How to Run for Office: Doing Your Research - National Democratic Training Committee

Opposition research isn’t glamorous and isn’t about finding personal “dirt” on your opponent. But, if your opponent claims they’ve never voted for a tax increase, but you know they have, now you have a story.

Of course, the same goes for yourself. You’ll need to do some “self-research” so you know what your opponents might know about you.

In any event, you’re going to want to spend some quality time with Google and publicly available records to find out what information is out there.

Do you have something in your past that is easily understandable with context, but may be seen in a negative light without context provided? Is there something in your opponent’s past that voters should know about? Do you have a full record of any previous public statements or votes your opponent made? You should.

Do you know all the ins and outs of your district? Are there any quirks you need to have on your radar?

Performing research is an essential task and here’s a quick checklist to get started.

Self-research:

  • Do a Google search on your name to see what pops up. Search first 20+ pages of responses.
  • Clean up social media: take a few hours to go through every Tweet, Facebook post, blog post, etc. to make sure you haven’t posted anything controversial or inflammatory.
  • Do a standard background check on yourself to make sure nothing suspicious comes up.
  • Check your own public records: past voting history, political candidates you have donated to in the past, if you’ve paid and filed your taxes on time, your past criminal/court records.
  • If you haven’t yet, make your personal social media accounts (not your campaign accounts) private. Only friends should be able to see your Facebook posts. Do the same for your immediate family: spouse, children, maybe your parents.
  • Delete old twitter or other posts that may cause issues.

Opposition research:

  • Do a standard background check on your opponent to see if anything sketchy pops up.
  • Identify opposition’s top donors — the candidate might be receiving contributions from companies or individuals that disagree with his/her issue positions.
  • Research opposition’s statements, speeches, interviews, social media, previous votes and endorsements, anything they might have written — there might be media out there that contradicts their issue positions.
  • Scan the opposition’s personal social media for inflammatory or controversial posts.

District:

  • Research whether matching funds are available for your face, and whether your campaign will seek those (often they come with additional limits — note that you may be required to make this decision before registering your campaign committee).
  • Research and take note of the contribution and reporting laws for your race.
    Contribution limits.
  • Reporting thresholds (i.e., which donations you will have to include in your finance reports).
  • Finance report deadlines — Add these to your campaign schedule and share them with those who are helping you with your accounting.
  • Research the criteria for winning the contest (whether that be the general, primary or caucus/convention).
  • Who is eligible to participate/vote?
  • Do they have to be registered with the party? By when?
  • Will only voters within your district be eligible to vote for you or will voters from the entire city/county be voting for your seat?
  • Do folks vote for one candidate or can they vote for multiple candidates?
  • Do you have to get a majority (50% + 1) of the votes or just a plurality?

Tomorrow, family buy-in.

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Kelly Dietrich

As founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC), Kelly Dietrich brings more than 20 years of experience on dozens of Democratic campaigns across the country.

Kelly started NDTC in 2016, where at the time it was a collection of videos covering an array of campaign topics, available to campaigns and their volunteers for free. Five years later, those videos grew into a fully fledged training program with hundreds of courses, videos, and articles about running effective campaigns. Kelly’s expertise in various areas — fundraising, staff training, sci-fi (maybe not as much) — have shaped NDTC into an industry leader in Democratic politics.

Originally from Missouri, Kelly lives in Chicago, IL with his wife, daughter, and dog, Tulip, who is allegedly part cat. Beyond work, Kelly is a diehard Kansas Jayhawk and an avid poker player. Kelly also serves on the board of directors at his local park, Sheil Park. This is where he “plays” basketball, which according to his wife can only be loosely considered a hobby. Even with all these interests, Kelly remains committed to making sure high quality tools and training are available to any Democrat who steps up to run for office, work on a campaign, or make their community better.