How to Decide Which of the Political Offices to Run For - National Democratic Training Committee

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and serve your community as an elected official? But not sure which political offices to run for?

We talk to a lot of soon-to-be candidates in your shoes. Folks who are motivated to step up and take action but aren’t sure where their passion and talents will make the greatest difference. It can be hard to find which of the political offices to run for.

I’ve created elaborate flowcharts on whiteboards all around our office to try to help you find an answer. But the only answer I’ve reached is that no chart we create can really answer that for you. There aren’t yes/no questions that lead to a neat and clean answer.

But the best answer is remarkable in its simplicity: What’s motivating you to run for office? What’s the issue or problem that pushed you to say: I want to fix this!

Not Sure What that Key Issue Is?

If you don’t have a response to that at the tip of your tongue, there’s a segment of our “Crafting Your Message” course that can help. Watch the brief video lecture about telling stories, and then complete the worksheet on Finding Your Stories that follows. This exercise will help you dig into what’s driving you (and, as a bonus, how to talk about it) and help you find which of the political offices to run for.

Most often, a candidate’s key issue will be something they’ve seen from experience within their community. That was the case with NDTC learner Regina Lewis-Ward, who saw firsthand how her local government failed to meet the needs of voters. Regina became close with her community through volunteer efforts. This closeness made her familiar with the issues that she would later highlight as a candidate for local office. Fast forward to today, and Regina Lewis-Ward now serves as a U.S. Congresswoman, representing her Georgia’s 115th District on Capitol Hill.

Recalling a number of significant events in your life will help crystallize who you are as a leader, what is pushing you to run for office, and what the assets are that you can bring to the job. Considering those things together can help you identify the issue you want to work on and/or skill sets that you want to bring to public service.

Do Your Research

Once you can articulate the issue that puts a fire in your belly, do your research. What elected official or elected body is responsible for fixing that problem? Who takes votes or makes the decisions that impact that issue? 

If you want a sense of which political offices to run for, this site offers a tool to enter your address and see a list. (Note: This is not an exhaustive list, so we recommend doing your own research, too. This is also an external website whose products NDTC is not affiliated with and does not endorse.)

If it sounds like one or more are not doing their job in a way you approve of, why not run to replace them? No, really: Why not?

Keep doing your research and find out:

  • When is that position up for election next?
  • Are you eligible to run for it?
  • Is the incumbent running again, or will it be an open seat?
  • Will you be battling it out against another Democrat (the incumbent or others already eyeing the seat) in a primary, or are you likely to be the only Democrat in the race?

Even if the answers to some of those questions are the more difficult ones, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run for that office. Look at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Democrat who beat and unseated the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives in New York’s 2018 primary election. It can be done.

We just want you to go in with eyes wide open, and make your decision about what office to run with all the facts. And probably some gossip about who’s retiring and who’s planning to run for what, too.

Political Offices to Run For Locally

For some problems, politicians at multiple levels are responsible for solving—and sometimes creating—them. For example, if you’re motivated by equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community, don’t just rush to run for the state legislature to fight the most recent “bathroom bill” discriminating against the transgender community.

There’s probably impactful work that you can do at the city or county level, too. Has your City Council considered an employment non-discrimination ordinance? Has your School Board adopted a policy affirming students’ rights to use the restrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identities?

If that’s the case for the issue motivating you, research all of your options and answer those questions for each of the offices.

Don’t forget the practicalities. Think about your own life. Think about how having a job in the state capital four months of the year would affect your work, your family, and your relationships.

When we sat down with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, he highlighted the advantages of running for local office by noting, “For some people, it’s the right thing to do because you can do it part-time—run locally for school board, city council… and still keep your business going, keep your obligations to your family secure.” (Check out the video of our full conversation here.)

Start with Your “Why” & It’ll Keep You Going

Running for office is an incredibly exciting undertaking. If you do it right, you’ll meet hundreds of amazing people in your community. You’ll hear about their lives and their concerns. You’ll build a team of incredible volunteers who work their butts off to get you elected and create change in your community. You will learn more about the issues and policies impacting you and your neighbors—and how to solve them.

Throughout this process, you’ll walk tens (if not hundreds) of miles around neighborhoods in your community; call thousands of people to ask them to support you with their votes, their time, or their money; and eat more rubber chicken dinners than you ever knew occurred.

When your feet hurt and you’ve been told “no” five times in a row, the best way to get through those difficult moments is to stay centered on why you’re running and what you’re hoping to accomplish when you win.

So that’s where we suggest you start. Start with your “why”—the thing that’s so important to you that you can’t not work to solve it. Run for a position that allows you to work tirelessly on that issue. It’ll make those 5 a.m. mornings and very late nights at least a little easier.

And it’ll make everything in between more fun. It doesn’t feel like work when you’re talking to your neighbors about that issue and getting them fired up about it, too. Everything will feel more natural, more comfortable. And you’ll be a better candidate when you can speak with that passion and resolve.

Dive Deeper

Choosing the right office to run for is no small decision. If you’re looking for more insights from experienced campaign professionals, we’ve got you covered. Use this recorded session from NDTC trainer Brittny Baxter to further inform your decision-making. This training can illustrate the thought process behind connecting a desired office with your desired impact.

So… you got it? You’ve figured out which political offices to run for now? Then it’s time to take NDTC’s “Getting Your Campaign Off the Ground” online course to help you plot your next steps.

Getting Your Campaign Off the Ground

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Rose Clouston

At the time this course was created, Rose was the Director of Online Trainings at NDTC. She is currently the Director of Voter Protection at the Texas Democratic Party, where she leads the state party's efforts to create an easy voting experience for all Texans and support voters throughout the process.

At NDTC, Rose led the team in creating dozens of on-demand, online trainings. Prior to joining NDTC, Rose was a National Coordinator at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where she managed the non-partisan Election Protection hotline, training and managing thousands of volunteers who answered tens of thousands of voters’ questions in the 2014 and 2016 elections. She organized state-level poll monitoring and election reform advocacy efforts in Pennsylvania, New York and Florida. Previously, Rose served as deputy director on a Virginia gubernatorial primary campaign and was a regional field director on a Florida gubernatorial campaign.

Rose has a Master in Public Policy from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from the University of Florida. She lives in Austin and in her free time enjoys exploring Austin's trails, biking, roller derby, and cooking new vegetarian recipes.