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How to Run for Congress?

Sooner or later, there comes a time when every service member has to leave the military and return to civilian life. Perhaps you think you did your duty, and decided to seek a new path in life. Maybe you have other commitments now that you can’t fully support while in active service.

how to run for USA congress

No matter what your reason is, you’re likely wondering if there’s a way to serve your country even after you quit the armed forces. The answer is yes – you can still make a difference as a an elected official.

As a member of Congress, for example, you can take an active part in protecting the national and international interests of the United States of America, as well as help safeguard the American way of life. However, to do that, you first need to get elected.

Although you might possess all the qualities necessary to become a successful member of Congress, you’re probably not overly familiar with the election process itself. To help you out, below you’ll find some helpful information on what to remember about and focus on while running for Congress.

Be Involved and Get Experience

As a veteran straight out of military service, you probably don’t have a lot of experience in the field of politics. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some before you start campaigning for a seat in Congress. By getting involved early on, you can improve your know-how and chances of being successfully elected when you decide to run for Congress in the future. There are many ways to get involved in politics before you actually start your run for office.

One way is to volunteer to help with a local, state, or national political campaign. Working on such campaigns will give you first-hand experience of what it takes to run a successful political operation. You’ll learn about elements such as fundraising, marketing, or event planning – all key parts of any bid for office.

In addition to working on campaigns, you can also join a political party or an organization related to the party of your choice. Doing so will help you learn more about the inner workings of the party, as well as network with other like-minded individuals. Who knows, you might even find a mentor who can help guide you through the process of running for Congress.


get involved in politics

You can get guidance from a veteran led organization focused on increasing veteran candidacy and advocating on veteran issues. You might also help your local community in some capacity. Whether you join a board or a commission or simply get involved with a local issue, getting active in your community is a great way to learn more about politics while also building a positive image of yourself in the minds of your potential constituents. The same applies to supporting charities.

If you are a religious individual, consider taking a more active role in your local church; perhaps even apply for a leadership position. Faith can be a very important factor to certain groups of people when it comes to choosing their representative.

All of these activities will not only help you learn more about the political process, but they will also allow you to build a network of contacts that can be invaluable later on.

Remember the Federal Requirements

Your first order of business should be to see if you can run for Congress. The United States Constitution deems you eligible to become a House of Representatives candidate if you are over 25 years old, have been a citizen of the United States for at least 7 years, and you live in the state (not necessarily the district) you want to represent.

The Senate has slightly higher requirements. To run for the upper chamber of Congress, you need to be at least 30 years old, have had US citizenship for more than 9 years, and have residency in the state you’re planning to represent.

However, these are just federal requirements. Each state has its own rules and regulations when it comes to running for office, so make sure to check with your state’s election board or department to see what else you might need to do. More on that below.

Meet the Requirements in Your State

As a former armed forces member, you might think of the United States as a well-oiled and uniform giant. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting into Congress and politics in general, the reality is quite different. Federal requirements for becoming a member of Congress are very general – it falls to individual states to decide who gets on the congressional ballot.

Unfortunately, each state has different rules. To give you an idea of the scale of differences here, in California to run for Senate you need to get between 65 and 100 signatures and cover a filing fee of almost $3500. Those seeking the office of a United States Representative need 40-60 signatures and have to pay $1740.

In comparison, Maryland requires its future Senate candidates (vets included) to cover a token fee of $290 or $100 for those interested in running for the House of Representatives. In both scenarios, there are no signatures required (unless the candidate is unaffiliated).

South Carolina also doesn’t require signatures if you’re a member of the ballot-qualified party. However, the filing fee needed to run is enormous - over $10000.

Remember to double-check all the rules and regulations in your state and don’t forget about the deadline for filing the ballot– again, each state has a different one.

This is also the point when all of the networks and connections you’ve built come in handy. If you joined a political party and your state requires signatures, ask your local colleagues to support you and collect them on your behalf.

If you need help with the fees, try to raise money among your friends or look for like-minded organizations that might be willing to support your congressional bid financially.

Hire the Right Staff

Now that you have a better understanding of what’s required to run for Congress, it’s time to start building your team. Although you can technically run your entire campaign by yourself, it’s not advisable to do so.

To give yourself the best chance at winning, you need to hire competent and trustworthy individuals that will help you with various facets of your congressional bid. The most important members of your team will be your campaign manager, treasurer, and fundraiser.

Your campaign manager is the person responsible for the day-to-day operations of your campaign. They will need to be well-organized and have excellent administration skills to be able to handle potential opportunities and resolve campaign-related issues. Moreover, your campaign manager should be someone you can trust implicitly as they will have access to all sorts of sensitive information. They will also manage the team on a daily basis, so good interpersonal skills are a must. To maximize your chances of success, hire someone with a lot of experience under their belt and whose views work well with yours.

right people in the team

Treasurers and fundraisers might seem similar, but as always, the devil lies in the details. The treasurer focuses on managing the finances of your political campaign.

On the other hand, a fundraiser is responsible for bringing money into your campaign. This is achieved through various methods such as holding events, reaching out to potential donors, or setting up a small-dollar-donor portal on your website. The best fundraiser is someone with a lot of energy and charisma that can easily build relationships with others.

Of course, these are only three of the most important members of your future congressional team. Feel free to add additional staff as you see fit.

Make Speeches and Use Media Outlets to Your Advantage

Now that you have a team in place, it’s time to start campaigning in earnest. The first step is to introduce yourself to your potential constituents and make sure they know who you are and what you stand for.

One way to do that is by participating in local events and securing speaking opportunities in different public venues. This will give you a chance to reach out to a large number of people at once and get your message across. Of course, don’t forget about the media – both traditional (newspapers, TV) and social (Facebook, Twitter).

Use every opportunity to get your name out there and make sure people know about your congressional bid. Remember, the more people are familiar with you, the bigger your chances of getting elected are.


giving a speech

To maximize the effects of your speeches, write them down and consult their content with your campaign manager before the events. Also, use your speeches to target specific audiences that could resonate with your way of thinking. For example, as a vet, you might place emphasis on the issue of safety and security, and other issues that highlight the years you dedicated to protecting your country.

Conclusion

As you can see, running for office as a vet is not that different from any other political campaign. The most important thing is to remember all of the different facets you need to take into account and to plan your steps carefully.

If you want to give yourself the best chance at getting elected, make sure you:

  • Understand the state requirements for running for Congress

  • Get involved in politics and learn as much as you can about the process

  • Join a group focused on veterans as leaders or political party

  • Assemble a competent team of individuals that will help you with your campaign

  • Use every opportunity to reach out to potential constituents – give speeches and be visible in the media.

The ultimate decision of whether you get to make a difference or will have to run again in the next elections will depend on your voters. Hopefully, as a veteran, you’ll be able to win their hearts and minds and get elected to Congress! Good luck!


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