In the Field
Running for Office with a Family
January 20, 2021
Running for office with a family can cause potential candidates to have many reservations. This is one of the most common discussions in the NDTC Candidate Community.
When a candidate announces their bid, they don’t solely put themselves in the public eye. Their families will now also be subject to public attention.
Running for office is a commitment that can take time away from usual family activities. For instance, instead of attending family game night, the candidate might schedule call time to fundraise for the campaign. In the same vein, family time is important and often creates the space for candidates to rest and recharge away from campaign stressors.
While the candidate juggles a full-time job, parental responsibilities, and campaign work, the family bears considerable weight. They fill in the gaps at home and at school, taking on as much as possible to support the candidate.
Financially, families contribute as well. Family funds might be used to fuel campaign efforts. Extended family members may donate individually to the campaign.
Needless to say, the families of Democratic candidates do a lot to usher in new leadership for their communities. And, one could argue, families play one of the largest roles in winning.
Recently, the NDTC Candidate Community rallied to encourage a few campaign-hopefuls to run for office. Here’s their advice about running for office with a family.
Family: A Source of Strength
Candidates are encouraged to run based on their “why.” But there is no better source of strength during your run than the family you have devoted your life to serving. Running for office means their family will grow in a stronger, more vibrant community.
In addition, families humanize political candidates. The mere presence of a family provides an opportunity for a voter to relate. Many identify family values with integrity and empathy. This relationship can build confidence in a candidate’s leadership abilities.
If a candidate wants to run for office, a supportive family is one of your strongest assets.
“I didn’t run for office ‘with a family’. I ran for office because of my family.” — Rebecca Mitchell, Representative-Elect; GA House, District 106
Securing Family Buy-In
Before the process of running for office begins, upfront communication is imperative. If the candidate isn’t transparent and honest, it could make securing buy-in much harder.
“Honesty and gratitude are foremost in not breaking trust. Even though my children were children, I told them I would regret it if I didn’t speak up about the problems that needed solutions.” — Gina Robinson Ungar, ‘19, Candidate for Vanderburgh IN, Evansville City Council, At Large
Starting with small conversations and small commitments allows family members to ease into the idea of a larger run for office. Cody Keller, 2021 candidate for California Assembly, took this approach and found his wife became more interested in politics over time.
“Just be honest, keep communication open with your family and bring them along for the journey.” — Cody Keller, ‘21, Candidate for CA Assembly, District 16
Varying Levels of Involvement
Depending on a family’s desired level of engagement, a candidate can build or scale back their involvement. Claudia Zapata, from the Running for Office podcast, encourages candidates to ask several questions before they ask their family for support.
- Am I on good terms and have well-established relationships with my family?
- Is the active support of family expected during my campaign?
- Do I care about their opinion?
- Are there individuals outside of my family that can serve as my support system?
- Am I truly confident in my vision, campaign, and policies?
Once these questions are answered, a candidate may decide to involve family more or less. The important takeaway is to understand that no one can expect others to be interested in the same things they are. Nor, can one expect others to be something or someone they are not. Family support can manifest in a variety of ways. Sometimes, just giving the candidate space to follow their dreams is enough.
“Be true to yourself and your constituents. I believe they would rather see a genuine family dynamic, rather than a cookie-cutter, consultant-driven version of a family.” — Claudia Zapata
“My family is involved in my election because they are an extension of me. So much of my life encompasses who I am as a wife and a mother. We discuss my campaign schedule each Sunday night to ensure we’re on the same page. As I say often to my family, teamwork makes the dream work.” — Tiffany Winbush; Lower Manhattan, New York City Council
While campaigning seems daunting, stressful, and exhausting, it can bring families closer together. With nearly all free time being used to run for office, candidates should seize opportunities to get their family involved. Campaigns are stronger with a large team. But, also working towards victory as a family makes winning an election that much sweeter.
Kelly Kraus Mencke ran for Ohio State Representative in 2016 and 2018. During her first run, she took her children canvassing. Her parents helped knock on doors some days and helped at home other days. Her husband drove her across the district to give her a chance to rest between activities. Kelly believes “a well-run campaign includes family sharing the workload, whether at home or volunteering.”
“Family is the heart that keeps you running. We kept each other going.” — Kelly Kraus Mencke, ‘16, ‘18, Candidate for OH House, District 55
Campaigning with Young Children
There are stories across America of women and families supporting Democratic politics while caring for young children. Making a bid for office while pregnant or with infants or toddlers, should not deter one from running. In fact, it should inspire you. Campaigning with young children or children on the way shows a determination and commitment to public service.
Moreover, the current field of elected officials does not reflect America. We need more women in office. In the 117th Congress, women represent over 25 percent of all members. While this is a record number, it’s still below the 51 percent of women that make up the U.S. population.
Dated views of motherhood are barriers to women running for office and representing their constituencies. Remarkable organizations such as She Should Run and Emily’s List support women’s political careers. For more inspiration, research Jocelyn Yow and Buffy Wicks. They both recently made headlines for political victories with young children by their side!
“I am running for school board and am due with my third child 2 days before the election. I have an almost 4-year-old and an almost 2-year-old at home. When I explained to my kids what running meant, they were very excited for me. We talk a lot about advocacy in our house. My 4-year-old understood this was exciting and has been very supportive and vocal with the neighbors.” — Annie Warsaw, ‘21 Candidate for Skokie School District 68
“Please remember that it is fine for “the standard” to be different when it comes to allocating your time and energy. You are going to live a lot of years after this one. [The year you run for office] is going to be a powerful year in your life story, no question. Honor that, even as you honor the people you hope to serve.” — Gina Robinson Ungar, ‘19, Candidate for Vanderburgh IN, Evansville City Council, At Large
Deciding to Run for Office
These perspectives you heard come from Democratic candidates who ran for seats up and down the ticket. And, while family dynamics vary from person to person, one thing remains the same: families support one another personally and professionally. Through communication and determination, a candidate’s strongest system of encouragement resides within the home.
Family comes up quite often in questions about running for office, so NDTC has written about this before. You can also check out our course, So You Think You Want To Run for more guidance on making the decision. Know that no matter what, family, whether chosen or biological, will always be there for you.
At the end of the day, family matters.
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