Candidate Recruitment Manual

How to Recruit an Army of Candidates

Based on the printed edition published 1997.



Section One: Recruiting & Developing Libertarian Candidates

Section Two: Finding Mr. & Ms. Right

Section Three: How to Recruit Libertarian Candidates

Section Four: The Art of Persuasion

Section Five: Key Points


The purpose of the Libertarian Party is to move public policy in a Libertarian direction by fielding and electing Libertarian Party candidates. It follows that the more candidates we have and the better those candidates are, the further we will move policy along the path towards freedom.

A debate has long raged in the LP as to which is the best strategy. Should we:

The answer to both parts of the question is yes. The media and the public pay attention when we run a full slate of candidates. And we need full slates in order to be sure of having a few races which deserve concentrated resources. It is no accident that tiny New Hampshire, which runs as many candidates as any of the large states, has more elected Libertarians than any other state.

Another strategy question is:

Again,, we should take yes for an answer. National level and statewide campaigns do provide the most bang for the buck in terms of free media, outreach, and short-term membership growth for the Party. But winning local elections is crucial to our long-term success. We must build a support base for our candidates by winning locally to set the stage for larger victories later. By having a strategy which encourages lots of candidates at all levels, our candidates will be able to run in the races which are important to them, setting the stage for them to do the best job possible.

This manual is written from the standpoint of a state where ballot access and filing fees are relatively reasonable. There will be little difference in actual recruiting techniques if your local situation is more difficult -- but your success rate will naturally be somewhat less, and you will have to do some more concentration of resources. If much petitioning is required, view it as an opportunity for voter outreach.

I hope this manual is helpful. Good luck in recruiting your army of candidates.

Ron Crickenberger
Campaigns Chairman,
Libertarian National Committee, Inc.

Recruiting & Developing Libertarian Candidates

The purpose of a political party is to advance its political agenda by running candidates for office. Yet in a small, growing party where ballot status is not automatic and the chances of losing the election are great, finding people running to win as Libertarians is often a serious problem. It takes courage for a person to understand that his or her effort may bring little immediate reward, but is instead a stepping stone toward long-term success.

But of course, is it a vitally important stepping stone. The party needs thousands of credible, energetic, articulate candidates each year, both to spread our messages in a political context, and to set the stage for future electoral victories by convincing voters that the Libertarian alternative belongs in the mainstream of political discussion.

Our past experience shows that the more candidates a state runs, the higher the average vote for all of our candidates, and the higher the top of the ticket scores. For example, in 1988, the three states with the lowest number of votes for Ron Paul were New York, Kentucky and Tennessee -- with two, none and two candidates respectively. California, Texas, and Utah had the most candidates, and the highest percentages for Ron Paul.

By running one a few candidates we aren't seen as much of a threat. With a lot of candidates, the media takes us more seriously. Even if not all of those candidates run active campaigns, Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals applies -- "Power is not only what you have, it's what your enemies think you have." And when they take us seriously, they have to respond to our agenda.

Here, then, is a guide to perhaps the most important Libertarian Party activity other than being a candidate: recruiting candidates. We'll show you how to locate and convince the best men and women to run, and thereby turn your state party into a political force to be reckoned with.

Why Run?

A Libertarian Party that contests over half the seats up for election to a particular legislative body -- Congress, a state legislature, a city council or county commission -- has become, overnight, a threat to the Establishment. Maybe the party doesn't have a lot of money, but that doesn't change the fact that suddenly, the potential is there for a massive redistribution of power in the upcoming elections. It's something that even the most ignorant reporter can understand and explain in 30 seconds. "What kind of threat is the Libertarian Party this year? Well, if elected, they would control the State Legislature." Even if they disagree with our platform, a ballot packed with Libertarians forces the media to address Libertarian ideas.

It also exposes our opponents to Libertarian ideas, and often moves them, or at least the debate, toward the side of freedom as they campaign. Ask almost any experienced Libertarian candidate, and they will tell you that at least one of their opponents began moving toward at least some Libertarian positions during the course of the race. In some cases our candidates have caused the Republicans and Democrats to argue over who was the most Libertarian. At the very least, our opponents are forced to debate Libertarian positions. Win or lose, Libertarian campaigns do make a difference.

