Influencers and opinion leaders have a profound influence on who gets on the ballot and the good that comes your way from courting them for your political campaign.

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This is a continuing series on how to prepare for a political campaign. Today Step 4, how to identify and court the opinion leaders who matter.

Who are they? Political party leaders, elected officials, those in their jurisdiction whose opinion matters, those with a large following who influence the way rank and file voters think and the way they vote.

They have a profound influence on who gets on the ballot, the money you raise, the number of volunteers you have, the doors of influence that are opened to you, the connections they can make to people they know that you don’t.

As you prepare for a political campaign, start by making a list of influential people you already know. Go through the contact list on your cell phone. People you know to be respected and influential in your state or community. Look at your LinkedIn Connections, Facebook Friends, people you know from places you’ve worked or served with in civic and community organizations.

Once you have inventoried the people you know, construct a list of people you need to know but don’t. These influencers will come from five very distinct communities. Political party leaders. Elected officials of your party. Leaders of important interest groups, civic and community leaders, and those who lead important ethnic groups.

First, I’ll go through each group and explain why they are important to your political campaign, starting with political party leaders.

You need to know who they are, and there will be some you need to meet with.

If you are seeking the nomination of a political party, you will need to visit with those who lead it. Your life will be easier if you have the support of party leaders. Far better to have it than not. Even if the party organization decides to support your opponent, you may be able to establish strong relationships with some of the party leaders who regard you the better candidate – – people who may help to you even if you don’t get the party endorsement.

If you ignore them, if you are a stranger to them, or proclaim at the outset that leaders of your party are the enemy, they will make you the enemy.

Many candidates have learned the hard way that those who control the levers of power inside political parties have ways of making life very difficult for those who scorn them. In some states party organizations have the power to prevent people they don’t like from getting on the ballot.

The second community of influencers you should speak with for your political campaign are elected officials of your party.

They too are worthy of a courtesy call, and the really important ones a personal visit.

Many will have great suggestions on putting together your political campaign, because they’ve done it before. If they are willing to open up, you learn important information about who you can trust and who you can’t, who has power and who doesn’t, and minefields to avoid. And even if they are not willing to endorse you, you may find they are willing to help you behind the scenes.

There is another truth I should mention about why this is important. Lack of familiarity breeds suspicion. If none of the elected officials of your party know you, have never met you, never heard of you, they are not going to take you or your political campaign seriously.

The third community of influencers you should seek to court of the leaders of important interest Groups.

Some are extraordinary powerful. Teachers unions, Civil service employees, health care workers unions, trial lawyers, right-to-life and pro-choice groups, the NRA, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, anti-tax groups, Tax fairness organizations identity groups, in some states the farm bureau and the chamber of commerce.

This is not an exhaustive list. Nor can I tell you which ones you court without knowing more about your jurisdiction. Regardless of where you live, there exists interest groups that are an important source of support, and whose support often determines who wins and who doesn’t.

As you talk to party leaders and elected officials, they’ll be able to tell you which ones have real influence in your jurisdiction, and which ones you should be talking to.

The fourth group of people to court are Civic and Community Leaders

 In your community it could be prominent ministers, the head of United Way or the Salvation Army, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, people who lead the Rotary or Kiwanis Club, or those who lead important community service organizations, civic institutions, or ones that promote popular causes like Mothers against drunk driving. Often these organizations are run or headed by pillars of a community, people who have enormous influence, and people who know a lot of other people you don’t.

You’ll find your political campaign easier to wage, and your efforts to network with important people easier if you take the time to meet important civic and community leaders in your jurisdiction. And even if they can’t endorse you, they will know people who might be able to help you.

How do you find these organizations and their leaders? Party officials and office holders will be able to tell you. Or search on Google and type Civic and Community organizations in your community

The fifth and final group of influencers I shall mention are those who lead ethnic groups.

They are especially important in urban areas. America is a tribal nation. We tend to live in neighborhoods where others look like us, think like us, talk like us. And we have a habit of voting for candidates that fit that description. That is especially true in urban areas.

Each ethnic group has its set of support organizations, leaders who advocate on their behalf, celebrate their history, or help members of their tribe with special needs, whether they be housing, health care, jobs, or economic support. It is the support of these ethnic group leaders that you need to court if they have a sizable population in your jurisdiction. Often you’ll find their tribal bonds are stronger than their bonds to a political party.

These are the five distinct community of leaders that can make or break your campaign. Must you have support from all of them? No. In fact I’ve helped many candidates overcome recalcitrant party organizations, corrupt party leaders, or the opposition of special interest groups.

I can also say it is imperative that you look for early support from at least one of the groups I have mentioned. They are your source of early funding for your campaign, the infrastructure that you need to get your campaign off the ground, volunteers who can help you, key endorsements you receive, and ultimately the decision that rank and file voters make in the voting booth.

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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