10 things campaigning taught me

Jake Miller

When I lost my election on November 5, 2019, I looked back on the campaign I spent a better part of a year running.

  1. Teaching 8th grade made me uniquely qualified to run

I never thought drama 8th grade students shared would be replicated on the campaign trail, but regarding many circumstances, there we were. People said one thing and would do another. Feelings would be hurt. Unity is never absolute, and trust is the most valuable currency between active campaigns.

  1. Need to give everything

It was a fool’s errand to try and work full-time while running for office. It was impossible to be a good teacher, parent, husband, and candidate at the same time, so depending on the day, different aspects of my life were below the high bar I set.

  1. Everyone’s a political pundit

I can distinctly remember a day at church where one person was criticizing me for not having yard signs in certain areas. I asked when I could drop some signs off at her house so she could place them for me, and she looked at me like I spoke a foreign tongue. People like that continually criticize the method a campaign is run, and I was willing to listen to them if they were willing to attach it to an action.

Nowhere is this truer than for women. I never had my hair or choice of clothing questioned. I never had anyone accuse me of “abandoning my kids” or question what recipe was my best one. I heard all these things – mostly asked by women to women – on the trail.

  1. Reliable volunteers are the gold everyone’s panning for

The problem is, there are often only so many and the beginning of campaign season is finding the true, temper-tested ones while picking up excited new recruits along the way. This is a long, hard grind that can barely be borne by one single person, even if the race is to represent a tiny school district.

  1. Regular, deep, and personal interactions are key

People love talking about the presidential elections because the media continually puts that bug in their ear. We can wail all we want about why so few people vote in non-presidential (the much-maligned terminology is “off-year”) elections, but a candidate plays their hand with the cards in it. Take more stabs at the pile by reaching out to voters regularly and asking for their input. They support a “representative” FOR them, not a dictator TO them.

  1. When it comes to voting, Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall in love, and women have the toughest time of it all

The 2016 presidential campaign is a great case-in-point. The Republican Party will be successful if they are able to build conformity behind and in support of a candidate. Democrats need to be a cupid and aim straight for the heart.

  1. Likability matters just as much – if not more than – the issues

If a candidate can make people feel good about themselves by helping them smile or laugh and then talking about how a plan has concrete and measurable goals that connect to their lives, they will walk away supporting that person, even if their policies don’t 100% align.

  1. Money matters

Want to guess how often the person with the most campaign cash wins? It’s 91% of the time. There is no stronger correlation to a campaign victory lap than that, so as much as folks wish to take a principled stand against fundraising, it’s the lifeline of a campaign and will be what the candidate spends most of their time doing.

  1. There’s more of everything except time

These words were uttered early in the campaign from a political fundraiser, and I laughed. But three days before the election, as I woke up at 4 a.m. to check all the signs I’d posted around the county, I realized that time was just about up. My shoes were worn out and my chiropractor received many extra visits, but come that Tuesday following the first Monday, everyone across the country was going to vote and determine my – and so many other candidates’ – fates.

  1. Can’t do much without a win

Compromises are made throughout campaigns to try and set up the trajectory for what students call the “Dub.” If elected to office, the chance for change (or preventing change) is fungible – at least until the next election. But if the candidate “takes the L,” (also what students say), the issues fall by the wayside.