How to Run for Office: Doing Your Research

Information is power. And when you’re in the beginning stages of your campaign, the more information you have at your fingertips the better.

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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.
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Photo by Nick Youngson

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 is the Founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee. He has worked on dozens of campaigns at every level across the country. Kelly's specialty is in new campaign creation, candidate and staff training, and fundraising. In addition to working for 18+ years in Democratic politics, he teaches a class on political campaigns at DePaul University in Chicago, where he lives with his family and dog, a large hungry blue Weimaraner named Jack Bauer. Kelly started his career in 1998 with Rep. Dennis Moore in KS-03. He's an avid basketball and poker player, though never at the same time. His wife would point out that at no time in this biography was he described as "good" at either hobby. That was a conscious decision.