I learned that there was potentially an opening in the Legislature -- if the current representative decided to run for higher office -- and paid attention to what was going on with that seat. I kept track of the electoral arena -- who the players were, who was running, and what they did. I started honing in on the district, shifting my efforts from working in the broader community to the geographic area that I wanted to represent.
It became a waiting game -- there was a period of about a year where I was in a holding pattern. I had to be patient and wait for the right opportunity, so I just bided my time.
Probably the most important thing is having a good campaign manager. That's something few candidates pay enough attention to -- finding that one person that's going to be there through it all with you. That should be a person you identify two years out, too. While you're preparing yourself as a candidate, the campaign manager can start going to campaign school and learn what it's going to take. Which one of your friends, or political colleagues has the basic skills, really believes in you, and is ready to be there for you? A good campaign manager doesn't have to have run a campaign before, but they should know how to organize and have the basic skills to do it. It should be someone that you can actively trust, so you can do your part of the campaign and have the confidence that they will make everything else happen.
In some ways, no one can imagine what it's like to run for office until you've been through it. It's like a marathon -- it means stretching yourself to the limit of your physical, emotional, and mental endurance, day after day. A lot of candidates don't really realize how much it's going to take -- you have to want it bad enough to just keep going through exhausting stuff, boring stuff, ugly stuff, and you have to just keep going. You've really got to have that fire in the belly. By now I've run eight or ten times, in both primaries and generals. It's important to have your life in order, whatever that means to you. If you're a single person you should make sure you've got proper emotional support around you. If you're married or in a relationship, be sure that your spouse or partner is ready to take this on, and that your children are, too.
During the early part of my first campaign, I didn't give a speech that wasn't written out word for word. I wasn't comfortable unless I had my speech completely written out. I had heard too many candidates talk and not say anything, and I committed to myself that if I was going to get up and speak, that I would say something really substantive. Now I can give very good speeches, heartfelt, with substance, outlined on the back of a napkin five minutes before the speech. Public speaking is a learnable skill, and being nervous at first shouldn't inhibit anyone because it gets amazingly easier over time. I had never directly asked anyone for money before I became a candidate. Because of my activist history, I had a big base of support during my early campaigns -- a lot of money just came rolling in when I announced my candidacy. We did events and mailings, and that's pretty much how we raised