Every party does it. It’s not the most pleasant thing for anyone involved. It is intrusive and embarrassing but it is a necessary evil. I’m talking about getting vetted for the nomination for your party.
The term “vetting” is derived from the practice of bringing horses to a veterinarian to check their health. This is apt because the vetting process can feel rather dehumanizing. Basically, as a candidate, you will be baring your soul to people that you barely know and who could possibly veto your dream of running for office.
Why is this done? People have high expectations for their elected representatives and how they conduct themselves. As a candidate, you will face scrutiny about your character and behaviour. Essentially, when you run for office under the banner of a political party, you are signing up to be a member of a team. In many ways, your political fortunes are tied to theirs and vice versa. Any scandal that your behaviour causes could prove to be a drag on the success of your teammates and likewise any scandal caused by one of your teammates could vaporize your own dreams of winning an election.
What should you expect to face in a vetting process? You may have to face a criminal background check but you could also be asked questions about your financial dealings, past and present drug use, and personality. In the new era of social media, everything that you have posted on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and message boards could be also face scrutiny. Basically, your party is go to try to identify any possible issues that could be used against you and the party during the election as well as possible problems that could arise if you do get elected. The rigour of the vetting process varies from party to party.
Your opponents will likely be searching for any weakness that you may have so that they could use that against you at the most opportune time…for them. This is known as oppo research.
If your party can identify potential issues in advance, they can try to prepare responses that will protect you and mitigate the damage that could be done to the team. It is for this reason that my advice to any candidate is to be absolutely honest through the vetting process. Everyone makes mistakes and it is important to let your political party know what these mistakes are. There is no detail that is too minor. You are likely going to be talking to professionals who regularly deal with this process and who can decide what is easily manageable versus what is going to be problematic for a campaign to deal with. If you aren’t honest with them and your mistake comes to the surface, your party could feel ambushed with no response to mitigate the damages and they will likely disavow you as a candidate.
What if your party vetoes your candidacy based on what you say during the vetting process?
Without a doubt, it will be disappointing for you to have your candidacy disqualified. It may feel undemocratic and unfair. However, it is really important to realize that as embarrassing as the vetting process might have been for you personally, nothing is more embarrassing than having to deal with your mistake if it were to become public and not being able to have the protection of your party’s public relations support. The media scrutiny on you and your family will be incredibly unpleasant and it will inevitably submarine your campaign anyways. You also have to remember that you are on a team and you don’t want to hurt the chances of those who are running along side you.
Here are a couple of examples of how pre-election misdeeds impact a candidate’s election chances:
Dayleen Van Ryswyk was a BC NDP candidate in the 2013 British Columbia provincial election in a riding that wasn’t necessarily that the NDP had a remote chance of winning. It appeared that the BC NDP was going to cruise to a majority government but on April 16th, 2013, news circulated that Van Ryswyk had posted some grotesquely racist remarks on a message board several years prior and that, as a result, she had resigned as a candidate. The BC NDP weren’t aware of the postings and the leader of the party (Adrian Dix) was taken off-message to answer questions about Van Ryswyk’s candidacy and media coverage ignored the NDP message to focus on her comments.
Allan Hunsperger was a Wildrose Party candidate in the Alberta provincial election in 2012. He was running in a riding where he had a reasonable chance of victory as the Wildrose was leading the provincial polls by a considerable margin. Eight days prior to the election, it was revealed that, a year prior, he had blogged that gays would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire”. Here is an article detailing his comments. Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party, tried to distance herself and the party from Hunsperger’s comments but absolutely refused to ditch him as a candidate by claiming that they were his personal views and wouldn’t be legislated. Hunsperger’s comments and Smith’s response to them were seen of clear proof that the Wildrose should be a party that is kept away from government and voters subsequently stampeded away from the party on election day.
As a post script, Van Ryswyk ran as an Independent candidate in her riding and doubled down on her racist comments. She lost her riding by tens of thousands of votes and then, post election, she started a website that is full of racist apologism. Hunsperger also lost his riding and has disappeared into private life. In twenty years, if you search for “Van Ryswyk” or “Hunsperger”, you will always find a history of their misdeeds.