Another argument for a ballot packed with freedom fighters is very practical. It's a question of the huge amount already invested on ballot access. Gaining ballot status can cost a state as much as $100,000 (by ballot access expert Richard Winger's estimate.) Putting individual candidates on the ballot is usually an inexpensive process, from $15 to $250 depending on the office, and the state. The big money has already been spent. Why waste such a large investment?

Furthermore, why waste the huge amount of manpower it took to gather those petition signatures? Petitioning is a tough job. It can take hours just to gather a few signatures. One has to endure constant rejection, sometimes even hostility, from prospective signers. Imagine spending hours outside a grocery store begging for signatures from an indifferent public, then having only one or two candidates take advantage of the work you've done.

Finally, having more candidates naturally generates more money and energy. People who run for office develop loyalty to the party. A candidate is more inclined to spend time and money on himself than some other candidate. For example, the candidate may be reluctant to donate more than $25 to a presidential candidate, but would think nothing of spending $200 or $300 for his own signs. Running lots of candidates creates a sense of momentum, and gives the state party leadership some bragging rights. The overall effect is to increase involvement in time, effort and money.

A Tale of Two States

For the most part, Libertarian candidates are made, not born. Despite the huge benefits, many of the candidates the party has fielded at all levels would never have run at all, left to themselves; and many who were willing to have their names on the ballot would never have run active campaigns.

But when candidates are recruited, developed and supported by their fellow Libertarians, this support can make the difference between mediocre campaigns and effective campaigns. Here's a few historical examples: How two parties mobilized to recruit candidates and place themselves firmly on their state's political map.

The Pennsylvania Experience

In 1979, Pennsylvania's Libertarian Party was quite small in proportion to the size and population of the state. Virtually all of the activity had been in the Philadelphia area, and only three Libertarians had ever run for office before.

Two of these past candidates, with the support of other party members, decided that 1980 was going to be different. They decided that for the party to grow and start to become influential state-wide, it was important to organize small groups of Libertarians wherever possible and to convince as many members as possible to run for local, state, and federal office. Thus, candidate recruitment became an integral part of their organizational effort.

If party leaders took an organizational trip to Pittsburgh, for example, they would meet with the handful of Libertarians there, explain the basic points of building an organizational structure, state that an important party goal was to run candidates, and almost immediately begin to solicit potential candidates.

When new members joined, often one of the first questions asked of them was whether they were willing to be candidates. The people asked to run were Libertarians who were articulate and knowledgeable about the area where they were running. But there was little concern about the length of time the individual had been a member of the party.

According to the Pennsylvanians who organized the 1980 candidate recruitment effort, achieving their goal of running as many candidates as possible had several benefits. Gaining ballot status was easier, since so many had a personal stake in the effort. Local activists were more enthusiastic because they had their own "local favorite" to cheer for. And the news media took note of the fact that many candidates were running, treating the party as a whole with greater respect.

When the field of candidates had been assembled, the party helped further by developing a standard format brochure which all candidates could use, varying photographs and details according to the candidate and the office, but leaving the basic design and general message about the Libertarian Party the same. This approach not only saved money, but further developed a "team spirit" among the candidates.

The California Experience

As in Pennsylvania, strenuous efforts were made in late 1979 and 1980 to recruit Libertarians to run for office. Over 100 were found; but the significant point about many of their races was the effort put into developing them as candidates after they agreed to run.

In the San Francisco area, for example, a handful of party members with previous political experience decided to hold weekly "workshops" for area candidates, each session focusing on a particular campaign technique -- precinct analysis, media contacts, fundraising, etc. Through these sessions, the candidates developed a team spirit and a common understanding that they would help each other as much as possible. Many shared a common headquarters, and most, when covering their districts door-to-door, handed out not only their own literature, but also that of other Libertarians running in the same area for a different office.

