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Running More Candidates

The following was written 20 years ago by the then-chair of Vermont, Chris Costanzo, to the then-Chair of Rhode Island, Mike Rollins. The approach is optimized for states with nomination by convention, and needs some polishing for states with low petitioning requirements. However, if the requirement is five signatures, that’s the candidate, a cohabitants, and a few neighbors.

Recruiting Candidates

Chris wrote: The Chair of the Rhode Island LP (Mike Rollins) asked how we, having a smaller membership than his party, could get forty people to run for office since he can barely get anyone. I sent Mike the following reply, which might interest you.

Hi Mike:

I read your cry of anguish as to what it takes to get people to run for office. It’s tough, and I almost quit in despair a few times, but maybe my comments as chair in Vermont might be useful.

One thing I learned early is not to ask people to run for office. People do not like to be asked to do work. So, instead, you ask people to lend their name to the ballot in the Party’s name. Just ask them to file, or consent, or announce (or whatever your state procedures require) even if they don’t intend to campaign actively. In fact, you file for them. They just sign. [Ed: In some places, a few sigantures will be needed.]

You tell them (as pointed out in national’s excellent Candidate Recruitment Manual) that a party that only puts a few names in the ring is a joke. But, a party that saturates the landscape with candidates presents a terrible threat to the establishment. Even if we have no chance of winning, even if our candidates conduct completely passive campaigns, they might get enough support from the growing backlash against statism that it can affect the outcome for the other candidates. And if enough of our candidates are on the ballot, we became a potential threat to everyone. We get lots of respect, the press can not ignore us, and candidates of other parties find themselves forced to address us. So, I just tell them, “if you would just be willing to enter your name you’ll be doing a great service to the Party.”

You also remind people that the whole purpose of a political party is to run candidates for office. Period. We are not a philosophical discussion club nor a social affinity group. We are a political party organized for the sole immediate purpose of seeking office. If people do not wish to seek office, then “hang it up folks!” And you must remind people through countless telephone calls, letters, newsletter pleas, and so forth.

I have found that once people agree to file their names and be on the ballot, many start getting into the spirit of things, start smelling blood, and actually start working at it. Once the party announces its candidates, a lot of opportunities come to the candidates, without the candidates having to go out and seek votes. Journalists call, “Dear Candidate” letters come in, and so forth. We’re not even in the election season, and already some Vermont Libertarians are knocking on doors and writing letters to the editor.

Still, not everyone will be active. Of our 40 Vermont candidates, maybe 10 will run really active campaigns. About 20-25 will respond to opportunities to give a talk, to explain positions on the telephone, to give an interview if requested. And the remaining 5-10 will do nothing. But the mere presence of 40 people on the ballot means that we have the potential to be a real spoiler for other parties.

I should add that in Vermont we have it easier than many other states. Our big job was caucusing and getting organized last year in response to stringent Vermont requirements. Boy, did I humble myself to get people to do that! But once that was done we, as a minor party, can put people on the ballot just by having our State Committee name them (and getting the nominee to consent). No primaries, no humping the streets for petition signatures. So under the circumstances, it was a lot easier than in other states.

Also, these past 18 months has seen a slew of very controversial statist legislation come out of the Vermont legislature, and it has polarized the electorate. Consequently, in Vermont, the VT LP smells blood, and our members are getting more interested in the political process.

Despite the favorable environment in Vermont, getting people to run is still a big job. It requires a lot of personal massaging by the Party Chair. For the past year I’ve been building this up, begging, cajoling, threatening (to resign), etc. In 1996 we ran only 6 candidates. But since then we have been in constant dialogue with almost all our 105-110 members (we were 84 at the end of 1997, but are growing very very fast.)

And above all, do not squander your meager resources and limited energy “working with other groups to make your state a freer place.” You’ll just be working to help someone else who will turn out to be a statist. Do not, at this moment, waste your time making your state a better place. Expend no energy whatsoever—except to make your party stronger. Or else, you’ll dissipate everything you’ve got. Do not even squander energy to help out national (e.g. recruit people to go to conferences, attend seminars, etc.) You have no time or money for that. Any time or money you have should go directly to Rhode Island LP matters. National exists to help you, not vice versa. Gotta be hard nosed.

And do read and re-read national’s “Candidate Recruitment Manual”. It is really excellent. Good Luck. Keep in touch!



One Comment

  1. George Whitfield George Whitfield March 2, 2023

    Chris Costanzo’s advice is very sound. Is he still active in the Vermont Libertarian Party?

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