Running in an election campaign is a physically and emotionally draining experience. As a candidate, you are the crown jewel of the team and you need to take care of yourself. You have a team of people who rely upon you and getting put out of commission during the campaign is not an option!
Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies
The old cliché of shaking hands and kissing babies are both fantastic ways to get yourself sick during a campaign.
I would recommend that you try to avoid offering to shake hands with people. I know that it is probably controversial but as a candidate, you will meet thousands and thousands of people and every hand that you shake increases the likelihood of you getting sick. Of course, if someone offers their hand, refusing to shake it would be pretty rude. You will also meet a lot of children as you go from door to door. I like children as much as the next guy but, beyond their cute exterior, lies a virtual cesspool of illness. It is always tempting to get a picture of you holding a baby or a toddler for the campaign website but I’d recommend avoid holding babies and toddlers (unless they are yours of course!)…you don’t want to pick up whatever illness is brewing inside of them!
Keeping a little bottle of hand sanitizer in the inside pocket of your jacket and regularly using it would be a good way to reducing your possibility of getting sick.
Build Campaign Schedule Around Your Personal Routine Rather than Vice-Versa
It can be tempting to sacrifice your personal routines for a campaign. You may want to spend every waking hour on the campaign but this is a recipe for burnout. Campaigns really are marathons and you have to pace yourself. You need to make it to the finish line in one piece. Plus nobody will vote for a quivering mass of stress and fatigue.
If you need to go to the gym every day, ensure that you do so. Even if it is only for 30 minutes.
If you need 8 hours of sleep to function, ensure that you don’t sacrifice even one minute of sleep. If you are a coffee drinker, don’t quit. Nobody wants to deal with you without your coffee intake! However, to protect your sleep, you should front load your coffee consumption. Drink all of your coffee in the morning so that you can sleep at night.
Campaign Calories Are Real Calories
Donuts, cookies, pastries, and other foods that are devoid of nutritional value are everywhere on a campaign. Yes, as a candidate, as you go door to door canvassing you will be walking a lot but you need to watch how much you eat of this empty calorie laden food. You need nutrients to keep yourself healthy and functioning at full capacity throughout the campaign. You also want to be able to still fit into your suit at the end of the campaign.
Carbs are your friend as they will be the fuel that gets you through the day. Make sure that the majority of your carb intake comes from fruits and whole grains. The more complex the carbohydrate (ie brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, potatoes, beans) the longer the energy spike will last and the more satiated you will feel. Simple carbohydrates (like sugar and white bread) tend to spike your blood sugar quickly and then send it crashing back down to earth. This leads to a quick drop in energy and an increase in appetite.
Don’t Bring Your Campaign Home with You
Your family will be making huge sacrifices throughout the campaign. You will be away from them much more than usual and they may get dragged out into events that they don’t necessarily love. To minimize the impact on your family, don’t bring the stresses of the campaign home with you. Your family deserves to have you be fully present with them when you are at home with them. Avoid talking about the campaign with them unless they specifically ask questions about it and if you’ve had a bad day on the campaign trail, don’t take it out on your family. Being at home should be a chance for you to rest and recuperate. Your mind will need a break from the campaign and, ultimately, your family is far more important than any campaign.
Pre-schedule your important family activities into your campaign calendar. You will regret missing your anniversary dinner or your son’s or daughter’s big hockey game.
If you have young children, try to get home early enough to say good night as they go to bed and maybe read them a book. Those moments are precious. If you need to go back to the campaign office, go back after they are fast asleep.
Talk to Somebody
There will be a lot of ups and downs on your campaign. As a candidate, it is hard to deal with all of the stress of a campaign while maintaining a happy face for all of the volunteers and voters. You will likely need an outlet that will allow you to vent and express your real emotions about the campaign. Sometimes a campaign volunteer or your campaign manager will make a monumentally boneheaded mistake and the last thing that you want to do is have an explosion on them in front of everyone. I’d recommend that you ask one of your most trusted friends to be your “campaign therapist”. Your campaign therapist will be the person who will listen to you as you get things off of your chest. If this person gives you campaign advice based on what you tell them, you should always bring that advice to your campaign manager.
