The final months of a political campaign is the season of debates. Four rules to follow if you are debating, and one thing you should never, ever do if you are trailing your opponent.

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If you remember nothing else from this video, please remember this. If you are trailing your opponent in a political campaign, never, never ever turn down the opportunity to debate. If you are behind, it is one of the few chances you’ll have to change the trajectory of a campaign. To decline a debate is like a football team, behind in the fourth quarter, deciding to exit the field instead of playing ball.

If you are debating, there are some additional things to know. How you look and sound is just as important as what you say. Voters will judge your body language and take a measure of your personality. While they like candidates with convictions, they are repulsed by those who snarl, act like bullies or hurl barnyard insults.

It is imperative that you have a strategy. What issues are you going to raise? What distinctions do you want to draw with your opponent? What are your opponent’s weaknesses and what is your plan to exploit them? You may not have control over the questions asked, but you can deftly use your response to a question to steer the conversation to something that wins you votes.

It is imperative that you study your opponent in a political campaign, for the same reason that football teams watch game films in preparation for a game. Watch your opponent’s past debate performances, know your opponent’s biography, past statements and record in office, so that you are familiar with their strengths and weaknesses.

Anticipate what your opponent might say about you, and how you’ll respond. Do one or more debate rehearsals under the same rules that will be imposed on you during the debate.

Which brings me to the final point. It is imperative that you know the format and the rules of engagement so that you can properly prepare. All debates in a political campaign have rules:

  • Will the audience be allowed to ask questions? How many candidates are participating? How long will you have to answer the questions?
  • Will the candidates be given the opportunity to give an opening or closing statement? What topics will be covered in the debate?
  • Will the candidates be allowed to rebut or respond to what the others say?
  • Will the candidates be allowed to ask one or more questions of the others? And will the television audience see how your opponent is reacting while you talk?

You cannot play the game well if you don’t know the rules. The better prepared you are for a debate, the more articulate you will sound. The better you perform the more confident your body language will be. The more confident and likeable you are, the more likely it is that voters will judge you the better choice in a political campaign.


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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.

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Running for office and knowing how to win an election is a challenge, especially for first time political candidates just learning how to run for office. Discerning the fine points of how to campaign, raise political contributions, and execute a political campaign strategy often requires the help of someone who has served as a political strategist or who has experience as a political consultant.

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