There are a small number of people who have already begun to look beyond this year's election: next year's candidates. For them, while this year's campaigns were important, the most important campaign, their own, is just beginning.
Whether you're just thinking about running for office next year, or you've already decided to throw your hat in the ring, you may be asking yourself, "When should I start my campaign?" The best answer anyone can give you is, "right now!"
It's never too early to start your political campaign. While there are certainly some activities best left until closer to the election, there are many opportunities for positioning yourself for a victorious campaign.
The Day After Election Day
Of course, for next year's candidates, the real meat of the campaign should have started the day after this past Election Day. While most of us in politics are recuperating from this year's campaigns, next year's candidates, campaign managers, and consultants are starting to put their plans into action. Here are five tips for starting next year's campaign strong:
Many campaigns make the mistake of doing some early fundraising then waiting until close to the election to hold events and send out mail. Don't make this mistake. Your fundraising operation should continue throughout the entire campaign. Whether you got an early start or not, now is not the time to slack off. During the fall months, keep up a strong and sustained fundraising effort.
Analyze This Year's Races
This year's campaigns hold a wealth of information for your race. Make sure to re-check your targeting and learn any lessons you can from this year's election. In order to do this effectively, you'll need to get complete election results after Election Day and take the time to add what you learn to your campaign plan.
Contact This Year's Campaigns
Several weeks after Election Day, your team should contact this year's campaigns from your district (both winners and losers). The goal of making this contact is to ask for help with your own campaign. Ask the campaign manager or candidate in each race if they will let you use their fundraising lists, see the targeting they did, encourage their volunteers to work for you, and sit down with you to talk about how they won or why they lost. Be sure not to make this call too early, while the campaign is trying to close its books, or too late, after everyone has gone their separate ways. 1-2 weeks after Election Day should work well.
Go Full Steam Ahead
Don't start slow. Many campaigns start off at a lollygag pace, knowing that they will pick up steam closer to the election. The campaign that starts full steam ahead right after Election Day is the campaign that will build momentum first. Start your campaign strong - even though there will be people who tell you it is foolish to do so. You'll be glad you did.
Work the Grassroots Right Away
It is imperative that you start building your grassroots organization as soon as you commit to running for office, if not before. After Election Day, start working the grassroots immediately: meet with community leaders, gather and train your team, and start meeting the voters.
All else being equal, the campaign that starts strong wins. Getting a strong start will allow your campaign to get out ahead, define the terms under which the race will be run, define your opponent, and build name ID and momentum before the other campaign even starts to awaken from its post-Election Day slumber.