The result was that the media and the voters perceived that the Libertarian Party was a broad-based, aggressive movement, not merely a collection of people trying to outshout each other.

Finding Mr. & Ms. Right

Before we get into the specifics of how to get candidates to agree to run, let's take a moment to discuss who should run. The ideal candidate would have the money of Ross Perot, the name recognition of Clint Eastwood, and be able to campaign full time for a year and half before the election. And if you develop a theory that your minimum requirement for a candidate is that they be a college professor, able to explain the finer points of Austrian economics, and willing to invest a minimum of $10,000 and 20 hours a week on campaigning, you probably won't have many candidates.

A better theory holds that most Libertarians are potentially good candidates, and that they should be solicited, recruited, developed, and supported on a systematic basis. Putting this theory in action, rather than waiting years for the "right" candidate, results in more Libertarian candidates to spread the Libertarian message and build political credibility and support.

It's best to avoid complex screening processes. In the California and Pennsylvania examples, the individual judgment of those soliciting candidates determined whether prospective candidates were good spokespersons for the party. The attitude was that it was preferable to ahve many candidates, even if a few were bad, rather than have only one or two perfect candidates.

That doesn't mean that all potential candidates are equal, however, or that all are equally suited to run for the same offices. A candidate who is well-known but doesn't plan to run an active campaign may be able to create a media buzz simply by running for a higher office. A candidate who doesn't have a huge name but is well known in their own community and plans an active campaign is better suited to a smaller race, where there is a chance of winning or bringing in a substantial percentage of votes.

Minimal Requirements

As for the candidates, here are some minimal requirements that should leave you with a wide field of potential candidates. Even strictly paper candidates should be willing to do all of the following:

When you move from paper to informational level candidates, you may wish to add more minimums.

One note: Successful Libertarian candidates do not always come from the party's ranks. There are many people who fit the Libertarian profile, yet aren't party members. Often, they will be recommended to you by current party members. They should still meet the above qualifications, and once recruited, they should be encouraged to join the party and take part in its other activities.

How to Recruit Libertarian Candidates

You're ready to turn your local LP into a credible political force by fielding a team of candidates. But before you begin recruiting, it pays to do your homework to identify in which races a Libertarian can be the most effective.

Think about every elected position at every level of state and local government, including county commission and school board races. This process is called "political mapping".

Focus on open seats. They offer the best opportunities for electoral victories. It can also be good strategy to run LP candidates in races left unchallenged by the non-incumbent party. If the Democrats won't bother to challenge the entrenched Republican candidate, the race needs a Libertarian. Two-way races against an entrenched incumbent, while they may be even more unwinnable for us than for the major party that has already given up on that seat, provide avenues for extra exposure, and increased vote totals over what we could expect for the same effort in a three-way race. They also get people in the habit of voting Libertarian.

Find out what's important to voters in the district. Research the area's demographics, including voting patterns, socioeconomic status, ethnic groups, etc. You may discover weaknesses of your opponents, or come across a race that would be perfect for a particular candidate.

OK, you know which races to target. Here, then, is a suggested strategy for preparation, recruiting, and follow-up in putting Libertarians in the race for our country's future.

1 The state leadership must lead. It is much easier to recruit candidates if you are already a candidate yourself (assuming, of course, you meet whatever legal residence requirements prevail in your area).

2 The state leadership must prepare. The preparation process includes:

  1. Getting maps of all the appropriate electoral districts.
  2. b. Identifying which districts have possible candidates (subject to the guidelines below).

    This is done by matching the addresses of your people with the appropriate spots on the election maps. In Utah, the party's database has five informational fields that relate to candidate recruiting purposes. Each member's information includes: district number, state senate district, state representative district, congressional district, and county. The membership list can be sorted by any of these items to facilitate candidate recruiting.

  3. Selecting a first, second, and third choice (if possible) for each office.
  4. Plenty of lead time is required. If the candidate filing period opens in March, potential candidates should get their first recruiting letters by January.

e. Putting together a candidate recruiting team. Depending on your circumstances, three or four people may be enough. If your state is large and spread out, you may want to assemble local or county level recruiting teams. The definition of an effective county party includes their ability to recruit their own candidates, apart from the state effort. Any help you can get will allow you to concentrate on weak areas.

