Ready to run?

Candidates are all different, but some traits are key to success

The Democratic Party is gaining ground in Greenville County. So you might be thinking that running for public office at the local and state level. But would you be a good candidate? Are you built for politics? What attributes do good candidates need to have? To help aspiring, potential candidates, we asked our candidate development coordinator for help. Here’s what she came up with.

CAPTION: Amanda McDougald Scott served as moderator of a recent town hall with Sen. Kamala Harris

By Amanda McDougald Scott
GCDP Candidate Development

Policy, personality, and temperament are important elements in both public perception and the ability to rally campaign support and volunteers.

Policy positions aside, being able to create relationships, listen to people, and engage effectively are a part of what can make the difference between a donation or a vote for one candidate or another.  I know some people who have voted for a candidate they did not particularly like because another candidate they did like would not make the effort to respond or engage.  

Sometimes “liking” someone personally does not translate into political support, especially when supporters feel that candidates may be trading on their relationships, rather than developing meaningful policy and messaging.

Here are some points to consider if you’re thinking about being a candidate:

Know your why: If you do not have a reason to run other than prestige, power, or needing a job, you might as well look for something else to do.  

Harness your passion/why: There is a gender divide in being able to articulate an earnest “why.”  Dig down deep, and think about your real, core reason for running. That thing that seems “mushy” and makes your eyes misty might just be your “why.” Harness that.  If you can feel it, others will be able to as well.

Have a “slogan”:  Can you crystalize your “why” into a short slogan that can be repeated by anyone who is pulling for you? You need it.

Have relevant experience: If you want a leadership position but have never been in charge of any type of project whatsoever, consider running after you demonstrate success on something.  If you cannot point to a single leadership accomplishment, no matter how small, you are not ready to run.

Have ideas: Beyond knowing why you are running, do you have some ideas or solutions to fix perceived problems that are directly aligned with the office you are seeking?  Not everyone will be interested in the nitty-gritty of your plan, but some will—and you should be prepared with solutions for the things about which you are most passionate.

Be ready to listen: No one wants someone to talk at them. If you are going to be an effective leader, and be able to represent your constituents well, you need to be able to listen just as much as you speak, if not more.

Have an open attitude: Don’t just have plans, be open – to new ideas, to new people, experiences, and concepts. Know that you don’t know everything.  Be ready and willing to learn. Think outside the box for new solutions and pushing boundaries with new ideas.

Have the courage to follow your values: Listen to others, yes, but do not compromise your core values. Have the courage to embody your values and let them be a guide when faced with requests or ideas that may lead you astray.

Be responsible on social media: Once you are a candidate, everything you have ever said or done on social media or any other public source becomes subject to in-depth and further scrutiny.  Not only that, but you and all the things you do become a target. People will write horrible things on your campaign sites, and you have to rise above it. Every time you name-call, or blast others on your social media, it results in a poor reflection on you.  Consistent negativity breeds a hostile environment, which is not conducive to problem-solving.

Dress the part: Have you ever heard the saying about dressing for the position you want not the one you have? Apply that here.  It’s idealistic to believe that people will take you as you are and will know your heart. How you present yourself is your brand, and people are more superficial than you would like to think they are!

Be approachable: Have you ever really wanted to meet someone and get to know them, or show interest in hearing about something that really matters to them, only to feel like that person did not want to talk to you? We all have our “off” moments, but if you do not want to talk to people and show interest most of the time, perhaps running for office is not for you.

Be positive and hope for the future:  It is possible to be unhappy with the current state of things and still positive about the future.  Share your ideas about what could be, and how you can help be a part of the change you wish to see.

Show your ability to work with others: If you are not able to work well with others, perhaps running for office is not for you. The best candidates are ready, willing, and able to work with others who are not like them —a quality crucial to unite our citizens at this time.

Pick your campaign staff wisely: Your staff is a reflection of you. Vet and choose them wisely.  Also, remember that sometimes your best-intentioned friends and family will not make the best staff or volunteers for your campaign.  Be ready for this! Expecting too much from families and friends who volunteer on the campaign can be quite disappointing when they do not meet expectations. Setting reasonable expectations from the get-go can help alleviate this.

Focus on issues you can impact: You may be tempted to draw people to you by throwing out “red meat” to the base on issues they are passionate about; but focusing on national issues when you are running a state or local race does not help people understand your policies or why you are running.
Think you’re ready? Then we are here to help you by finding resources, connecting you with training programs like Emerge, and more. Contact me via email ( if you want to talk about seeking public office!

Be the change you want to see: Help the party with a much-needed donation or volunteer to help!