Why do people decide to run for office?
In most cases, political candidates have a desire to serve their neighbors, and they often enjoy various parts of the political world. Events. Debates. Parades. Knocking on doors. The list can be long. But what ties all different types of candidates together is an interest in public policy and campaigns.
So, where do political junkies go to get their “fix”? On the Republican side, there is Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Mark Levine and any number of local talk radio hosts across the country. On the Democrat side, you have the regular national media. Just kidding.
There is also online media like The Drudge Report, Salon, The Huffington Post and any number of blogs for every taste and interest.
But the problem with this for candidates is the focus of the vast majority of this media. It’s primarily NATIONALLY-focused. As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil once said, “All politics are local.” In the real world, political candidates that don’t get this don’t usually win.
Remember 1992? President George H.W. Bush visited a grocery store and was infamously amazed at the scanners checkers were using – scanners that regular consumers had seen in use for years. He was immediately labeled “out-of-touch”, and Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” snowball ran all the way to Election Day.
Think about it. What does the average voter care about? Is it the national debt? Benghazi? The government shutdown? No, no and no. The average voter cares about what has an immediate impact on them and their family.
A tax increase – especially income or property tax – affects the family bottom line. Unlike the federal government, our families have to live within our means. When our income is reduced by $50, $100, $200 or more per paycheck, we notice that, because we have to adjust our budget and lifestyle to make it all work.
Another one is fuel prices. Unless you live in a large city and utilize public transportation, most people drive and see the fluctuation in gas prices on a bi-weekly or at least monthly basis. Again, we get back to the family budget. When gas prices jump dramatically, the family budget takes the hit – especially if you drive far to work or travel a lot for work.
Infrastructure, food prices and more local issues like water quality, plant closings, food deserts and quality education are the types of issues the average voter cares about, depending on where they live. To best know what those key issues are, one must know each individual area within their voting territory, whether it’s a county, a legislative district or statewide. LOCAL – not national – news is where you get some of it. Voters’ doorsteps are where you get the best information.
Yet, in the Halls of Power, the discussion is often quite different – more “big picture.” Pension debt, foreign policy scandal and electoral counts in red and blue states.
And let’s be clear. I’m not saying we should be oblivious to national politics. In fact, if you’re running for Congress, you must know those issues IN ADDITION TO the local issues in your district.
However, when the voter goes to the polls to cast their ballot in your race, and they see your name and your opponent, what are they going to think of in those few seconds when they see your name and your opponent’s name(s)? It’s not usually going to be what you’re listening to or reading about on the national stage.
They’re going to pick the candidate they believe is better for them and for their family. Make sure your campaign thinks outside that DC or “dome” box, so voters know you’re the best choice.