An election is like dominoes. The winner of the election is the one who can knock down all of their dominoes. A front-running candidate may only have a few dominoes to knock down while a long shot candidate has many dominoes that all need to fall in order for them to win. Both front-runners and long shots need to align their dominoes in the way that makes them most likely to fall if they want to be successful on election day.
In 2010, Calgary saw a long shot candidate who was able to knock down all of his dominoes with a strong grassroots campaign that was mixed with at least a little bit of luck. For a long shot candidate to win, luck will always play a part.
The long shot candidate was Naheed Nenshi. Nenshi was a little known local professor who threw his hat into the race early on. He was polling at around the margin of error up until quite late in the race yet he ended up winning with a fairly substantial margin over his fourteen fellow mayoral candidates. In this post, I want to analyze how the Nenshi Phenomenon was able to overcome staggering odds to win the 2010 election campaign.
Let’s first talk about the political zeitgeist that was brewing in Calgary in 2010.
The Mayor of the time was Dave Bronconnier who had first been elected mayor in 2001 after sitting for 9 years as an Alderman (now known as City Councillor). Bronconnier was certainly not known for his charisma but was re-elected in 2004 and again in 2007 before announcing that he would not run in the 2010 mayoral election. Calgarians have a strong fiscally conservative reputation but they also have a habit of electing centre-left mayors and city councils. Bronconnier fit within the centre-left mould as he was a previous Liberal candidate in a federal campaign and also had a falling out with the Progressive Conservative Premier of the time over municipal funding.
In 2010, Calgary’s City Council was divided politically and was seen by many Calgarians to be dysfunctional and out of touch. The best representative of this was Calgary’s Peace Bridge. This bridge was designed by acclaimed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. This bridge was controversial for a number of reasons but, in particular, because it was a single sourced contract that cost $25,000,000 and was within a few hundred metres of other bridges that crossed the same river. There were also questions about aesthetics of the design. Ultimately, the bridge was seen by many as a symbol of how out of touch Calgary’s City Council was at the time.
A couple of issues that dominated the campaign were: 1) the building of a tunnel at the Calgary International Airport. Calgary was building a new airport runway that cut access to the airport for many residents from the Northeast portion of the city. This tunnel was going to be an expensive endeavour and the necessity of the expense of this tunnel was subject of much debate. 2) Calgary was booming under the explosion of the oil and gas industry and the city was sprawling outwards and this was becoming a stress on the city’s infrastructure and a drain on city finances.
Ric McIver was the clear front-runner from the start. “Dr. No”, as he was dubbed by local newspapers, was an Alderman well known for being a contrarian on council and his antipathy towards the Peace Bridge and other local spending ventures was connected to his deeply held fiscally conservative views. He seemed to be a natural fit for Calgary’s fiscally conservative nature. He had built up a huge war chest and early on, he appeared to be headed towards an easy victory in a sleepy election.
The Game Changer
July 28th, 2010 – one of the most important dominoes for Nenshi was knocked over. Barb Higgins, a popular local news anchor, announced that she was entering the mayoral race. What looked to be a sleepy race suddenly became much more interesting. Higgins brought an impressive team and a substantial financial base to the race. Her huge name recognition was a very legitimate threat to McIver.
How did Higgins entrance to the race help Nenshi? First, she removed McIver’s veneer of inevitability. McIver was no longer the sure thing candidate and this opened up all sorts of possibilities for everyone in the race. Secondly, she ran a fiscally conservative campaign with a softer edge than McIver. This allowed her to eat into McIver’s base of support. Thirdly, the spotlight that she brought to the campaign allowed Nenshi to actually steal it. Fourthly, she proved to be a largely ineffective candidate with a weak grasp of the issues. She subsequently melted down under scrutiny mid-campaign and, as a result, her campaign stalled out. This meltdown allowed Nenshi to catapult her as the “non-McIver” candidate of choice.
Here is a video of her on-camera meltdown:
Here is a video detailing her meltdown on-camera and an incident that occurred off-camera:
Luck and the Nenshi Campaign
As mentioned before, every longshot candidate need some luck mixed in with their strategic brilliance. Here are some of the dominoes that fell for Nenshi that needed to fall but he had little to no control over:
– The entrance and fall of Higgins. Her entrance and meltdown could not have been more opportune for Nenshi. The fact that she didn’t quit the race as it became apparent that she wasn’t going to win kept much of her support from going back to McIver.
