5 Things Winning Candidates Say

by Nathan L. Gonzales September 27, 2013 · 9:57 AM EDT

After the overwhelming response to “10 Things Losing Candidates Say," I decided to try to turn it around and point out some common themes from winning candidates.

Of course these phrases don’t guarantee success — a candidate’s party and the partisanship of the state or district will be a larger determining factor. But these sayings reflect an attitude and approach that will often set up a candidate for success.

1. “I like to ask people for money on the phone six hours a day.” Everyone wants to give a stump speech. But fundraising is a cold, hard reality for the vast majority of congressional candidates. Unless a candidate is personally wealthy and can ask, “How much should I make the check out for?” he or she will spend hours on the phone every day, asking people for money. And after they finish their call time, they’ll go to a fundraising event that night. Raising a million dollars is the bare minimum for a competitive congressional race these days, and that won’t happen by just shaking hands at the county fair.

2. “Here’s what my opponents are going to attack me on.” This signals a level of self-awareness about a candidate’s own strengths and, more importantly, weaknesses. And it shows a willingness to have objective opposition research done on the candidate, and not just his or her opponents. Strategists and consultants on both sides of the aisle would much rather know about any potential pitfalls from the beginning (when an effort can be made to soften the blow) rather than face a September or October surprise.

3. “Where can I get some professional help?” Candidates have to abandon the notion that the campaign apparatus that elected them county commissioner or state representative will be adequate for a competitive race for federal office. There is a stable of experienced consultants (not the ones who show up on cable television all the time) on both sides of the aisle who are often vital parts of a winning campaign.

4. “When are we going to do negative ads?” Some candidates’ aversion to negative ads is understandable, but they are often a fundamental part of a winning strategy. Negative ads don’t have to be personal, but drawing a contrast between candidates is a necessary part of the campaign. Consultants don’t stay up late dreaming of the most negative ad possible just for the fun of it. Negative ads are part of winning campaigns because they work, if executed effectively.

5. “Please” and “Thank you.” It might sound simple but, according to multiple campaign operatives, those three words can make a candidate stand out. Whether it’s asking someone for a $500 contribution or asking a campaign committee for thousands of dollars of help, common courtesy can go a long way.