Every election results in winners and losers. I have worked for more campaigns than I can count, and I always found a way to celebrate election night – because someone I supported always won.
Or because there is always another race, another year, another issue that matters.
It’s not as much fun being a candidate (that’s my view) as working for a candidate and then being able to walk away. I know, I know, some folks can never just walk away after an election – they hold grudges, think about those who didn’t support or supported the wrong guy. And it doesn’t seem to matter to these folks who won or lost. But being able to move beyond a campaign can make the winner – and the loser – better, stronger, more responsive representatives. And that should be what we all want.
I’ve won – and I’ve lost – elections. So here’s my advice, learned through my own and others’ experiences at this. And, while I’m not perfect (and I don’t always take my own advice) I hope this will provide some useful guidance.
Some thoughts on what to do when you win an election.
Be magnanimous in victory. Call your opponent(s) and have lunch or a drink together. Get past any hurt feelings. While elections are not about you – they are about those you serve – it is difficult not to feel personally attacked at some point.
Be thoughtful of others’ feelings. And maybe this is the first thing to say to yourself. Because no one likes a selfish winner. And because you still need to work with those who opposed your election.
Your opponent probably had some good ideas – about things that can be improved and about your weaknesses. Take those ideas to heart, even if you decide later that they don’t work for you.
Build more bridges. Strengthen your ties to the community. After all, you may want to be re-elected.
Whoever supported your opponent is not your opponent. You still need to listen to their voices, even as you disagree. Don’t write off a section of the electorate.
Don’t neglect sending out all the thank-you letters and notes that you didn’t have time for. Call or write your volunteers, thanking them personally for their labor.
Pay the bills, and – especially if you plan to run again – make certain you finish the campaign season with happy vendors and people who want to work with you in the future.
Some thoughts on what to do when you lose an election.
On election night: Be gracious in defeat. When you are confident about the results, call the winner and congratulate them. Even better, if you can, go in person to offer congratulations. Being gracious in defeat is always an asset; your supporters are more likely to be gracious and get over the defeat more quickly. And the other guy has supporters who will see your qualities, and may later work with you in another election or another cause.
Your opponent’s supporters are not your opponent (notice a theme, here?). Don’t hold grudges. If you feel strongly that your campaign suffered as a result of negative actions by the other side, remember that people get passionate about the direction they want to see politics take.
Shake hands, smile, and get over it. It was never about you, anyway. It was always about the voter’s vision, and whether you captured it.
Don’t fault the voters for not turning out. Don’t blame the weather. Or the bad cold you caught while walking in the rain. If things had been perfect and everyone who could came to the polls, you might have lost, anyway. Sometimes you don’t deliver the right message. Sometimes you don’t deliver that message as well as another.
Finish all those neglected thank you letters and notes.
Contact your volunteers, and thank them, too. Some may be feeling a bit depressed about the outcome – but remember, it’s a vote, not a cataclysm. And it’s how democracy works.
Pay the bills, file the campaign reports on time, and think about what to do with any remaining dollars in your campaign fund. Those dollars represent the people who supported you, and their vision for a better government. Find a way to use those dollars to help realize that vision. (And read the manual on campaign finance to do that legally.)
When you feel recovered, get back involved. You had something – something that others’ supported – and you need to bring that something back to the table and get things accomplished.
Really great candidates can both win and lose. So can mediocre candidates – the ones with great campaign staff but no ideas. And while money plays a role in elections, just having a lot isn’t enough – those dollars must be spent wisely.
If running for office is like having a job interview that lasts for months (and that’s how I look at it) then remember the elation of getting a new job and the resolution that comes from losing a job for which you were perfect just because the other candidate interviewed better. And get back to whatever passes for normal life for you.
And thank you for running.