– Kent Hehr’s Campaign Exit. Hehr was a popular member of the Legislature who represented much of downtown Calgary. He ran a centre left campaign that had significant overlap with Nenshi’s message and split the number of supporters and volunteers between the two campaigns. Hehr’s campaign had trouble getting traction and instead of campaigning to the bitter end, Kent Hehr dropped out and endorsed Nenshi. Nenshi consolidated the centre/centre left vote and volunteer base and gained a huge base of downtown support. Had Hehr stuck it out, there likely would have been no path to victory for Nenshi.
– Wayne Stewart’s Endorsement. Stewart was a successful local businessman who a ran reasonably visible campaign. However, his campaign didn’t resonate with voters and he dropped out. As he dropped out, instead of endorsing either of the front-running candidates, he endorsed Nenshi along with Hehr and provided the campaign a clear sense of legitimacy and momentum.
– Bob Hawkesworth’s Campaign. Bob was a popular, soft spoken Alderman who had originally been elected to the provincial legislature in the mid 1980s. Bob ran a campaign which used opposition to the Airport Tunnel as a major plank. This which appeared to be a strategically sound “wedge issue” – especially considering that all other major candidates spoke in support of the tunnel. Unfortunately for Bob’s campaign, by being the sole dissenter, he was marginalized and steamrolled in the Airport Tunnel debate as support for the tunnel gained traction.
Bob’s campaign didn’t seem to capitalize on his very likeable personality and this is best shown by the use of large campaign billboards with Bob frowning with his arms next to “No Airport Tunnel” in a huge font size. Bob’s personality was one of his biggest strengths and it was a huge error to run an apparently negative campaign that was counter to his public persona. Furthermore by being a long serving Alderman, Bob was adversely impacted by the underlying anti-city council sentiment that existed in the campaign.
How did the struggles of Bob’s campaign help Nenshi? By Bob’s inability to galvanize a large progressive movement, much of Bob’s potential voter base moved to Nenshi as he surged in the polls. In a surprising move, Bob endorsed Higgins at the end of the campaign but it is hard to say how much of his base followed him to her.
- Ric McIver’s front-runner campaign. As mentioned before, Ric was considered to be the clear front-runner from the beginning of the campaign. His campaign reflected his front-runner status. McIver was hardly known to be an captivating speaker who didn’t shine in most of the many local debates in comparison to Nenshi. His contrarian reputation as Dr. No proved to be a double edged sword. It gave him a solid base of support in fiscally conservative Calgary but it also limited his ceiling for potential growth. His campaign seemed content to take a “Prevent Defense” strategy as they seemed to run overly risk averse campaign with a reed thin platform. His campaign had a huge financial advantage over Nenshi and the other candidates but didn’t have any answers for the entrance of Barb Higgins to the race and the Nenshi surge.
What did the Nenshi campaign do to win?
We’ve discussed a lot of what other campaigns have done that helped Nenshi win. This should not discount the Nenshi campaign and the brilliance of the grassroots movement that they were able to build.
Nenshi and his purple army went to almost every single possible event that he could. He regularly “berma shaved” and marched in various parades and set up booths at local festivals. He was able to sow the seeds of his eventual growth by being one of the most accessible candidates early in the campaign.
Nenshi was one of the very first candidates to get his signs out on public property. At the time, it seemed brazen for an apparently minor candidate to be the first candidate to put large signs out on public property. Public signs aren’t usually reflective of public support but they do show that he had a legitimate campaign organization and it was important for him to get his name out in public next to the major candidates.
Being on the Right Side of Issues
As an outsider, he could criticize an unpopular City Council while McIver and Hawkesworth were marred by their association with City Council. He was one of the chorus of candidates who sung the praises of building the Airport Tunnel as well. This helped him build support in the North East quadrant of the city as it was most affected by the new runway. He was one of the only candidates who effectively addressed the issue of urban sprawl in the city. For Nenshi, this was a brilliant move. It allowed him to appeal to the political left by talking about building a more transit and bike friendly city that would reduce our environmental footprint with a more community centric focus. It also allowed him to appeal to the political right by pointing out how much it costs for the city to provide infrastructure like utilities, roads, and bus service to the new sprawling communities that quickly pop up in a booming city like Calgary. It was one of those issues the let him to build a broad coalition of supporters regardless of their political ideology.
