So Why Aren’t You Running for Office by John Devine

By at July 18, 2013 | 10:08 am | Print

So Why Aren’t You Running for Office by John Devine

John Devine

Recently I wrote a blog entitled “So Why Aren’t You Running for Office” on Campaignsick;   a blog and tumblr dedicated to best practices in campaign management, political activism and voting rights. It is written and managed by Democratic operative and blogger Nancy Leeds.

I received the following response from John Devine. I was so touched by his response that I wanted to share.



I saw the question that you posed to the readers of the Tumblr blog CampaignSick. As a campaign staffer who started his career by running for a state legislative seat, I have a unique perspective on this topic. Forgive me if this response is too long.

I ran for the Illinois State Senate in 2008 in a heavily Republican district. I was finishing up college for most of the campaign (graduated in May 2008) and had to balance time on the campaign trail with working to pay rent. I ended up slightly underperforming the past Democratic candidate for that district by 2,000 votes, but I also only spent 6 cents per vote to that candidate’s $6 per vote.

Many of the CampaignSick readers are younger, under 30. Young candidates, especially young Democrats, are at a disadvantage in many areas. If a Democrat has a chance in a district, there’s usually an existing bench of either current office holders or prominent community leaders ready to step up and take on the district. Young people often can’t overcome the name recognition unless the known candidates are deeply flawed.

In other areas, Democrats are at such an electoral disadvantage, that young people secure nominations because no one else wants to run and be the sacrificial lamb to take on an entrenched Republican. While upsets can happen, these type of races are almost sure fire losses which could hurt the young candidate in future elections. On the other hand, if that county or legislative district is a red piece of an otherwise blue congressional seat, it could raise name ID  and actually be an asset in future races if the young candidate decides to stay there and build their political base.

The other reason why many campaign staffers are not considering runs at this point in their lives is that they are moving around so much, they haven’t cultivated a political base in their home area. Personally, I haven’t even taken an active role in the local Democratic Party in my home area because I’m never home to help local candidates.

For all these reasons why people don’t run, having done it myself, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

For one, running for office forces you to open up. Before I ran, I was pretty quiet, introverted. Not any more. I’m still not the most outgoing person, but running gives you confidence. IF you can get up on a stage and convince people to vote for you, you’re obviously doing something right.

But, the most important reason to run for office is that you learn a lot about others by running for office, much more than you learn managing or working campaigns. As a candidate, people open up to you. They tell you more than they would tell a staffer. I heard stories as a candidate that broke my heart, people who were going through really tough times personally or had friends or family that were going through troubled times. Although I didn’t win, I still keep those stories in mind when I’m managing other candidates because elections really do matter.

I would recommend to anyone that has a passion to help people to run for office. The post on campaignsick asked if people don’t run because “you don’t have a cause you feel passionate about”? If you’re not passionate about helping people, you shouldn’t be running for office. I think most campaigners, however, do have that passion for people or else they wouldn’t be good organizers. The reality is, running for office is a trying experience and the passion for helping others is what you need to have to keep going. Why am I knocking on all these doors? Why am I raising money? Why am I being torn apart in the press? Because if you win, you get to help a lot of people, many of them your friends,family and neighbors, but also complete strangers that have no idea who you are.

Whatever the reasons that people don’t run, if they are involved somehow, either by working on their local committees or working on campaigns, that’s better than not being involved at all. We’re all in it for the same reason: to help people. We work to win races so that we can bring real change to our community, to our state, to our country. At some point, if you’re politically involved in an area, someone will ask you to run for something, whether it be school board, alderman, state legislature, or Congress. That’s when the question becomes real: “Will you run?” The answer deserves thought and consideration, but the ones with that passion always make the right choice.

John Devine is a Democratic campaign professional based in Northern Virginia. He has managed targeted state legislative campaigns in the battleground states of Iowa, Virginia, and Ohio.


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