There are times when candidates find themselves sailing against the wind in a stormy political environment, facing certain defeat. Today, how to use a losing political campaign to advance a cause that will carry you to victory when the wind is at your back.

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It was late on election night in 2006 when I saw a candidate walk to the podium to give a concession speech.

As he began to speak, the audience became stone silent. These were his words. I never expected to win. The only reason I ran is because I believe in my heart that all Americans should have access to affordable health care. I thought this campaign would be a great way to give life to that cause. And though I came up short, it is a cause that shall endure.

Two years later, as the political winds became more favorable, he used the army of supporters he had attracted in a losing campaign to win a resounding victory.  He ended up casting a deciding vote for a bill that expanded health care to 20 million Americans, and made it possible for those with pre-existing conditions to get it.

I share the story to illustrate a point about how you win a political campaign when the moons are aligned against you, the political environment carries an ill wind, and defeat is certain.

My counsel is this:

1. Lose your inhibition. There is a certain freedom that comes from not having to nuance or second guess every word you say. Not having to worry about who you might offend. Of being exactly who you are, always willing to speak your mind, never afraid to lead.

2. Think of what you want to get out of running. On what cause do you want to shed light? To what movement do you want to give life? What issue or policy option can you promote that is near and dear to you that helps you attract a committed band of followers.

3. Imagine how you want to position yourself for a future race when the political winds are at your back. An issue or cause important to you, one also important to a significant slide of the electorate.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln knew he was not going to win his Senate race against Stephen Douglas in Illinois. He took what he described to his aides as the long view. He used the debates to pin Douglas down on the issue of slavery, putting Douglas on the wrong side of history. Lincoln was wise enough to play his game 3 steps ahead of Douglas, and rightly believed that slavery would be the defining issue in the 1860 election. The debates were the genesis of a movement that propelled Lincoln to the Presidency, and forever changed the course of history. 

Politics and democracies are never static. The political environment is forever shifting, coalitions evolving, demographics changing. There will always be an appetite and a place in public life for men and women of principle, unafraid to lead, resolute in service to a cause, willing to endure defeat to give it life.


running for office

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.

How to win an election:

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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