Hiring a Great Staff
Nenshi’s campaign team was brilliantly anchored by Stephen Carter and Chima Nkemdirim but was also made up of a large group of talented and dedicated organizers. The campaign team was able to identify and capitalize on the weaknesses of McIver, Higgins, and Hawkesworth as they catapulted over them in the polls. More importantly they were able to capitalize on the strengths of their own candidate while turning his apparent weaknesses into strengths.
Building a Great Sales Pitch
Nenshi could not have written a better sales pitch.
On a personal level, he was a born and bred Calgarian who, despite coming from humble roots being born into an immigrant family in the North East quadrant of the city, was able to go to Harvard University as a Rhodes Scholar to get his Masters Degree in Public Policy. He proceeded to create his own consulting company that worked with the Government of Alberta and United Nations to develop public policy. A person of colour who proudly wears his Muslim faith on his sleeve would seem to be a tough sell in a city often labelled as intolerant. The underdog story of Nenshi’s life seemed to dovetail nicely with their campaign as a whole.
Nenshi’s biggest apparent weakness was that he was never elected to any position at any level of government. In the end, this weakness actually proved to be a strength because his deep understanding of the issues allowed him to launch informed attacks on the decisions of City Council while remaining an outsider. Turning a weakness into a strength or at least minimizing the impact of a weakness is one of the most important things that a great campaign can do.
The most heralded characteristic of Nenshi’s campaign was their ability to effectively use social media to communicate with the general public. This was likely done originally not out of strategic brilliance but out of financial necessity. Social media is incredibly cheap to use and can be a great way to create a viral movement. This was perfect for Nenshi’s campaign…because they had virtually no money (at least to start). There is no doubt that the Nenshi team used Twitter, Facebook, their website, and YouTube far more effectively than any other candidate. They set the standard for future local campaigns as to how they can get their message out. The Purple Army of Nenshi supporters were rabid and diligent retweeted and posted every Nenshi campaign release and video on their Facebook walls. It suddenly became “cool” to support Nenshi because you were joining a movement.
One of the biggest misconceptions of the Nenshi campaign was that their use of social media was what vaulted them to the front of the pack. This is simply not true. A candidate can’t tweet their way into winning an election. The Nenshi campaign were able to effectively use social media to get a well-crafted sales pitch out to the public. If the sales pitch or salesperson was weak, the social media campaign would have been completely fruitless.
Nenshi, himself, was the best possible salesperson for his campaign. His urbane yet self deprecating personality was a sharp departure from previous Calgary mayors. He was able to boil down complex subjects into something that was easily understood allowed him to connect with the average voter without appearing to talk down to them. The Nenshi team described the campaign as “Politics in Full Sentences”. This frankness made him appear to be an “unpolitician”. This idea tends to resonate in Calgary where politicians are usually treated even more skeptically than they are elsewhere. Nenshi’s immense understanding of local issues and the inner workings of the City Council combined with his reputation as a skilled debater made him a formidable foe in the numerous debates. He was frank and honest about his ideas for the city and wasn’t afraid to give a well reasoned response even if it wasn’t always the answer that the person asking the question wanted to hear. His frankness proved to be kryptonite to McIver and his campaign’s timidity and his depth of knowledge proved to be devastating to Higgins and her weak grasp of the issues.
Getting Out the Vote
Historically, Calgary municipal elections attract around an abysmal mid 30s percent turnout. Much of Nenshi’s support was derived from younger people who have a tendency to not show up on Election Day. This fact made people doubt the likelihood that Nenshi’s surging polling numbers would actually materialize on election day. The sheer excitement of the Nenshi phenomenon and the grassroots Get out the Vote efforts by the Nenshi Purple Army drove the turnout number to 53%. His voters were more motivated to get to the polls than almost anyone could have expected.
