November 18, 2019

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Opinion

So you're a candidate; now what?

A guide for first-timers running for office

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/3/2016 (1331 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/3/2016 (1331 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The 2016 Manitoba provincial election campaign is officially underway. It will see about 200 candidates vie for the right to represent Manitobans in the legislature. Many will be first-time candidates. Here is some serious, as well as light-hearted, advice for them.

First, candidates should talk to their partners, families and friends about the campaign to ensure they understand the challenge that has been taken on. They need to know what to expect: the candidate will be under intense pressure, will have very little time to spare and will be closely scrutinized by opponents, the public and the media.

CHARLES TWEED / BRANDON SUN FILES</p><p>While political candidates are increasingly using social media to connect with potential voters, meeting them face to face is still very important.</p>

CHARLES TWEED / BRANDON SUN FILES

While political candidates are increasingly using social media to connect with potential voters, meeting them face to face is still very important.

Campaigns are tough on candidates — but, equally so, on the people close to them. It is critical these people know what to expect so they’re well-prepared to handle the campaign’s adversities and support the candidate.

During one campaign I was involved in, a candidate’s partner grew upset with the electoral grind, which placed strain on their relationship. This drained the candidate’s energy so he was unable to campaign at full capacity; he even bowed out of several events. The candidate lost by a handful of votes per poll. In short, the relationship tensions affected the candidate emotionally, threw him off his game and ultimately harmed his electoral chances.

Second, candidates must be sure to always stay calm and in control. This is not easy because campaigns are highly stressful and emotionally charged affairs. But losing control, even for an instant, can do irreparable harm to a candidate.

During last year’s federal election, the incumbent in the Winnipeg Centre riding (Pat Martin, NDP) lost his temper at an all-candidates debate. His poor behaviour became the story, overshadowing the entire event and doing his re-election bid — which he lost — no favours.

Third, the key to winning elections is door-knocking. Candidates increasingly rely on an array of social-media platforms to engage with voters. While these communication tools are important, there is no substitute for meeting a voter face to face. Voters want to be able to look a candidate in the eye and assess them in person.

First-time candidates should be warned canvassers face unexpected risks. The first is naked voters. Candidates will likely encounter several of these on the campaign trail. Yes, some people will answer their doors wearing only underwear, a shirt but no pants, or no clothing at all. The best advice for dealing with these embarrassing situations was provided by a former member of Parliament friend: "Look into their eyes, Sean! Whatever you do, just look into their eyes!"

Another risk is pets, particularly dogs. Most dogs are well-behaved, but some — for whatever reason — just do not like politicians. During a fall campaign, a candidate and I stopped to talk to a homeowner raking leaves. Engaged in conversation, we forgot about the voter’s dog, which sidled up to the candidate’s leg and treated it like a fire hydrant. Fortunately, the candidate had a change of clothes at the campaign office — a good idea for all prospective politicians. Knowing dogs can also become rambunctious, some candidates carry dog treats in their pockets, just in case.

Finally, candidates should try to be authentic. This means being clear, candid and straightforward with the electorate about where they stand on the issues, even if their position is unpopular. Doing so is the right thing to do. It might even translate into votes.

As Brian Tobin recalls in his biography, no one gave him a chance in his first election. What turned the campaign around, the former Newfoundland premier believes, was an answer. Asked a tough question on a moral issue, Tobin responded honestly. While those in the room didn’t agree with his position, they respected him for being forthright. Tobin went on to post a victory in the election.

After the votes are cast on election day, candidates must remember to be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. As tough as it may be, the defeated candidate should go to the victor’s headquarters to publicly concede the election. This should be done as soon as the results have become clear. The act of concession is important: it demonstrates respect for the institution of government and the democratic process.

Soon after the campaign has been conceded, the winning candidate should speak. The primary intention of that address should be to unify the electorate. This can be done by acknowledging one’s opponents, displaying modesty and reaching out to all voters.

Both candidates should take the occasion to thank their supporters. After all, campaigns run on their hard work and donations. Candidates must never take them for granted.

 

Sean Petty chaired the 2007 Manitoba Liberal campaign in Fort Rouge and was platform chairman on the party’s 2011 election readiness committee.

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