4 Prepare a timetable and quantify your goals. For example: Preparation and homework will be done by X, letter will be written by X and mailed by X. Second letter will be sent on X and a follow-up meeting or telephone call will be completed by X. The person(s) responsible are X, X, and X. A total of $X will be required to complete this process. This money is already (a) in the party treasury, or (b) must be raised by X date. A rough draft of a candidate recruiting timetable is outlined later.

5 Quantifying your goal is a most important part of the recruitment process. If people are going to put their names on the line for us, we have to prove to them that simply filing for an office will do something useful for the Party. Thus, "Your commitment is important because we are trying to field candidates for 100% of the legislative seats up for election this year. This will bring the Party credibility and help us become a threat to the special interest parties."

Set this goal high -- low enough to be within reach (at least theoretically) but high enough to make you work. Publicize this goal and create a bandwagon effect.

6 Create an environment supportive of running a lot of candidates. The farmer plows before he plants. Every time you communicate with your party members, talk about this numerical goal and how important it is to run a lot of candidates. Run articles in your newsletter -- mention it in fundraising letters -- write about it in your "Chair's Column." Build the bandwagon effect -- when you think everyone has heard enough about it, keep on truckin' and talk some more.

7 Make a full slate part of your party strategy. Filling ballots with Libertarians should be part of a larger plan for victory. In turn, more candidates will be attracted by an organized effort that supports their own efforts.

8 Once you have finished your preparation, completed your homework, agitated the pot, plowed the field, run it up the flagpole and counted the number of salutes, implement the recruiting process. Get everyone out of the frying pan and into the fire and see how things hop. The implementation phase should look something like this:

a. Ninety days in advance of the candidate filing period opening, the first letter goes out from the state chairman, inviting the person to consider running for office. This letter will be two or three pages, to allow enough space to explain why the candidate is important to the campaign and may include a one pager "recruiting flyer" prepared by either the national HQ or your state party. The one page flyer is to address general questions of strategy.

b. Follow-up letter goes encouraging the candidate to run for office.

c. Personal follow-up. This phase is crucial. It's a good idea to telephone the potential candidate to get a sense of his or her feelings. If they don't say yet right away:

Some will sign up at that point. Others will be relieved that they are "off the hook" for the moment. Complete the recruiting process with your second and third choices. If you still don't have success in filling that slot on the ballot, return to the original candidate and try again.

Once the candidate filing period has opened, send another letter out to the "final holdouts" for races you still haven't filled and give them another phone call.

If you have time, call them on the last day for the filing period -- give them the current statistics, and turn on the emotion -- "We really need you -- you can be more help to the cause of liberty than ever before, and it's for doing nothing, really, just going down and putting your name on the ballot. You won't have to do anything else -- we'll handle it." You may get one or two more candidates that way. Never give up until the filing period is closed. Frankly, the success rate after three follow-ups is not that great -- but it has occasionally proven useful, particularly when you are just short of a goal.

9 Once committed, send them a letter of thanks. Include with this letter any of the legal information (such as candidate reporting requirements) etc., and how the state organization is going to help the candidate handle this requirement. For line candidates, you should offer to file the required reports for them. You may want to offer a monthly class for active candidates.

10 All the preparation in the world does little good without follow-up and follow-through. Candidates have been lost simply because they didn't make it to the filing office by 5 PM on the final day the period was open.

