Running For Elected Office? How Can You Keep Your Reputation (And Sanity) Intact?

Posted on: 17 November 2015

If you're planning to throw your hat into the ring by running for a local, state, or even national election, you may be concerned about your ability to balance your private life with a potentially long and stressful political campaign. In today's often polarized political climate, you may find that minor indiscretions you'd long put behind you can be given new life on the campaign trail. Read on to learn more about how you can keep a handle on your campaign's message, as well as what you can do to avoid having past foibles put on display for public consumption.

What should you do before launching your campaign? 

Even if you're running for a relatively small role in city or county government, you could likely benefit from a campaign adviser to help craft your message and ensure your campaign spending is having the maximum possible impact. In some cases, a candidate with a strong and solid campaign platform may wind up being defeated at the polls simply because this platform wasn't effectively communicated to voters.

For smaller elections, you may opt to have a brief consultation with a political campaign consulting adviser and then take any suggestions to your committee to implement. However, if you already know you'll be involved in a hotly contested race, you may be better off enlisting this adviser as a member of your campaign committee. By having an adviser "on staff," you'll have someone to quickly respond to press requests or questions, help you avoid inadvertently sticking your foot in your mouth during pre-written speeches, and manage your public image much more effectively than you or your campaign committee members could do alone. 

Is there anything you can do to protect your reputation while running for public office?

Unless you're planning to run unopposed, it's likely your opponent's staff or campaign committee has already created a private file on you. This can include any controversial (or even potentially controversial) materials -- from court records showing a juvenile conviction for petty vandalism to photographs of your car in a motel parking lot. Even for those who live relatively boring, uncomplicated lives, having one or more campaign staffers digging into your past can reveal minor transgressions you may have long ago forgotten.

These materials can then be used to propel an underground "smear campaign" against you or even be featured in your opponent's advertisements and stump speeches.

If you find yourself the victim of these types of smear tactics, you may wish to engage a campaign adviser if you haven't already. Your adviser will be able to give you insight on the best ways to respond, as well as help you go on a counteroffensive against other potentially misleading allegations.

If you're still planning to handle media exposure on your own, your best bet in responding to these types of allegations is to be truthful, brief, and apologetic, closing with a commitment to your campaign and constituents. By owning up to any misbehavior (or perceived misbehavior) and reinforcing your desire to move forward and ably represent your area's voters, you'll likely gain ground by showing your honesty and integrity in the face of potentially embarrassing allegations.