The Candidate Manual – Thinking About Running

Here are some important questions and issues you want to consider when thinking about running.

1. Ask yourself “Why am I wanting to run?”

I would encourage you to give yourself time to really think through this question. Before you get into the “how” and “when” and so forth, you really need to be honest with yourself about your “why.”

There are numerous possible answers to this question:

  • I’m angry/disappointed with the current representation.
  • I believe I can be a good public servant.
  • I want to give back to my community.
  • I want to have a career in politics.
  • I need the attention.
  • I want the power.

Obviously, some of these are better reasons than others. And some will only carry you so far. In the end, your real reason(s) will come out one way or another.

2. Learn what offices are out there

Before you can decide whether or not to be a candidate, it may be worthwhile to think about “a candidate for what?” To help you with that process, here are the various offices available to run for at the state and local level.

Note: Any position marked with an “*” either does not exist in Jefferson and Fayette counties or is only a ceremonial position. Those two counties have merged city-county governments, even though smaller cities exist within the county. In those two counties, the “city” positions exist at the county level.


Note: These may or may not exist, depending on if and how an area is incorporated.

Mayor – Authorized to supervise, administer, and control all departments and agencies as may be created by law or ordinance in the City.

City Council – Acts as a body to formulate policies, supervise administrative officers of the city, and work to conduct policy concerning not only the current state of the city they represent, but the future of the city as well. A city council member does not have power individually, but only collectively with the entire city council.

Board of Education – Governs the activities of the school district by setting policy and providing resources to improve achievement for each student in the district. Most Boards of Education are at the county level.


*County Judge/Executive – Administers county government, with the authority to create, abolish, or combine any county department or agency and to transfer functions from one agency or department to another. Any plan for reorganization, however, must be submitted to the fiscal court (i.e., the legislative body of the county) for final approval. Also specifically charged with executing all ordinances, resolutions, contracts, and all applicable state laws subject to enforcement. Equal member of the fiscal court.

County Clerk – Carries out the clerical duties of the fiscal court, including the registering of licenses for motor vehicles, recording and keeping records of various legal documents, voter registration, and tax duties. They also administer elections and are the chief elections officer of county elections.

County Attorney – Handles criminal and misdemeanor cases heard in district court: DUI, domestic violence, child abuse, all juvenile crime, traffic violations, misdemeanor theft, and assaults. Is also the legal representative of the county in defending against civil actions. Major criminal cases are handed to the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Sheriff – Carries out duties in four primary categories: tax collection, election duties, services to courts, and law enforcement. Most of a sheriff’s time is spent on civil duties, as opposed to criminal or law enforcement.

*Jailer – Monitors prisoners being held at a county correctional center, and are “Sworn State Peace Officers,” as are their deputies, with all rights and responsibilities connected to the power of arrest and other functions of the office. They must be bonded. And, whether there is a jail or not, there is a jailer in each county. They are also known as a “correctional officer.”

Coroner – Determines the cause of death, and may use powers to do so. They and their deputy coroners have the full power and authority of peace officers, including the power to arrest, to bear arms, and so on.

Property Valuation Administrator – Assesses all property in the county, prepares property assessment records, and performs other duties relating to assessment as the law or the Department of Revenue may prescribe. PVA is subject to the direction, instruction, and supervision of the Department of Revenue.

*Surveyor – Performs any business in the civil engineering profession that any court in the county lawfully orders him or her to do.

*Magistrate/Justice of the Peace – Carries out various duties, dependent on local county organization. These are constitutionally required offices, and are filled in each county regardless of magistrate or commissioner type fiscal court. In counties with a county commissioner form of fiscal court (i.e. the legislative body of the county), magistrates’ duties include the solemnization of marriages (if authorized by governor or judge/executive) and the acceptance of applications for notaries public. These terms are interchangeable.

*County Commissioner – elected only in counties where a majority of the voters have adopted a commissioner form of fiscal court and hold no other powers or duties beyond those held as members of the fiscal court (i.e. the legislative body of the county), except they may perform marriages if authorized by the governor or the judge/executive.

