Helpful Hints for Candidates

By Mark Shields

March 31, 2018 5 min read

Successful politicians, those who have won election and re-election to office, almost always have an extra olfactory nerve that somehow endows them with the ability to smell which way the political winds will blow in a given election year — and whether a gale-force blast is forming that might sweep them out of office in November. That could explain why more Republican House members have already announced that they will not seek re-election in 2018 than in any year since 1930 — when, we recall, after the collapse of the stock market, the nation's unemployment rate had more than tripled in less than 12 months, heralding an election in which Democrats would capture 52 House seats from the GOP.

I have a confession to make: I like people who dare to run for public office. For most of us, our lives are made up of quiet victories and quiet defeats. If you and I are the two finalists to become the national manager of Rocky Mountain Sunscreen and you are chosen, when the hometown paper announces your promotion and success, it does not include a line such as, "Shields was passed over because of lingering questions about his expense account and his erratic behavior at the company Christmas party." But for the political candidate, the results are right there for everybody — everyone he has ever carpooled with, dated or baby-sat for — to see, whether he won or, more likely, he lost.

So, after having worked personally in three presidential campaigns and having covered the past 11, I offer this free advice to all 2018 candidates, who, just by running, are willing to risk public rejection and defeat.

1) "Money," as the late Jesse Unruh, the fabled "Big Daddy" of California politics, observed, "is the mother's milk of politics." The candidate has to be willing to personally ask friends, relatives and strangers to contribute to her campaign. But know that fundraising is not easy. So when some supporter promises you that the event he is hosting for you will most definitely raise x thousand dollars, always cut that promised amount in half — and then halve that.

Never accept, regardless of the legality of cash donations, a contribution from someone delivering from a third party an envelope with four $100 bills in it. Why? Because no one in campaign history has ever donated $400 to a candidate, so you can safely conclude that the individual delivering the envelope has himself lifted either $600 or $100 from the original amount.

2) Campaigns should be fun. Every political campaign is chaotic, complex and demanding for the people involved. Staffers work long hours at enormous dislocation to their personal, family and social lives. Campaign workers' compensation is not in the usually modest paychecks but in the shared sense of recognition, appreciation and feeling of involvement in an important cause, which only the candidate can "pay."

And please know this: There will inevitably be one person on your side in every campaign whom you wish devoutly were on the other side.

3) Elections have rightly been called "one-day sales." It does not matter if hundreds of people say on Wednesday that they fully intended to vote for a candidate, because the voting ends Tuesday night at 8. Very few enterprises in life are as final and decisive as a campaign. You win or you lose. No do-overs. Campaigns are not about the candidate or the party or the campaign staff; campaigns are about the voters — about their lives, their hopes and their concerns.

And rather than spend time and goodwill arguing about the color of the campaign bumper stickers and buttons, just remember that blue is America's favorite color by a 2-1 ratio.

I hope those hints are helpful. Thank you for caring enough to run for public office. And good luck.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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