I have been detailing what it takes for the first-time candidate seeking office. You can find the first in this series here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Yes, they have to be brass

Your plan of attack is set, your team is ready to get to work, so let them.

Micromanaging a campaign is a disaster. You hired or assigned volunteers to management positions and freedom is a key element of success. The Campaign Manager will assign tasks and deadlines within reasonable expectations.

This is conversation of about the candidate and what they need to focus on.

Since this section is focused on the candidates’ responsibilities, it is important to note some of the personal traits a candidate must possess.

Be Fearless When Seeking Office

During the campaign season you must not be afraid to ask people for help. This includes fundraising. Asking for money is not in the wheelhouse of most people.

Voters can sense signs of insecurity, which could translate into weakness. If you are timid in asking for their help in your campaign, you risk signaling the voters that your are not the strongest person to represent them. Confidence will win more support than anything else.

Be sure of what you stand for, and support for your campaign will follow.

When Seeking Office, Appearance is Everything

What you portray is what you sow. Perception is reality.

As a candidate seeking office, you create an image of your campaign through a number of different nonverbal cues. Voters look at your posture, height, clothing, and your tone of voice — just to name a few. Hairstyles can say much about you, too. Do you have a clean cut look or are you fashionably stylish? Are you wearing $400 shoes in a poor district? A woman’s handbag speaks volumes about her, something she may not realize could be sending the wrong message and turning off potential supporters.

You will be judged before you speak a word in front of anyone. And yes, people are going to criticize your appearance. This will come from all corners, including your team. And at times, it will be brutal. I know because I have assessed the appearance of candidates. I have engaged in lengthy discussions about the shape of eyeglasses or whether boots were acceptable footwear.

It’s not about you, it’s about the voters.

Keep in mind that this is not a personal attack, but an assessment of how you will be perceived, how your look will play in the media. You might be expected to change your appearance for the campaign to reflect your district or state and this change may go against everything you have established as your personal style.

For instance, a Phoenix candidate would do well to have more unkempt hair and adopt a jeans and a denim jacket, but this certainly wouldn’t fly for someone in Chicago or Charlotte. If you live in a rural community of mostly farmers, a suit and tie is not the best choice. If your voters are upwardly mobile and affluent, be ready to invest some money in designer labels.

Know your crowd and appeal to the culture in which you are trying to represent. Your look should be authentic and represent the message you want the voters to associate with you — not your personal authenticity, but that of your platform.

It is all about perception and how you connect to the voter.

This point I cannot emphasize enough. Go to a dentist. Go at the point you start considering a run because fixing your problems could take time. Plan to spend some money. Get your teeth brightened. Your constituents will first judge you on your smile. Bad breath and visible oral problems will only make you a laughingstock. No matter how strong your message is, your are not electable if you are the poster child for oral hygiene jokes.

Like I said, at times it will be brutal and likely, you’re going to hear it from me first.

Danger Zone

We have talked about hat a candidate should do to maximize their chances of winning their prospective races. Staying focused and positive on your campaign is very important, but what should a candidate avoid?

Remember, not everyone that smiles in your face wants you to win. There will be traps, pitfalls and temptations that will appear innocuous. While I cannot go into all of the potential perils, here are a few underhanded tactics I have experienced firsthand that made me question humanity.

Rule #1: Never Accept Cash From Anyone!

I don’t care if it is your grandmother, your best friend since grade school or your brother-in-law. No matter how friendly, sincere or willing a person outwardly appears to be to help, do not accept cash.

This never ends well. Take a personal check, money order, cashier’s check or wire deposit. Always have a paper trail. You always want to make sure all funds donated to your campaign are traceable. 

In Arizona, GOP staffers tried to donate cash to their opponent to establish false ties to the communist party. The Democratic candidate won reelection, but imagine the damage had they not rejected the donation.

Cash gifts are hard to turn down. In the world of politics, they are a lethal campaign killer. What may seem to be harmless could have devastating consequences. Something as simple as going to a ballgame with a friend just might backfire on your campaign. 

“Hey pal, remember those tickets I got for the game? I need a favor.”

Mom always said nothing is free, and she was right. 

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Gene Smith

Gene Smith is a Chief Campaign Strategist living in Arizona. He is a Juris Doctor, and host of the podcast "Hanging With Uncle"


  1. My son is thinking about running for city counsel soon and really wants to put on a good image. I love that you touched on the fact that most people will judge you based on appearance before you say a single word. I think that some merchandise and signs will really help him spread his message as well.

    1. I hope understands the negativity about to enter his life. I do not say this with a defeatist attitude, but from a place of experience. Primary opponents can be the nastiest. If he can maintain calmness, dignity and maturity with a thick skin he will be ahead of the game. I wish him well and if I can be of any help please do not hesitate to ask.

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