Starting Small: Why Local Office May Be the Best Entry Point for Veteran Candidates

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Many veterans view serving in public office to be the ultimate option for a “second service”. And the feeling is mutual — veterans are usually widely favored when casting their name as a ballot hopeful. This stems from years of experience in the field, leadership expertise, and a knowledge of how initiatives passed from the higher levels of government can affect areas such as the military and foreign policy.

But getting started on the path to political success can be a daunting process. Fortunately, many organizations exist to support veterans seeking a new career in office, and there are a multitude of resources dedicated specifically to this topic.

For new veterans hoping to make their mark as political candidates, starting at the local office level may be the best entry point. A political career — a successful one, at least — is not made overnight. If anything, taking the time to properly learn the ins and outs of being a public official will only stand to benefit the candidate as the scope of their campaigns increases over time.

Entering office at the local level provides an opportunity for the veteran to embrace their new position and learn as much about the inner workings of public office. This added experience will be invaluable as the veteran moves up and pursues more responsibility. 

Even the act of campaigning can be an involved process, and it’s a long road to find any success. The campaign for even a local office begins well in advance, and new candidates often face uphill battles when facing incumbent or simply more experienced candidates. 

So the opportunity to learn and gain experience is of high value to a veteran who may have little or no experience in politics. Also, finding parallels between military service and political office will help bolster a candidate’s platform as he or she moves to define core values and a mission as a politician. 

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Look at a run for local office as a practice run for the “big leagues”, as it were. Another skill that every public official must have a firm grasp on is public speaking and public relations. A politician must have the ability to connect with voters, or the chances of a successful campaign fall right out the window.

Take the opportunity to practice public speaking. This is often a skill that needs some crafting, as it does not come naturally to everyone. Cultivate a sense of charisma. Research voter behavior. Find opportunities to fill in gaps that previous candidates may have left. Find ways to do better than your predecessors. All of this can be accomplished at even the smallest levels of office, and these building blocks will serve a candidate well as he or she progresses through the political ladder.

Local offices are a valuable opportunity to perfect one’s craft and also build up loyalty among voters. A candidate with dedicated supporters who have followed the individual throughout their career will have an easier time attracting new votes, building momentum into a larger scale campaign.

And there is absolutely no shame in running for local office! Veteran experience is highly valuable, and with this there is an opportunity to enact real, tangible change within a community. Running for political office as a veteran can be intimidating, but there are a multitude of support options. 

Entering the space at the local level can be a bit less overwhelming and can provide valuable experience for a veteran who aspires to reach the top of the ladder and who is willing to take the time to build a strong support network and campaign. 

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