You’re Already a Candidate

Ask yourself this question: “Is there any chance I might want to run for office someday?” It might not be Congress or the White House. Maybe you want to run for a position on the school board or the city council. Perhaps you live in a small town and think about being mayor some day. If your answer is “yes” for any reason at all, there’s something you should know. You’re already a candidate.

The moment you decide to run for public office, your private life becomes a public concern, and public concern is retroactive. Depending on the office you seek and the level of competition for that office, the amount of scrutiny applied to a candidate’s background can vary widely. Running for district attorney in a small town may not invite the same attention as running for president, but the tighter or more high profile the race, the more likely that anything intended to remain hidden will be uncovered.

Presidential candidates face the most public scrutiny (and rightly so), but they also have the best communications teams money can buy blocking for them, preparing them with tested material fresh from the latest focus group research. When running for a smaller, local office, you may not face the same level of scrutiny, but you also won’t have the party elites staffing the upper echelons of your campaign team (if you even have a campaign team).

The best advice then to the aspiring politician is to be honest, proactive and transparent. If you ever want to be a candidate for any office, start acting like that candidate today. Think like your competition and don’t get blindsided. Maybe you changed your mind on an issue. Maybe you were an activist in college and said some things you wish you could take back. Whatever the blemish to your record, be sure YOU bring it up before your competition.

Your potential constituents will prefer an ugly truth up front to a well-executed cover-up revealed after the fact. No one lives a perfect life, and even if they did, the definition of the perfect lifestyle will vary from voter to voter. But right or wrong, helpful or hurtful to your campaign, honesty always yields the best returns in the long run.

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