Well, the election of 2010 is now one for the history books.
Six new U.S. Senators now sit in “the world’s most exclusive club”, including political newcomers who finally give Jim DeMint some conservative reinforcements. 87 freshmen representatives were also sworn in, many of them introduced to the process and propelled by the grassroots rallies and groups that formed over the previous two years. It was the biggest wave election since 1948, and it didn’t stop in Washington.
At the state level, 20 legislative bodies previously split or under the control of the Left are neither anymore. There are now 25 states where center-right elected officials hold majorities in both legislative chambers. It was a swing of nearly 700 seats on Election Day, outperforming even the 628-seat record set in 1974, the 472-seat pickup twenty years later, and more than doubling the recent 322-seat gain of 2006.
And here you sit. You sense a true shifting of the political tectonic plates in America, but you’re not sure what it means. You saw the tremendous grassroots uprising of last year: the Tea Party movement, 9.12 groups, and libertarians focusing and mobilizing like never before. Yet you’re still by turns outraged, inspired, frustrated, compelled and afraid.
Afraid of the fiscal insanity perpetuated by this Administration. Compelled to try and change things, like the number of true small-government adherents actually in office. Frustrated by an archaic political system that has its own set of insular rules and hasn’t adapted to the 21st century’s information age. But inspired by the very real opportunities for new blood willing to work within that same system. And along with that, outraged that more people like you aren’t paying more attention to things like an unsustainable national debt, or even local and state tax rates where you live, work and raise a family.
You’re not alone.
Many new activists and groups are fuzzy on exactly how to go about becoming the next crop of liberty-minded leaders. Where and how should you begin considering a run for office? When do you decide it’s YOU that should step forward? Putting your name on the ballot involves enormous sacrifice, followed only in magnitude of difficulty by the actual job of becoming a public servant…that is, if you win a campaign.
In the spirit of “stacking the deck” with right-thinking, credible, competent candidates, here are some shortcuts that can allow for a rolling start should you decide to throw your name in the proverbial hat.
First get a political lay of the land. Look for open seats! If you live in a state where there are term limits at the state legislative level, an open seat is the best opportunity for a new, solid candidate. So do your homework in a term-limited state (compile a list of all seats coming open) and find out which seats are up in 2012.
Also look for seats that could be flipped due to the registered partisan make-up of a district, etc. Where’s the low-hanging fruit? Where are the best opportunities for victory (or unexpected wins)? Which incumbents are asleep at the switch? Which districts are long overdue for an upset but haven’t had an effective challenger—perhaps in years?
Occasionally you can find a congressional seat that falls into this category, but not often. And frankly, far too many idealistic individuals sally forth at this level only to have no real impact.
Why not steal the liberals’ mantra: “think global, act local”?
Many of the best opportunities for newcomers exist at state and local levels. Don’t put your entire focus on Washington—plenty of statist, big-government decisions are made at municipal and county levels. It’s a mistake to ignore the tax-and-spend good ol’ boys at city hall or the state capital when you can de-pollute that compost pile of a political ecosystem right under your nose. And it’s quite appropriate to run for school board, city council, or county board/commission (often multi-million, if not billion-dollar budgetary entities, with plenty of civic responsibility) before running for state legislature—much less Congress.
Then it’s time to ask yourself what makes you a strong candidate. Do you have the “fire in the belly” to persevere through an entire, tough campaign season? Are you a natural leader? Can you inspire other people? Articulate a positive vision? Zero in on voters and their core values?
If you’d rather win the philosophical argument about why your political beliefs are the clearly correct ones than actually go out and meet the people who could become your proud supporters, running for office is probably not for you.
(Still reading? Think you have what it takes to make a difference? Watch for Part 2 of this article on the nuts and bolts of political campaigns in May 2011)