*Constable –Possess the same law enforcement powers as sheriffs, coroners, and jailers. They are defined as peace officers, and are eligible for the same police training provided to other peace officers.

Board of Education – Governs the activities of the school district by setting policy and providing resources to improve achievement for each student in the district. Most Boards of Education are at the county level.

Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor –  Plans, manages and directs local conservation programs. The CDS provides basic leadership for the execution of those programs by having a strong and credible working relationship with federal, state, and local officials as well as farm organizations, FSA county committees, and extension offices.


Governor – Is the highest elected office in Kentucky and serves as the chief administrator of the Commonwealth. In addition to other powers and duties, the Governor acts as Commander-in-Chief of all state military forcesmakes appointments for vacancies to executive offices and memberships on boards and commissions authorized by statute, and has the power to grant pardons and commutations.

Lieutenant Governor – Presently runs as a slate with the Governor, and succeeds the Governor upon vacancy. They may also have other duties as delegated by the Governor.

Attorney General – Is the chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and for all of its departments, commissions, agencies, and political subdivisions. Also is the legal adviser of all state officers, departments, commissions, and agencies.

Secretary of State – Has duties that are administrative, such as administering elections, keeping state records from the registration of businesses, and officially recording the acts of the governor. The SOS is also the repository of land grants and surveys as well as representing the state in various legal matters (from lawsuits involving foreign corporations to pursuing non-resident motorists who violate traffic laws).

Auditor of Public Accounts – Was originally the official bookkeeper of Kentucky and chief agency for tax collection. The Auditor is also comptroller and general administrative officer; auditing all spending agencies of the state. The office also is responsible for Technology audits, testing the security of state government computer systems, special investigations, and performance auditing.

State Treasurer – Is the head of the treasury and creates and manages the state’s depository. Also records all monies due and payable to the state, processes warrants from the Finance and Administration Cabinet, makes payments on behalf of the state, and is responsible for disbursing unclaimed property. Required to make an annual report of such.

Commissioner of Agriculture – Is responsible for expanding agricultural markets, increasing rural economic development, and promoting the Kentucky Proud program, as well as administering weights and measures (e.g., gasoline pumps).

State Senator – Is a member of the upper house of the legislature. The legislative authority and responsibilities of the Kentucky State Senate include passing bills on public policy matters, writing laws, setting levels for state spendingraising and lowering taxesand voting to uphold or override gubernatorial vetoes.

State Representative – Is a member of the lower house of the legislature. The duties of the House are the same as the ones for the Senate.


Supreme Court Justice – Establishes rules of practice and procedures for the Court of Justicewhich includes the conduct of judges and attorneys, and hears appeals from the Court of Appeals.

Judge of the Court of Appeals – Presides over cases appealed from a lower court. If a case is tried in District or Circuit court, and the losing parties involved are not satisfied with the outcome, they may ask for a higher court to review the correctness of the trial courts decision.

Circuit Judge – Presides over felony criminal and major civil cases. Family Court is a form of Circuit Court, and judges may choose to run for that specific office, which oversees divorce, custody, adoption, and other domestic matters.

District Judge – Presides over courts with limited jurisdiction that hear misdemeanor criminal casestraffic violationsviolations of county and municipal ordinances, and small claims.

Commonwealth’s Attorney – Serves as the elected prosecutor of felony crimes in Kentucky. They have the authority to investigate and prosecute, grant immunity to witnesses and accused criminals, and to plea bargain with defendants.

County Attorney – Serves as the elected legal representative of the county or state for child custody and support cases, traffic cases, and legal actions involving the county.

Circuit Court Clerk – Manages the records of Circuit and District courts as well as the Kentucky trial courtsThey receive lawsuits and court documents, record and provide legal documents, maintain and schedule juries, receive and disburse money, administer oaths, handle affidavits, and issue driver licenses and non-driver identification cards.

3. Decide if you should be a candidate

What do you enjoy? – If you love meeting strangers, never are at a loss for words, feel like you are an important part of your neighborhood, county and city, and have a family who enjoys being in the public eye, politics may be for you.

