Life on the Campaign Trail | National Democratic Training Committee

Expectation vs. Reality

According to movies and TV, life on the campaign trail is constant work, but rather glamorous. Think of shows like The West Wing and Scandal – huge staff, endless budgets, and incredibly high stakes. 

While it’s true a campaign is a lot of work, these programs don’t really show what life is actually like on the campaign trail

Along with being scripted, these shows tend to only focus on “flashy” candidates and campaigns that get a lot of attention. These are also typically only federal level positions. This leaves out the thousands and thousands of state and local positions which are equally important! 

That being said, we want to provide those interested in running with better insight into *real* life on the campaign trail. 

Straight from the Source

NDTC works with a lot of fantastic politicians. Many are either #NDTCtrained or strongly support our mission to train Democrats across the country.  

In our So You Think You Want To Run course you hear from various US and State Representatives, as well as local politicians, about the life of a candidate. Each person has a unique story about how they entered politics and their experience as a candidate.

Challenges of Life On The Campaign Trail

Take U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos from Illinois’ 17th district. As a busy woman with a career and family she spoke to us about her life on the campaign trail;

“Probably the most challenging part of running, not just in my first race, really, but for any election that I’ve had since then, was balancing my career, and my home life, and campaigning. In my job, I was working literally anywhere between 50 and 60 hours every week. I’m the mother of three boys, and we were still in the midst of raising them. They weren’t out of college and on their own at that point. And then we were campaigning.” 

Representative Bustos is not alone! Candidates we see in movies and TV who devote what seems like all their time to their campaign. Real candidates have many other commitments outside their campaign.

Rewards of Life On The Campaign Trail

Similarly, US Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington’s 7th district also spoke about the reality of campaigning;

“I would say that running for office is a difficult thing to do, but it’s also an incredible thing to do. It’s difficult because there are a lot of tasks you have to get done. This is not an easy thing, where you sit back and you take the glory, but there’s no challenges. You’ve got to raise money, and you have to raise it fast, and a lot of it. You have to go out and door knock, if you’re doing things the way I think they should be done. You have to go through endorsement interviews, countless numbers of endorsement interviews, and candidate forums, where you say the same thing over and over again. But the reward is that you get to spend your day actually trying to legislate policy and engage people in government, in an opportunity that I think is pretty much unparalleled in my life, and I’ve done a lot of amazing things in my life. But to be able to represent people; to be able to fight for people”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Running for office is a lot of work and not a decision to make lightly. However, all that hard work is completely worth the chance to enact positive change in your community. 

(If you’re interested in learning more about different politicians’ campaign experiences check out our So You Think You Want To Run? course and this Slate article about people who ran for office – and won!) 

Things to Consider About Life on the Campaign Trail

We don’t want you shying away from running for office just because it’s not the same as what you’ve seen on tv. 

Its true life on the campaign trail is not without challenges. There’s a lot of fundraising, organizing, and pounding the pavement. However, if you’re passionate and driven (and take our courses!) we are confident you’ll be victorious. 

However, before you submit your name for the ballot we want to cover a few questions. These will give you a better idea of whether you’re ready to tackle the campaign trail. 

How Much Time Are You Willing To Commit To Your Campaign?

Take a look at your current commitments. If you only have ten free hours to spare per week it might be challenging to create and support a campaign.

If you have upwards of twenty hours to devote then you could potentially support a strong campaign.

Keep in mind, these numbers are not strict rules. Every campaign and position is different. Just be realistic about what you can spare!  

What Level Office Is Right For You? political offices to run for

If you want to change things in your local community think about a local/municipal position. If you’re more interested in state or countrywide change a larger office like Congress may be a better option. 

Keep in mind the amount of time you’re willing to commit is related to the size of your campaign. If you have limited time then a campaign for a federal or state position is probably too much right now.  

What Will You Bring To The Office?

Different offices are better suited for different people. What experience and skills do you have that will allow you to create change in this particular office?

Research the different offices in your area to get a better idea of the positions and what each position is responsible for. Trust us when we say there are more positions than you think! 

Ready for Life on the Campaign Trail?

We hope this offers a little more insight into life on the campaign trail. Maybe even convinced you that you’ve got what it takes to run for office! (We certainly think so!) 

If you’re interested in whether to run for office and want to hear from more successful candidates make sure to check out the So You Think You Want To Run? course. 

Or, if you’ve been inspired and want to learn more about which office is best for you to take a look at our post about What Office is Right For You?

We’ll leave you with a quote from Dalia Palchik, a #NDTCtrained school board member from Fairfax, Virginia; 

“Running for office is definitely one of the most amazing, exciting, and growth-oriented things I’ve ever done.”

We’re sure you’ll feel the same!


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Lily Doctoroff

Lily was raised in Medfield, Massachusetts, a small town outside of Boston. She currently lives in Chicago while she attends college at the University of Chicago studying Political Science and Religious Studies with a concentration in American Politics. She is a member of the Communications team at NDTC.