It's no secret that running for office is hard. There are the things that are obviously hard about it: asking for money, knocking on doors, attending events, missing time with friends and family. It's hard work.
But most people who are running for office know that fact when they take on the task. What they might not be aware of are the psychological and emotional challenges that come with running from office.
And some candidates handle those better than others. Below are some of the more common traps I've seen candidates – especially first-time candidates – fall into.
They aren't attacking you the person, they're attacking the politician
Running for office is hard because you're putting yourself open to a significant amount of criticism as a result of the positions you take on issues. On any issue with any sort of divisiveness, you're going to end up upsetting some people, either because they have an ideological disagreement with your position, or your position would impact their life in a negative manner.
And so those people will get upset at you, and they'll potentially say unpleasant things about you.
I have seen countless candidates take this criticism very personally. It's understandable that they would, because it feels very personal! But in reality, that voter has spent probably 30 seconds interacting with you as a person, if that. Are they really qualified to make an evaluation of you as a person?
No. The only information they have about you is likely what you've provided them in your role as a politician.
They aren't attacking you. They are attacking a politician. You just happen to be playing that role.
The best candidates and elected officials I've worked with have been able to recognize this distinction. They obviously want as many people on their side as possible – that's how you win elections – but they also recognize that they can't win over everyone, and that trying to do so will likely drive you crazy.
An election ultimately isn't a judgement of you as a person. It's a judgement of you as a politician. And those are two very separate things.
Some issues are more important than others
I remember a meeting that took place with a couple of local residents. They had some noise complaints regarding trucks that went behind their house in the early morning to drop off shipments for a local retailer.
Clearly, the issue was of significant importance to them – understandably so! And they made a compelling case for why it was important to them – and why it should also be important to the candidate.
You want to make these people happy. Partly because it feels like the nice thing to do; partly because you want their votes. And so you might be tempted to make this an issue as part of your campaign – "Too much truck noise!"
These two residents would certainly appreciate that!
But the problem is that it's an issue that is extremely confined to these two individuals. If you were to ask each resident of the district you are running in if they have a specific problem they want solved, you'd get 1,000 different answers.
So don't get too bogged down in these smaller, specific issues – mainly because they can distract you from focusing on the bigger picture of what the broader community wants solved or addressed. It can often take an intense amount of time and energy to win certain people over. More often than not, it's not worth it for just a couple of votes.
Of course, if you get elected and you want to find a solution to their problem (assuming a solution does exist), you probably should. But worry about that after the campaign.
Stop worrying about what your opponent is doing
When it comes to tactics, you shouldn't focus on the campaign your opponent is running (with rare exceptions) – you should focus on the campaign you want to run.
The best example is lawn signs. As I've explained previously, they can often put candidates into a trance of sorts. Too often, I have seen candidates drive home after a day of campaigning, only to notice that one of their opponents put up a high volume of signs along a particular route in town.
You know what that candidate is often obsessed with for the next 24 hours? Making sure that particular route in town has their signs as well. It sometimes means the schedule or focus for the next day no longer becomes the schedule or the focus.
There's a similar approach to events. I've often seen candidates weigh whether or not to attend an event or not based on whether their opponent was going.
It really shouldn't matter. Either there are voters at the event or not. If there are, you should probably be there (assuming they have the potential to become your voters). If not, then you probably shouldn't.
If your opponent attacks you with a piece of mail should you respond? Potentially. But this is one of the rare times where it makes sense to be reactive to what your opponent is doing.
Your opponent is running the campaign that works for them. You should run the campaign that works for you. Otherwise, you're effectively letting your opponent serve as your campaign manager. You can guess how that usually ends up.
Some votes you just can't win
Some candidates have a high level of confidence in their ability to win over voters. This is a good thing! And it's often the correct assessment of their ability if they're a good politician.
But occasionally this can make it hard to evaluate when a vote is probably lost and when you should stop wasting time trying to get it.
If you're a Republican knocking on doors and you see a house with multiple Democrat lawn signs, you should probably skip this house. You probably aren't going to win this vote, and there's a chance you waste a lot of time trying to win it – time you could spend on winning more persuadable voters.
A lot of candidates will see this house as a challenge, rather than a minefield. For some, ego will require them to try to win the vote. In many instances, it's because they want to tell people they won over a house with a bunch of Democrat lawn signs. If they pull it off, it is a fun narrative. But it's also only one vote.
Now, if you're running in an overwhelmingly Democratic district as a Republican, you'll need to win some of these voters. But in most cases, it probably makes the most sense to move on to the next house.
This is only a partial list of mistakes. There are certainly plenty of others that can be made. And as always, there might be occassional exceptions to these
As you might have noticed, it's not the "elbow grease" or strategic aspects of the campaign that can often trip candidates up, but rather the emotional and psychological challenges and distractions that can emerge. The better you can anticipate these, the better you can overcome them.