Nenshi had a lot of dominoes to knock down to be able to get elected. There were a lot of “ifs” that needed to happen to get him to be elected. If Barb Higgins hadn’t entered the race…if Higgins didn’t melt down…if Kent Hehr didn’t drop out and endorse him…if Bob Hawkesworth had galvanized the progressive vote…if Ric McIver had ran a campaign that provided more substance and was able to fend off Higgins and Nenshi’s surges. If any of these “ifs” hadn’t happened or hadn’t happened in the succession that they did, Nenshi likely would never have been elected.
A campaign can only control what they can do. They cannot control what other campaigns do and they cannot control luck. Nenshi’s campaign team masterfully organized their dominoes in a way that maximized their likelihood of being knocked down and more importantly they were able to capitalize on the good luck that befell his campaign to ensure that the final domino did get knocked down on election day.
For Calgarians, electing Nenshi was about making a statement to the world. A statement that Calgary is a thriving city that will elect deserving candidates regardless of their religion or skin colour. At the same time, Calgarians wouldn’t have elected Nenshi had he not proven himself as the strongest of all of the candidates through his enormously effective campaign, his deep grasp of the issues, and his passion for the city.
Nenshi’s election is proof that candidates can overcome long odds to be elected. Long shot candidates need to run smarter and more efficient campaigns than front-runners do. They need a more compelling sales pitch and need to prove more effective than front-runners in getting that sales pitch out to the public. And…they need luck.
Author’s disclosure: I volunteered for Nenshi and helped organize an event for him – I was not a key team member though.
A frequent issue during a campaign: who’s the boss? The answer is not Tony Danza and it is also not the candidate. The boss is the Campaign Manager.
As the candidate, you may think that you should be the boss. Without a doubt, you are the most important person on the campaign. However, you are too important to be the boss. You are the face and the voice of the campaign. Everything that you do that isn’t helping to spread your message is work that you should not be doing.
As a candidate, your job is to meet people and spread the word. I know that it is hard to cede control to anyone on your campaign. Ultimately it is your name on the ballot. However, you cannot afford to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of a campaign. You have hired a campaign manager and you need to trust them to do the work that you hired them to do. Let them shoulder the burden and take the stress off of you. The campaign needs you to be relaxed, well-rested, and focused on getting votes.
If you cannot trust your Campaign Manager, you should do two things: 1) Ask yourself if you are letting them do the job that they need to do without you questioning their decisions; 2) Ask yourself if you have hired the right person to be your boss. If you don’t believe that you can ever trust your Campaign Manager, you should immediately start the process to hire a new one.
If you have trouble letting your Campaign Manager do their job, nobody will be the right hire.
If you would like some advice on how to hire a Campaign Manager or how you can let the Campaign Manager that you have hired effectively do their job, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a tough question which lacks a simple answer. On the one hand, a debate is a great opportunity to talk to lots of people in one room and showcase who you are as a candidate and allow voters to compare and contrast you along with the other candidates. On the other hand, usually the vast majority of the people who attend a debate have already made up their minds and are really there to support their preferred candidate. You are more likely to meet undecided voters on the doorstep.
In my opinion, debates are not the most effective way to spend your time as a candidate. They are glamorous and fun but they are largely political theatre. However, you should NEVER skip a scheduled candidates debate unless you are sick or have something already booked that can’t be rescheduled. It allows the other candidates a platform where they can characterize your positions on issues without you being able to defend yourself. It also allows them to paint you as someone who isn’t interested in answering questions from the voters. In other words, you should attend the debates that are scheduled but you shouldn’t push for more debates than the ones that are booked.
Debates rarely change the course of a campaign for a candidate for the better. They certainly can hurt a candidate if that candidate seems uninformed about the issues or comes across as rude or hostile. As such, you must go into a candidate’s debate as informed as possible and know how to handle difficult questions and situations.
One of the very first things you should do once you decide to run in an election is to get your photos done. Your photos will be everywhere throughout your campaign – leaflets, fundraising letters, websites, social media, billboards, and sometimes even on signs. For many voters, your photo will be their image of who you are. You probably won’t meet everyone personally so you want to leave a positive impression with those voters who don’t have the pleasure of meeting you.
