Last week, I wrote about why I ran for Searcy City Council. I felt it was important to set the record straight, especially after so many rumors were circulated during the campaign. Now that the dust has settled a bit, I thought I should share some lessons I learned about running a serious, positive campaign in a cut-throat political climate. Obviously I do not have all of the answers (if I did, I would likely be alderman-elect right now). But you can bet I learned more during this campaign than in my four years of undergraduate study in political science.
I have decided to call this series “From the Trail.” Every few days, I hope to post some musings about my experience. Hopefully some of this information will be beneficial to those of you who run for public office in the future.
So this is Part 1, titled “It’s Personal.” Politics, particularly at the local level, is solely personal, in both the most positive & most negative connotations of the term.
Positively personal. Perhaps the best part of my campaign experience was being able to go door-to-door & meet hundreds of people just like me. We might disagree on a few things here or there, but all things considered, we’re the same–decent, hard-working Americans who want honesty & openness from our elected officials. I sincerely enjoyed the opportunity to visit with those of like & unlike mind. It was a sharpening experience for me. I hope they feel the same way. These conversations have culminated into lasting friendships. They also culminated into 44% of the vote in my column.
As a candidate, people want to know you. They want a chance to shake your hand, look into your eye, & form a first impression of your character. If you never knock on their door, they never have that opportunity & they will probably stay at home on election day.
Negatively personal. Just as a handshake & a good smile can seal the vote, a bad hairdo or even the wrong job can cost you. In a campaign as small & as personal as mine, voters are incredibly picky about their candidates. Some said they would not vote for me because I had facial hair. Others could not support me because of my particular church congregation. Then some said they could never vote for me because they did not think my small business was serious enough (I still haven’t quite figured that one out). I say all of this to prepare you: your most basic characteristics, traits & beliefs will be questioned & criticized. It’s the political culture we’ve created in the U.S.
I hope I do not sound bitter or whiny here–I was fully prepared for this type of environment. But not everyone is and I question whether or not it is a healthy part of our political discourse. Everything goes; everything is fair game. Be prepared, not necessarily to defend yourself, but to explain yourself. If you do not know yourself, you cannot be a good candidate.
Should you decide to seek public office, be prepared to be scrutinized for the most basic parts of your life & being. It’s all fair game. And as soon as a voter finds some minuscule criticism of you, your opponents will capitalize on it, knowing that, if nothing else, they will get at least one vote.
More to come.
Nicholas Horton is the Editor of The Arkansas Patriot & former Searcy City Council candidate. He owns a small business in Searcy. In his spare time, he volunteers with various political campaigns & writes for The Liberty Bell. Contact Nicholas at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter.