While this is only my second race, I wanted to answer many questions that I have been receiving about running as a younger candidate. I also have had the opportunity to mentor a younger student majoring in political science this semester, so it has been really a neat experience. Here is some advice I have been given and things I am learning along the way.
1. Never let your age discourage you.
You will have people say that you do not have the experience. The most important thing to remember is that you just need a desire to serve others and a passion for helping your community. Experience will come. Start out with the smaller races first, like your local city races, and then learn from that. Never give up if you lose a race. Take the loss and make it a learning experience to improve upon for your next run.
2. Never let your opponents or the media define you.
If you face a challenge or you are not the typical candidate in your race, turn your differences into positives. I for example am a young woman that was born with complete vision loss. It is a difference and a challenge, but never something that defines me. You want to always get in front of anything that you might have used against you and turn it into a positive. In my case I say yes I have this challenge, but we all face challenges each day, and it is how we overcome these challenges that matters. Then from that you can move on to discussing how you will help your constituents. Never let the media or anyone else stay on discussing you. You are running not for yourself, but to help your city, state, or nation.
3. The best advice I was given is, if you put serving others first, anything is possible.
Whether you are running for city council, state rep, Congress, or Senate, remember that you do not have opponents. It is not about winning the race, it is about getting a seat to help the constituents we want to serve.
4. Never go negative during your campaign. Voters, your future constituents will see right through it, and it is not worth winning an election to hurt people or tear them down.
It goes back to remembering that we do not have opponents. We are each running our own race. Let the voters decide. Always stay positive and talk about how you want to help your constituents. Even if someone else goes negative against you, always keep positive and stay on message. Negative campaigns do not win, or if they do, the elected official usually does not last long and is there for the wrong reasons.
5. Find good, solid mentors and role models that will be there to encourage you and help you throughout your consideration process and when you decide to make it official and run.
I found mine through campaign internships, volunteering, and attending my local political Party’s events. It is these mentors that will help shape you as a candidate. But in the end, it will be up to you to determine how you want to present yourself to your future constituents, the voters. It is up to you to research what issues are affecting your community. Make sure that you listen to the people you are seeking to represent, and research all you can about the issues important to them.
6. Be careful of organizations that send you surveys after you file to run. Only complete these surveys if you are familiar with the organization and can answer the questions the best way possible. These surveys can be used against you later on if the group is not happy with your answers. Never just answer a survey or sign a pledge just to get endorsements or campaign funding. If you are a candidate of real integrity and committed to serving, you do not need any of that. Voters will come to you. People can see who is just running for the title or another reason. Run for the right reasons, and it will show through your campaign message, how you enteract with your fellow citizens, and your actions and words.
7. Learn all you can.
Yes, it sounds straight-forward, but I cannot express how important it is to gain as much knowledge as possible before you run. Read as many books as you can find from political leaders that you admire. Attend as many political events as possible. Volunteer and take internships and other opportunities. These experiences will pave the way for you to develop a strong campaign when you are ready to run. Remember that it is not required to have a degree or any kind to run for office, but it can be helpful.
Some organizations I recommend are Vote Run Lead, Local Victory, and the Leadership Institute.
8. Never let anyone get in your head.
This means, believe in yourself and trust only those you know very well. When you are a younger candidate, sometimes people will try to take advantage of this fact and lead you on the wrong path. It again goes back to building a solid network of role models and mentors that you trust. It is also important to have your family involved in your planning. They will be a huge help to your success if they are supportive. I am blessed that my family is extremely supportive of my run for office. Without that, it would be much more difficult.
9. Keep an open mind at all times.
This does not mean that you should change your beliefs on the issues. Constituents need to know that they are heard and understood. I learned about all political parties, factions, and how each one views issues. I also, if time permits, go door to door to people that might not be likely to vote for me. This is because if I am elected, I will be representing them as well, not just the people that voted for me.
10. Always be professional on social media, and do not fall for bait or fee the trolls.
What we as candidates and future leaders say on social media stays on there forever. You have to ask yourself, how do I want my future constituents to view me. While it might be fun for a second to get involved in an online debate about an issue of which you are very passionate, it is not worth it. Remember too that candidate trackers are not just at physical events these days. They are looking at your online presence as a candidate for any gaffes or quotes that can be used against you later in the campaign. If you have any old pictures or maybe some things you did in your past that you regret, go through your social media profiles and ensure they are polished before making your announcement to run.
11. Civility and decorum are the keys to success if you want to help constituents and work to find real solutions to the problems your community is facing.
It is important to always remain calm and professional, even when the other person or group of people may be getting upset. People will be looking to you to be a leader. It is especially important to remember this when you are working with the media. Be prepared for questions or comments meant to distract you or get you off message. Develop your message should be one of the first steps you take when you decide to run. If you have a solid message, remain calm and professional no matter how tough the questions or comments become, you will come out on top. You might not win every time, but it is never a reason to give up. Someone once told me, there are plenty of critics, but very few candidates. If you are running for the right reasons to serve others, win or lose, you will help inspire others.
My fellow younger candidates, I wish you all the best. Let me know if I can ever help in any way. I hope this advice has been helpful. I know how difficult it was for me when I first started out in this journey.