  1. The week before the candidate filing period is to start, send a letter to each confirmed candidate noting the beginning of the filing period. Give them the place and times that they can file. Schedule two or three "mass filings" where several candidates could get together and go down in a block to file. For many of your people, this will be the first time they have run for office -- and they may, understandably, be a little uncertain as to the actual mechanics of finding their way through a maze of bureaucrats in order to complete the required paperwork. You can also offer to find a volunteer to go with them, if such support is available. Make sure that each candidate has two phone numbers to call if he or she has problems with the filing bureaucrats.
  2. On the first day of the candidate filing period, meet with your candidate recruiting team. If you have teams in several areas, try to bring them all in for a face-to-face meeting. If this isn't possible, call them on the telephone. Since all of you are running for office (remember?), one good choice for a meeting location is a coffee shop close by the candidate filing office. Every candidate recruiter should file for office on the very first day, unless strategic reasons dictate otherwise. Copies of the "Status Sheet" should be distributed to all concerned and assignments checked.

c. During the first week of the filing period, contact everyone by telephone to remind them of the deadline.

d. Someone should check with the appropriate clerks every day and the status sheet should be updated.

e. On the first day of the last week of the filing period, everyone who has not filed should be personally contacted -- with a sense of urgency -- about filing. Offer to get them a ride, etc., and make sure they haven't changed their mind and are trying to back out. Schedule another "mass filing" for this week.

f. For the final day, anyone who has not filed should be called the night before AND in the morning. Clerks should be checked at 1 PM, following the lunch hour, and more calls made to those who still have not filed. Offer to go and pick them up -- right then -- if possible.

g. Determine the required travel time for each holdout, and contact the clerks appropriately to find out if they have filed. If not, call them -- immediately -- and get them on the road.

It is disheartening to work hard to recruit candidates -- and then have people flake out on you at the last minute. Avoid this by getting everyone filed as early as possible. We do not have so many candidates that we can afford to lose even one.

11 Honor your candidates. Send them another THANKS letter once they have filed. Print their names in your newsletter and tell everyone else to thank them. Don't recruit them, file them, and forget them. Keep in touch -- preferably, with a regular party candidate's newsletter of some sort.

12 Use candidates as a source for suggestions for other candidates. If they say yes, tell them what areas in which you are still looking for candidates and ask if they know anyone who might be interested in the area. If they say no; ask them if they can suggest someone. You may find a lot of apolitical libertarians that way -- principled people who simply are not party people.

The Art of Persuasion

You've got the plan, now it's time to make the call. There is an art to persuading potential candidates to be committed candidates. When recruiting, keep in mind that most people will not respond to generic appeals to "run for office". The most productive appeal is directed to a specific person asking them to file for a specific office. This lets the potential candidate know that there is some strategy behind the request. It clearly defines the parameters of the request.

Remember, most people are flattered when asked to run for office. The worst they will say is no. Here are some of the arguments you'll hear, and suggested ways of turning a no into a yes.

1. I just don't have time or money to run for office.

"John, no one ever has enough time or money for running. But we aren't asking you to spend a lot of time or money -- the filing fee is only $50.00, and we'll guide you through everything else! We'll prepare a guide to filling out the questionnaires you'll get, as well as for the financial reporting requirements. It will probably take you an hour to go downtown to the County Clerk's office and file the papers. Painless and easy, John, there is nothing that you could do that would take so little time and as little money that would help us more than you filing for that office, and that's the truth."

2. I wouldn't feel right just filing for the office and then not running a real campaign.

"Jane, I'm telling you right now that since we don't have an active candidate for your race, you can really help us out by putting your name on the ballot. Our top of the ticket candidates are running really active campaigns -- but if we only have two or three other candidates on the ballot, we're going to hand the media an issue to attack us on. No one is going to notice that you aren't running an active campaign. They will notice that we have packed the ballot with libertarian choices -- making our top of ticket campaigns that much more effective. Besides, if you file and then want to do something, but not everything -- we'll help you. You don't have to do anything, remember, but if you want to make yours a semi-active campaign, maybe go to a couple of candidate's nights or fill out your own questionnaires, that's fine. We're easy, we can work with you."

3. What if I get elected? I don't have time to go to the legislature."

(This objection is heard more often than you may think.)

"John, I promise you: You won't get elected unless you decide to run a very active campaign. Besides, I think you'd make a great legislator. If that miracle happens and you do get elected, it will probably be part of a Libertarian landslide! Then you'll get to be part of the new Libertarian majority in the state senate. Give us two weeks, and being a legislator will be something you do part time maybe one weekend a month -- sort of like being in the National Guard. But really, you won't get elected without a heavy duty campaign and spending lots of money. I promise you. I'm the state chairman, I know these things."

