After I purchased a home and settled down in a city, I realized that my local elections mattered more than ever. In addition to dictating my property taxes and the overall health of our city roads, those elections might also determine the quality of the city website, irrigation system, and even our water rights for the year. Instead of simply ignoring the elections and focusing on my personal life, I started analyzing the local politics and reading up on the candidates. It took a lot of work, but eventually I felt comfortable with my choice of candidate. I want others to understand local elections, which is why this entire blog is about government and politics.
You've decided to run for a local campaign position -- maybe you have always wanted to be mayor of your city or you feel like you could really help influence things for the better in your county. It's not enough to just put your name on the ballot and hope for the best; even for small political races, you need to put a lot of time, energy and finances into conducting a campaign.
One of the areas you may think you can avoid because of the small size of the race is opposition research. Isn't it enough to have your own well-thought-out platform?
But no matter what the size of the political office you're running for, it's vital to conduct some research on who's running against you. Here's why:
You want to create a contrast for voters.
If your opponent for sheriff has broken the law, or your opponent for mayor has a DUI or two in their background, it's important to know and be able to paint a contrast. You are the law-abiding candidate; you are the responsible candidate who doesn't put others' lives at risk.
There is a fine line between revealing information about your opponent and negative campaigning. Regardless of whether you decide to make the information you discover publicly available, it's important to know who you're dealing with. And, if you discover that your opponent really doesn't have any skeletons in their closet, you may approach your campaign differently. For example, you may incorporate campaign messaging that urges voters to focus on the issues rather than the candidates' backgrounds -- a move that makes you look like you're taking the high road.
You need to know exactly where they stand on issues.
If your opponent for school board has been homeschooling their kids, or your rival for county commissioner owns land in the county and is trying to develop it, you can identify areas where your opposition may have ulterior motives.
With this information, you can make sure you are carving out a position for yourself that is more honest, and that you can highlight that your stances on issues come from an assessment of what is right for the voters and not just what's best for you.
In this age of the Internet, doing some research for a small campaign is easier than it has ever been, and therefore more feasible for a municipal or county political race. You can identify some areas to research and talk to your political campaign staff or consultants for more information on what opposition research could be most valuable to your campaign.