Running for local office offers a great way to kick off your political career. While not everyone starts their career with a local office, campaigns for local political offices tend to be much smaller than state and federal campaigns. As...
Any number of reasons could motivate someone to run for office in Florida.
To start, COVID-19 has hit Florida especially hard—with the Sunshine State ranking 3rd in the nation, behind only California and Texas, for the number of cases reported, with 2.18 million cases as of April 2021.
On top of that, existing Florida politicians have been engaged in scandal after scandal recently. There’s heavy criticism, for instance, of Governor Desantis’ coronavirus response and data-reporting policies. Then there’s the current human trafficking scandal with Florida representative Matt Gaetz.
All the drama aside, many issues also impact Floridians and call for progressive action—protecting voter rights, raising the minimum wage, ending police brutality, and securing proper healthcare for citizens, to name a few. Then there’s women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, climate change, and so on.
The sense of urgency around these issues and others in post-2016 politics has inspired a whole new group of people to launch political careers. Maybe you’re one of them?
If so, we’re glad you’re here! We support your aspirations to run for office and have put together this guide to answer all your first-time candidate questions—equipping you with the knowledge you need to operate a political campaign in your home state.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
As of April 2021, the government in Florida leans heavily Republican. Rick DeSantis is the Governor, and Republicans hold the majority in the state legislature. Traditionally, however, Florida has been a swing state.
Florida tends to be competitive for a few reasons. One is that the state has a diverse population since people move to Florida from around the continental United States, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. According to the Washington Post, Florida has six distinct political states, or six different regions with their own socioeconomic and political leanings.
A breakdown of party affiliations across the state also shows why election results in Florida can be so close.
As of February 28, 2021, Florida has more than 14.5 million registered voters. Of these, 5.2 million voters are registered Democrats, 5.1 million are registered Republicans, and 4 million are registered as either a minor party or as nonaffiliated.
(The Florida Division of Elections offers a handy table of voter registration data by county if you want to look further into the numbers.)
The DailyKOS reported that, despite Biden’s 2020 outperformance of Clinton’s 2016 numbers, Trump actually gained support in the state in 2020, especially within a pocket of Cuban communities in Southern Florida. Continuing a trend seen across the United States, Democrats didn’t perform in line with expectations in the 2020 election.
In Florida, Republicans also flipped two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2020 elections.
Notably, many independent voters account for almost as many vote as those voters affiliated with either of the two major parties. Independent voters tend to be more persuadable, and less partisan than those who declare for one of the main parties. Why does this matter in Florida? Well, more voters are identifying as independent, which means this group of voters is likely to have more sway on election outcomes (they made up 23% of Obama voters in Florida in 2008).
Information about voter affiliations and the different political climates found within the state will help focus your campaign’s GOTV efforts.
Figuring out what offices you can run for in a specific state can be tricky as political offices vary from state to state. Plus, the more local you get, the harder it is to learn what offices are elected positions.
Florida has a somewhat confusing, but ultimately informative system to help you determine what office to run for and identify who already holds that office. The Florida Division of Elections website provides links to connect you to the Governor and your U.S. representatives, U.S. senators, and state-level representatives.
To gather information on local offices, start by finding your county’s Supervisor of Elections. The Florida Department of State offers this handy site. On it, you’ll find links to each county in alphabetical order by county. The page also has a search bar to enter your city to identify the county in which you live, as shown below.
Let’s say you live in Alachua County. When you click on the link, you’d be taken to the website in the screenshot below:
In the screen grab, you’ll see that Kim A. Barton is the Supervisor of Elections for your county. The site offers a wealth of contact information, including a link to Alachua County’s voting website. There, you can find a list of Candidates for Office under the Campaigns tab, as shown below.
While websites vary from county to county, each Florida county seems to have a well-developed website dedicated to providing an abundance of information on voting and running for office.
Florida’s Division of Elections also has a list of offices up for re-election in 2022. Diving into the list can help jumpstart your search if you’re looking to run for office in the mid-term elections.
Once you’ve found the office you want to run for and know who already holds that office, find out what their campaign budget looks like. Remember, their campaign was successful, so the amount that they raised while running for office indicates pretty accurately what kind of budget your own campaign will need.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) website is a great place to start looking for finance information on competitor campaigns. Search by candidate to find the money raised and spent by the campaign. Information on a current candidate’s cash on hand and acquired debts is also available through this same search.
