There are some important questions every candidate must ask themselves — and answer honestly — before they decide to run for office.
This may be the most important one a candidate needs to answer:
Are you willing for your campaign to go negative if the race calls for it?
This is a question I ask every candidate who wants to hire me to consult for their campaign.
If they say “no” or are unsure about going negative if need be, I will not work for them.
Because if a candidate will not go negative and attack another candidate if that’s what must be done to win, then they are not committed to winning.
No matter how hard they work, they will likely lose.
It doesn’t matter if their spouse completely supports their run for office, if they have the time required to be a full time campaigner, and are willing to relentlessly raise money.
If a candidate refuses to lay the hit on an opponent, they are limiting their campaign and that often results in them coming up short in votes.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way to ask this question of candidates from the get go.
Back in 2005, my former business partner and I were running a city council race for a very nice man who was a combat veteran and retired peace officer.
He knocked on doors. He raised money. His family was completely behind his political endeavors.
In the Primary Election, he came in first place and was the clear front-runner going into the General Election.
The candidate who came in second place knew he had to do something and he started attacking our candidate.
We went to our candidate and laid out a plan on how to respond to these attacks.
We had a plan to hit the opponent harder to knock him out of the race.
Our candidate refused to go negative.
He didn’t want to run that “kind of campaign” and be seen as a mean person in the community.
So instead of pounding away at his opponent and refuting the misleading claims being leveled at him, our candidate was beat up politically for the two weeks leading up to Election Day.
When the votes were counted, the second place finisher in the Primary had been elected to the City Council.
Our candidate who didn’t want to go on the negative, even though the attacks we wanted to launch were truthful and sourced, lost big time.
Yes, he retained his persona as a nice guy, but he failed to achieve his goal of getting elected to the City Council.
I don’t believe the cliche that nice guys finish last, but it wouldn’t be a cliche if it didn’t happen far too often.
After that campaign, I’ve always asked a candidate during the interview process if they would go negative if that’s what had to be done to win.
It’s worked out quite well.
Every candidate who said “no”, I’ve walked away from and they wound up losing.
The candidates who said “yes” that they’d attack if that was my recommendation, won their elections.
Now I’m not saying that you as a candidate for office must go on the attack.
Not at all.
In fact, I have 7 Rules for Going Negative that define the conditions for when a campaign should and should not start throwing mud.
And the attacks don’t need to be vicious and nasty.
I’ve found that humor works best when it comes to hitting your opponent.
My point is this:
If you’re a candidate for office, then you need to be willing to do whatever it takes (legally, morally, and ethically of course) to win your election.
If you’re afraid of being labeled as a mean person or a nasty campainger by a bunch of talking heads in the community if you go negative, and therefore won’t do it, then you’re not serious about winning.
And if you’re not serious about winning because you’re not going to go the distance in your campaign, then you should do yourself and your family and the people you’re going to hit up for money a huge favor: Don’t Run!
It’s no fun to lose an election.
It’s even less fun to lose an election because another candidate went Beast Mode on you but you refused to attack them back.
Just ask our 41st President Michael Dukakis about that one.
Oh wait, he didn’t want to go negative and George Bush won a landslide in the 1988 Election even though Dukakis had been killing him in the polls.
As his running make Lloyd Bentsen told the Los Angeles Times a couple years later about the lessons learned on that campaign:
“Politics is a contact sport. If someone takes you on, you better reply. If they charge you with something that’s just not true, then you can’t leave it hanging out there. You have to refute it.”