4. I don't think it does us any good to run candidates who don't do any campaigning.

"Jane, I agree, it would be better for us to have active or at least semi-active candidates in every race. But look, we're just getting this started, we're just learning -- we're still looking for people. We just don't have the people to run for every race in the way that we should. Since we can't do everything, we have to do something.

"No one will notice if most of our candidates aren't active. They will notice that their election ballot is full of Libertarians. Politics can be funny sometimes -- things can add up in unexpected ways. No one takes a party seriously that runs only a few candidates -- even if those candidates are tremendous people spending a lot of money. People will take us seriously when they see us becoming a serious threat -- and a ballot packed with libertarian choices is a serious threat.

"Besides, we can't leave our other candidates sitting out there on a limb by themselves, can we? If we can't pack the ballot behind them, we are letting them down. The media will pay more attention to our candidates when they can stand up and say they have 5,000 Libertarian candidates behind them. I'm running, everyone on the State Central Committee is running -- and we need you too. Political power isn't what you have, it's what our enemies think we have. And if we can field a full slate of candidates in 1996, we will have power with a capital P.

"And besides, do you think that every Republican or Democratic candidate on the ballot is an active candidate? They know the importance of running a full ballot and they recruit a lot of people who don't do much more than we're asking of you."

(Point out that even if the candidate starts as a paper candidate, there is always the option of getting more involved later, should they decide to do so.)

5. I'm afraid my career might suffer.

"Actually, your career may be enhanced. Most people admire those who dare to make a difference. And you'll likely meet plenty of people who turn out to be excellent business contacts. You'll certainly enhance your community visibility."

6. Do you really think that I'll do any good?

"Absolutely. Without a doubt. Our top of ticket candidates will get more votes because we have a full ballot than they would if they are the only people on our ballot. We will get more, and better, media attention. This is part of our long-range strategy to bring about freedom in our time. It's not much that we're asking, John. And I know you're a Libertarian -- you've been supporting us faithfully for ten years. I think you're under-rating yourself here, telling yourself that you really can't do any good. You can -- and you are our choice. I'm the state chairman -- I know these things. That's why I got elected, so I could make crazy phone calls like this and harass you about running for office (humorously). In 1776, they weren't sure of success, either, but look what they started!

Some Additional Recruitment Strategies

Humor is an excellent method for breaking through barriers. When people are laughing with your, it is harder for them to say "no" and keep their defenses up. As important as humor is the image: Projected confidence, positive expectation. You are, after all, the state chair. Presumably, you know something about politics, otherwise how did you get to be the "chief agitator" for your state? Thus, when you, as the state chair, tell the potential candidates that what they are doing is important, it means something.

If you don't know what you are doing, at least sound like you do -- which means doing your homework. Make sure they know that their race is part of a coherent national strategy for victory for the Libertarian Party. Their choice has not only local consequences, it has national consequences.

Key Points on Recruiting & Developing Libertarian Candidates

Putting Libertarian candidates before the voters is such an important step on the road to freedom that it's worth reiterating these central principles. Keep them in mind as you build a winning team of candidates.

  1. Develop a consensus among party activists that running candidates is an important and integral part of party activities.
  2. All potential candidates should be asked to run. Comparatively few will volunteer, but many will agree if approached
  3. Avoid complex screening procedures for candidates. It uses precious time and is usually unnecessary. It is better to have many candidates -- with a couple of bad candidates -- than to end up with only one or two good candidates.
  4. Demonstrate to potential candidates that the party is willing to support their efforts with volunteers, money, materials, or advice. Prove your commitment, in writing if necessary.
  5. Hold training sessions for all of the candidates in the area. They'll hone their skills, and they'll feel like they're part of a dedicated team.
  6. Don't reject "paper" candidates if a more serious candidate isn't available. Line holders often evolve into active candidates.