Waking up the day after a hard-fought loss can be a humbling and agonizing experience, but it’s a reality that nearly every candidate will experience on some level.
From Adams, Jefferson, and Grant to Cleveland, Nixon, and Reagan, all were once losing presidential candidates who were able to rebound and attain our nation’s highest office. Lincoln was an especially persistent candidate, losing a campaign at least once for every office he ever sought.
The modern campaign cycle has been less kind to repeat White House candidates than those seeking down-ballot office. That’s where history shows us vanquished candidates who quickly regroup, remain relevant, and focus their efforts toward the next race can be successful.
The key to making that happen is continuing to engage followers after an unsuccessful run. Here are three ways to do it.
1. Lend your support to another candidate, but not your opponent.
The amount of time and resources a campaign dedicates to building a fundraising
base and volunteer apparatus has a monetary value, so why then do many candidates just walk away? Savvy candidates are recognizing the assets they have built and the value in the data their campaigns have collected. Today we see many more candidates sell fundraising and volunteer lists to offset campaign debts, or simply to leverage their lists as an asset.
A tough race that leads to defeat is not the end of the line. Identify a down-ballot candidate where your list will make an impact. Mobilize your volunteer base, and play a key role as a trusted, and most importantly public, campaign advisor. A win may not be yours, but the ability to remain relevant and prove you’re part of the ongoing political conversation is a key to longevity in the political sphere.
2. Refocus your efforts on a local charity.
Charitable groups present an opportunity for a candidate to maintain a well-honed campaign organization in the months following a loss. From volunteer organizing to fundraising, many local, state and nationally based charitable organizations are actively looking for the campaign apparatus that you’ll possess post-Election Day. Redirect your efforts to assisting a charitable mission that’s in line with your values. Share your fundraising base, participate in volunteer activities and put to work the public persona you spent many months on the campaign trail perfecting.
Your base of campaign volunteers will remain sharp, your fundraising list will remain active and you’ll have built yet another base to draw upon for financial and volunteer support when the time comes to run again.
3. Run again.
It’s perceived that every year campaign season begins earlier than it did the previous cycle, and that’s because it does. In today’s hyper-political environment, a candidate rarely ever leaves the campaign trail.
Don’t be afraid to announce your intentions to run again following a recent loss. I wouldn’t recommend starting your field operations two years out from an election, but there are benefits to organizing a dedicated base of volunteers and funders who truly believe in your candidacy.
Maintaining an active email list, a presence on social media streams, and making yourself part of the public debate when key issues arise are all tactics recently defeated candidates are employing to maintain a presence in the public consciousness.
Losing your local city council election may not be the first step in your ascent to the Oval Office, but history shows us that an unsuccessful campaign isn’t the end of a political career. Preeminent candidates control their political future by harnessing the ability to remain relevant. Maintaining your campaign’s base of financial and grassroots support are tactical maneuvers to keep you in the game even after a defeat.
JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Kids Action, and a veteran campaign operative. Follow JR on twitter @JustinRyanS