Why is this information helpful? Well, you can use it in two key ways: to see the kind of campaign budget you’ll need and to research potential donors.
Now that you’ve decided on the office you’d like to run for, it’s time to set up your campaign.
The first three steps to do exactly that are detailed below.
The very first step is registering as a political candidate. You’ll need to register before you can even apply to appear on the ballot. Registering as a candidate also allows you to form a political committee, which signals to banks and vendors that you’re legit—that you’re a valid organization that’s ready to take contributions.
Fundraising often begins well before the election cycle begins. This reality is especially true of larger, national campaigns, but even small campaigns for local offices need to raise money in order to run.
When you’re running a political campaign, campaign finance laws dictate how your fundraising takes shape, mainly through a series of laws with which you’ll need to stay in compliance. To start, you’ll need a few things before accepting any contributions to ensure you stay compliant with federal campaign finance laws:
- An Employer Identification Number (EIN): Political campaigns can get an EIN through the IRS. EINs are used for tax and financial reporting purposes.
- A banking account specific to your campaign: All campaign finances should be kept separate from personal finances.
- A way to keep your fundraising efforts organized: Companies like Numero and ActBlue offer payment processing, which allows you to accept contributions from donors.
- A donor management system: Fundraising is time-consuming and has a lot of moving parts. You’ll need to reach out to existing contacts, expand your list of contacts and reach out to them, and follow up with people you’ve contacted. You’ll also need to follow up with people you haven’t even managed to reach yet. Without a system, it can be overwhelming. Luckily, Numero’s Calltime app can help you organize donor lists and coordinate fundraising efforts across your entire team. NPG offers a similar service.
Want to make fundraising even easier? Use a compliance firm. Compliance firms will ensure all your campaign finances comply with finance laws by helping with everything from setting up your bank account to managing payroll and filing the appropriate compliance reports.
Florida’s Division of Elections has a page dedicated to information about qualifying to run for office. This page includes up-to-date information about important dates and necessary materials (such as the Candidate Petition Form). It also has the contact information for Florida’s Qualifying Office to help you find more information.
Running for a special election? Visit the Division of Elections Special Elections page.
When running for a federal office in Florida, you’ll need to adhere to the campaign contribution limits set by the FEC. We’ve made you a handy table for reference, but definitely check out the FEC’s page on contribution limits for more information.
You’ll need to keep a couple things in mind with federal political campaign contribution limits:
- Contribution limits per election refer to each type of election: primary, general, run-offs, and special elections. The limits renew for each different type of election.
- These limits are calculated for the 2021/2022 election cycles and will be adjusted for inflation in odd years.
Some states have rather complicated contribution limits. Luckily, Florida’s political campaign contribution limits are easy to understand. The table below breaks down how much each donor can contribute to different levels and types of office within the state.
In this case, “donor” refers to any kind of contribution—including in-kind ones—received from any individual, corporation, or political party or committee. Donor also refers to any loans, except for personal loans donated to the campaign by the candidate themselves.
Campaign contribution limits aren’t the only rules that apply to political contributions in the state. Other rules govern how to use money (say you get an anonymous donation, for example) and what to do with surplus funds after an election. Check out Florida’s Campaign Finance FAQ for more information.
As always, remember that a compliance team or a financial director—given that they specialize in knowing all of the rules and regulations of campaign finances—can be a great asset to your political campaign.
You’ve got all the basics in place to start building your political campaign. You’ve…
- Decided on the office you want to run for.
- Researched who already holds that office and their campaign budget.
- Formed your political committee, secured your EIN and bank account, and registered to be on the ballot.
- Familiarized yourself with the relevant contribution limits for Florida state, local, and federal offices.
Now it’s time to start running your political campaign! You’re likely using this guide on running for office in Florida because you’re considering running for office for the first time. If that’s the case, we’ve got an amazing, comprehensive guide on how to run for office and win that can support you every step of the way—fundraising, building your staff, managing canvassing and GOTV efforts, and so much more.
You’ve got this! Good luck.