How do you run for Congress?
November 29, 2005 9:15 PM   Subscribe

How do you run for Congress?

More specifically, as a representative in the U.S. House? What forms do you need to file, how many signatures do you need, any particular qualifications that you need to meet? Any estimates on baseline costs to run a grassroots campaign, advice on how to get your message out there?
posted by papakwanz to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution states that The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof

Which means that such things as forms and numbers of signatures (and/or nominations by parties) is specified by each state, and therefore varies by state, as do such things as residency requirements (how long you have had to resided in the district where you'd run, for example). So for you, Arizona state law is the place to look.

The U.S. Constitution specifies only (in Article I, section 2) that No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
posted by WestCoaster at 9:30 PM on November 29, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, maybe I should have made it more specific to Arizona.
posted by papakwanz at 9:51 PM on November 29, 2005

You'll probably be running in a pretty localized area (maybe a handful of counties, depending on population). You don't have a shot unless you're very well known in your community already. City council, be prominant boards, involved in some NPs probably, maybe even some judicial experience. There are people with that out there, and chances are those are gonna be the ones that are going to be running against you. Know the local political leaders, be in with the parties. If Arizona has caucases, you better be prominant in those.

Also, getting appointed to state legislature can be a good stepping stone. That gets your name out to more people than just in your community, and gives you some solid experience to point to.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:51 PM on November 29, 2005

any particular qualifications that you need to meet?

Absolutely not.
posted by ryanhealy at 10:07 PM on November 29, 2005

You might want to research the career of Carolyn McCarthy, though I don't know if running for Congress was originally her idea. Still, she had name recognition before launching her campaign, which is probably key if you're not going through the local party machine.
posted by Opposite George at 10:08 PM on November 29, 2005

I'd start off by reading the handbook, finding someone to nominate me, and getting a commitee together.
As for cost, it would probably depend on your district and on how fierce the competition is.
posted by madajb at 10:10 PM on November 29, 2005

I see that you're a graduate student. The minimum age for a senator is 30.
posted by leapingsheep at 3:18 AM on November 30, 2005

Oh, sorry, misread. Minimum age for the House is 25.
posted by leapingsheep at 3:19 AM on November 30, 2005

It depends. Do you want to run for Congress in order to make some kind of point, or do you want to win? If you want to win, you should talk to the head of the state party, who will have precise, detailed knowledge of what is required. Call the FEC and ask them if they have some kind of a pamphlet that instructs one how to file the appropriate forms. You should figure out how to get some kind of significant public-sector or private-sector experience (e.g., serving as a state legislator, a head of a state agency, or running a successful company -- I assume you are not a war hero or the widow of a murder victim or someone else with an especially compelling personal story). You should have a plan to raise half a million dollars at bare minimum.

I am a former (successful) deputy campaign manager for a first-time congressional candidate. I was also a (successful) candidate for lower office. One thing about politics that I think it is helpful to keep in mind is that, since just about everyone has experience in voting, that just about everyone has opinions about what constitutes savvy politics. (Similarly, since just about everyone has been the beneficiary of an educational system, just about everyone has opinions about what constitutes good education.) It does not follow that someone with an opinion about politics has an opinion that is correct or justified!
posted by Mr. Justice at 5:58 AM on November 30, 2005

All I can tell you is start raising money and doing opposition research immediately. Money means legitimacy and if you don't have it, you may as well run for dog-catcher (which is not a bad idea in and of itself.)
posted by The White Hat at 6:20 AM on November 30, 2005

You go to this website:
posted by Pollomacho at 6:32 AM on November 30, 2005

According to Pollomacho's link, you need a lot of signatures:
3. Independent or Third Party Candidates
The signature requirement is 3% of the qualified electors of the state, county, subdivision or district for which the candidate is nominated.
Since a district is around 650,000 people, this is around 20,000 signatures. BTW, this is notably more than party candidates, who need 1/2 of 1% of registered party members. But they also have a primary to win to get on the general election ballot.
posted by smackfu at 7:11 AM on November 30, 2005

(Oops, total population is much higher than qualified electors. Maybe more like 10,000 signatures.)
posted by smackfu at 7:12 AM on November 30, 2005

If you actualy want to win, you'll need to run in party primaries. The Arazona party primaries for 2006 arn't untill september(!) so you have a lot of time to get started.

I'd start by putting up blogads requesting money on various political blogs you agree with.
posted by delmoi at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2005

WHOA. delmoi is suggesting you violate the law, unwittingly I'm sure.

The FIRST thing you need to do is form a campaign committee, and register it with the state elections board and the FEC. The campaign committee can then sponsor messages soliciting donations according to the law. The state may even have a booklet outlining the first steps you need to take. That should answer most of your functional questions (which are technically out of the expertise of AskMe).

I agree that to be serious about winning you must almost always run within one of the two major parties. There are a few states with active third parties, though, such as Minnesota, New York, and a couple of the New England states. You should also look closely at the sitting incumbent: is s/he running for re-election, and popular? 2006 may well be an unusually high turnover election, but it's still likely that 90% of incumbents will win. Also, running against an incumbent in their party will usually be unsuccessful, as they'll have a large slice of the party leadership allied with them. You won't be able to get meaningful endorsements.

Any estimates on baseline costs to run a grassroots campaign, advice on how to get your message out there?

Well, grassroots campaigns have been won on tiny little sums. Russ Feingold famously won his first shot at the Senate with a primary campaign (against two better-known opponents, who ended up splitting the vote and losing); that year he spent only $2 million on the general campaign, or about 50 cents per Wisconsin resident, a remarkably low figure. House campaigns are less expensive, but I'd still think in terms of around $1 per resident, or at least $1 million to run a competitve campaign. If you win the primary, you'll be able to get close to that, unless it's a safe district for the other party and you're just considered running to save face. The primary, however, can probably be won with much less money, depending on who else is running. I'd still count on raising at least a quarter-mil by the time of the vote.

I would look at Blogads and blog grassroots messages. It's really really helpful to have a website and blog yourself, and be as open as possible with it to gain trust and get evangelizers. But I don't think the day of an online campaign being more than one component is here. You'll have to hit the pavement, knock on doors, attend Woman's Club lunches and Rotary Club breakfasts, meet and greet local leadership across the district, hit the party functions, and so forth.
posted by dhartung at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2005

According to this page, almost 150 of the 2004 Congressional (House) contests involved someone (Democrat or Republican) who spent ZERO dollars. I'm guessing (assuming I'm interpreting the chart correctly) that these were long-shot candidates who agreed to run simply so that their opponent didn't run unopposed. One contest was the Arizona-3rd district race, where the winning Republican spent about $800,000 and won with 80% of the vote. [The $800,000 could well have been of the nature of "I endorse George Bush; I hope you come out and vote for him and me", rather than "I really, really need your vote, because I think I'm in a tight race."]
posted by WestCoaster at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2005

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