How to Run Against an Old, White Conservative
Campaign Tips from a Speech Coach
The surefire way to bring the crowd to its feet at the Women’s Convention in Detroit was to announce you are running for office. “Hell ‘yeah!” was the response at the three-day organizing event as love was showered on the aspiring candidates. It was a wind beneath candidates’ wings needed to carry them down a rocky campaign trail.
Around the country, women are seriously eyeing political offices and they want to know how to win elections. Many are young or first-timers who want to be taken seriously and know how to punch back when needed.
Anger about the current administration has motivated thousands to get off the sidelines. Now voters need to hear how you will channel the passion. Navigating what can be toxic terrain and connecting with voters requires strong communications skills.
Here’s guidance for women new to the stump.
1. Share What’s at Stake
Make it clear why you’re running. “It’s not for me, it’s for we,” says Stephanie Maddin Smith, “mother to a black son named Parker.” The health care expert is running for state delegate to ensure her home of Baltimore is a safe place to raise her child and the community’s children. Use your stump speech to articulate what you care most about and you will connect with voters in an authentic way.
As a 13-year old Amy McGrath wanted to fly fighter jets and when she wrote her local Congressman asking him to change combat laws that prohibited women from flying, he said no. Her Senator Mitch McConnell didn’t bother to respond. That didn’t stop McGrath who became the first woman to fly an F18 in combat and is now running against McConnell’s handpicked candidate in Kentucky.
You don’t need to build a political resume to run but voters want to know why you are in the race. They are frustrated with the status quo and new research shows that they like it when women get involved because of an issue. The straw that broke the camel’s back for McGrath was the repeated Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan. In the best political ad this cycle, she tells why she can’t stand by and watch people lose their health care.
2. Be Fierce
The verbal abuse tactics used by the White House are spreading. Expect entrenched white guys to disrespect you, especially if you are a woman of color or LGBTQ. State legislative candidate Danica Roem who is transgender calls out the ongoing ugliness from her opponent. Republican Bob Marshall gained notoriety for introducing so called “bathroom bills” and vehemently opposes LGBTQ rights. Roem says she’s running to end his “26-year record of discriminatory social policies designed to tear our community apart rather than unite us around our common needs.”
The “young lady” who “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” On the U.S. House floor, that’s how white, 84-year old Rep. Don Young referred to the newly-elected Pramila Jayapal.
The Congresswoman immediately objected to the offense and seized the moment to tweet encouragement:
“Here’s a message to women of color out there: stand strong. Refuse to be patronized or minimized. Let the small guys out there be intimidated by you.”
3. Give Atta Girls
In a show of sisterhood, women members in the House sent supportive posts to Jayapal. That’s a lesson for us all.
It takes courage to run and we need to be there for the women taking the big step. Do something to help.
Volunteer to videotape the next speaking event for the candidate. Bring over a home cooked meal so she has time to review the tape and practice her delivery.
4. Talk About Family Matters
Voters are wondering “who’s cooking dinner?” They are intensely curious about a woman candidate’s personal life — marital status, family life and age of the kids if there are any. It’s a double-standard but they want to know how you will juggle family responsibilities while working for them. Or, question whether a single candidate can relate to the challenges families face.
Preempt the queries by striking a balance between your personal situation and policy positions. For example, share your child care arrangements, what you or your husband make for dinner, and where you stand on paid family leave.
5. Creative Confidence
Run as you are and show who you are. 33-year old Leah Philfer kicked off her Congressional campaign by traveling 8,000 miles through northern Minnesota woods on her Yamaha motorcycle. It was her version of a listening tour.
The former FBI counterterrorism agent used the unconventional launch to break out of a crowded pack of candidates to demonstrate it won’t be politics as usual if she’s elected.
Speech coach Christine K. Jahnke is the author of The Well-Spoken Woman.