the U.S. House of Representatives, you must be at least 25 years old. To run for the U.S. Senate, you must be at least 30 years old. You also need to have been a citizen of the United States for a minimum of 7 years, and you need to reside in the state in which you plan to run for office.
Members of Congress represent their districts in several ways. They hold hearings, write new legislation, and vote on legislation. They pass bills before they reach the President's desk. From there, the President can sign it into law or veto it at their discretion.
There are plenty of local and state-wide positions that are perfect for first-time candidates. These positions allow candidates to gain political experience while representing the needs of their communities. If you want to explore the possibilities of running a political campaign for the first time, check out Good Party Academy, a free course designed to help people like you determine their next right step. Or, if you’re ready to launch your campaign and want free expert support, get a demo to see how Good Party’s AI Campaign Manager can streamline your campaign strategy.