If at all possible, you should try to get your photos professionally done. If you don’t have the money at your disposal to get the campaign photos done, you can check out Groupon as there are often deals available to get your photo. If you are desperate, you can technically do them at home but the quality isn’t never going to be as good as what you will get your photos done by a professional. Here is a website that has some tips on how to do your photos at home: http://www.sitebuilderreport.com/blog/how-to-take-your-own-professional-headshot-with-an-iphone
At a minimum, you should have three photos: 1) A great headshot and 2) An action photo – meeting voters on the doorstep and 3) A photo of you doing something special and memorable (ie receiving an award or doing a favourite hobby). You want to look professional but also connect with people on a human level.
Ultimately, everything you are doing (including picking a photo) is trying to convey a message to the voters. You want an image that will stick with voters and reinforce the theme that your campaign is trying to convey. If you believe that people in your area are looking for change, pick a photo that shows you doing something dynamic and youthful. If you believe that people in your area are looking for competence, pick a more conservative image such as a photo of you receiving an award or volunteering. Whatever picture that you pick, it should be representative of who you are as a person and be genuine. Voters will see through false advertising and will hold it against you if they don’t feel that you are representing yourself realistically.
You should have the photographer take dozens of photos from various angles and in various environments. The last time I had my photos done for a campaign my face was sore from smiling for so long. Use your friends and family as a focus group when it comes to picking your main photos. Please do take their advice seriously.
Warren Kinsella once coined a term HOAG – “Hell of a Guy”. We all know these type of people…the people you can’t help but like. They are the people that you would grab a beer with and shoot the sh*t with.
HOAG politicians are able to use their personalities to coat their political persona in teflon. No matter what poor decision they may make, a HOAG can usually get past it with a simple “I’m sorry.” Ralph Klein, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jean Chretien could all be considered to be “HOAGs”. At some point in their political career, each of them made at least one terrible decision but, by sheer personality, their political careers recovered and they moved on. Rob Ford is one of the few HOAGs who made such bad decisions that his even his larger than life personality couldn’t overcome.
Off hand, I can’t think of one woman HOAG politician. Women politicians are almost always classified into one of three unflattering categories: 1) Weak, 2) Shrill, or 3) A Bitch. These categories are usually effective tools to keeping women from attaining or maintaining political success. Women politicians who are too nice get labeled as weak and their careers usually are pretty short. Women politicians who challenge the status quot too loudly or too often are stuck with the label of shrill. The most successful women politicians usually get stuck in the least flattering category – the Bitch.
Hillary Clinton, Pauline Marois, Alison Redford, and Margaret Thatcher all examples of women who were able to shatter the political glass ceiling. Each of them achieved their political success through sheer force of will and hard work. To become successful, they had to play the game – they had to adopt alpha personas to be able to become successful. Tough, demanding, occasionally ruthless and hard headed would describe this type of leader. Alpha male politicians are seen as strong, determined, and natural leaders. Unfortunately, these alpha tendencies in a woman seem to rub people the wrong way and each of these politicians have velcro rather than teflon personalities. Everything seems to stick to them. Why does it seem that only women who take on alpha characteristics seem to achieve political success? Why are the same set of characteristics viewed as positive in males while they end up becoming a distinct negative for women as they climb the political ladder?
Look at this famous video about Hillary Clinton and her “likeability”:
If Democrats who plan to run for President who aren’t Hillary Clinton are searching for hope in their chances for winning the Democratic nomination, they can find it in one place – Hillary Clinton is still Hillary Clinton. She will still struggle with likeability. When it comes to likeability, she is in a tough position. If she seems nice, people see it as fake. If she seems less nice, she is just being Hillary.
If you are a woman who is planning to run for office, how can you handle this? This is a hard question for me to answer because I am not a woman and I don’t experience the systemic discrimination that women experience on a day to day basis.
Unfortunately, as a woman, you will have to work harder than your male counterparts to achieve the same success that they do. You’ll need a more organized campaign than they do. You will have to expect that people will try to categorize you. This is an injustice that will only change when more women run and more women win.
My advice to you: You will ultimately achieve the greatest success by being yourself. Trying to be someone other than who you really are will only make you miserable and is, by no means, a guarantee of electoral success.