Know why you are running – You don’t have to have every policy idea fleshed out to a granular level, but you must have a clear statement (no more than two sentences) worked out to tell voters, donors, volunteers and others why you entered the race. Candidates who have not thought seriously about why they are running will not be taken seriously.

Learn from others – Talk to people who have run for and held the office you want. Ask them what it was like: what was enjoyable, what was not enjoyable, what they found difficult. Ask them if they would do it again, and why or why not.

Money wins elections – You may be able to give some examples where the candidate with the most money does not win, or where a small amount of money overcomes all other factors and the underfunded campaign wins. However, this is the exception. You need to create a strong finance plan, identify who you will ask to financially support you, allocate the majority of your time to making fundraising calls, and using any and all tools that will help you raise money for your campaign. If the thought of fundraising for your campaign seems unpleasant to you, then you probably should not run for office. If you are not willing to do the fundraising, you are wasting your time and your supporters’ time.

Doors, doors, doors – No matter how many Facebook friends you have or how many people know you by name at your favorite restaurant, there are thousands of people who do not know you. This means that you will need to spend an enormous amount of time going door to door and asking “fidelity” voters (voters who typically vote for the candidate from your party) for their support. Ideally, you will knock every door in your universe at least two times, but you have to make at least one full pass to have a shot at winning your race.

Don’t staff backwards – Many first time candidates think they need to bring in a campaign manager or communications director or field person when they begin their campaign. This is a bad idea. The first hire for any political race should always be a Fundraising Consultant or Fundraising Director. If you do not have someone that can help you raise money to begin with, you will always be in a hole. It’s hard to pay other members of the team if there is no money.

Understand what it will take – Knowing what it will take to win is paramount to success. You must have an idea of what it will cost (creating a budget) and how many doors you will need to hit to achieve your vote total (your “need to win” number). You should have a firm grasp on these two numbers and every conversation you have with your team should center around them. If you are talking about an idea or policy or concept without putting those two numbers into the mix then you are wasting time.

4. Assess your chances

Assess the probability of winning, not just the primary, but the election. Be realistic. Ask experts in the field, including the “courthouse gang” or old politicians in your county or district. Check your name I.D. with the public, how many friends and associates you have who will be able to financially support your campaign, whether you have a good plan and message, and most importantly, whether you are compassionate and caring in a way that connects to people.

Good candidates are vital members of their community for years before they run. They clean up the river with environmental groups. They coach a child’s academic or sports team, or lead a scout troop. They are involved with non-profits or faith-based entities. They serve on public boards (school board, library board, city council). People know them or want to get to know them.

And remember, winning a campaign is all about math. For any race, you define a “win number” – the number of votes in that district you need to win. Then you conduct polling to see where voters currently stand, or you use intelligent predictions based on past elections and knowledge of the district. Then you calculate how many voters you will need to win over to your side, and how much money it takes to get your message to that group of voters to meet your win number. (Depending on your political experience, you may need a consultant to help you do this accurately.) Be realistic about your campaign’s chances of getting to that win number.

Evaluate honestly any issues in your background. Have you flunked out of college, been sued, fired from a job for misconduct, served time in prison, been in the media for any reason? Make sure you and your team are comfortable answering questions about your past honestly and transparently.

5. Evaluate your past campaign(s)

If you have run before, evaluate the “why” of your success or lack of it. Make sure you have corrected anything that was less than successful in the prior campaign.

If your last campaign was a losing campaign, that doesn’t mean you can’t win this time. (And vice versa.) The key is to understand what happened, and why.

6. Check with your family

Make sure your family is on board with the plan. They will be impacted by what you do, whether or not they are directly involved in your campaign. At the very least, you will be much less available during the campaign than you are now. And depending on the level of your campaign, they may find themselves the subject of media attention. Go over all this with them beforehand.

7. Make your commitment

Ultimately, you have to make a personal commitment to do this. Encouragement or even arm-twisting from others is not enough; a ready source of funds is not enough; a good chance of winning is not enough.

There will be days, and perhaps weeks and even months, when the campaign will not be fun, when it will be, frankly, a slog. Only a firm, deep-down commitment on your part will get you through those times and to the finish line. Make it, or don’t run.

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