The votes are in— and you didn’t come in first. After months of campaigning, losing stings more than just a little. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with you or your platform. In any political race, at least half the candidates will lose.
Let’s talk about what should happen when you lose an election.
Table of Contents
How To Lose an Election in Less Than 90 Days
It’s best to wrap your campaign up as quickly as possible. Here’s your checklist of everything to think about accomplishing within 90 days.
Respond With Grace
When you lose, accept the outcome. It’s an old mantra because it’s true: no one likes a sore loser. Sure, you may feel angry, frustrated, and upset— but don’t lash out. You owe it to yourself and to your supporters to lose with grace. Your reaction to defeat says a lot about your character and your future in politics.
Say Thank You
Your staff, volunteers, and donors believe in you and your vision. Countless hours went into supporting your campaign. Express gratitude in as personal a manner as possible. Depending on your time limits, this could look like sending thank-you emails to one-time volunteers and small-dollar donors while thanking those who went above and beyond with a handwritten note or a phone call.
Right now, your supporters need to know you appreciate their involvement. In the future, your gratitude may be key to garnering their support during another campaign.
Close Up Your Office & Accounts
Responsibly dispose of all assets that remain in the office. Items such as desks, office supplies, snacks, and clothing can be donated. Shred and recycle paper copies of proprietary information once you have retained a digital copy of the data. Scrub your computers and then find a worthy cause to donate them to.
Hopefully, all of your debts are paid, but if not, work with your finance team to settle up any outstanding balances.
There are a few ways you can use any money remaining in your campaign budget, including donating it to charity, returning the money, transferring it to a political party, or keeping the funds in the account for future campaigns. Funds can also be used for winding down costs that are in connection with your duty as a federal officeholder.
Organize Your Data and Lists
The campaign may be over, but your data remains highly valuable. The last thing you want is for donor information to end up in the wrong hands. And, if you’re ever to run for office again, you don’t want to start from scratch. Retain information about campaign finances, donors, volunteers, and passwords.
In addition, your state may require you to hold onto financial records for a certain amount of time. Talk to a compliance expert about what data you need to keep.
One of the easiest ways to organize your data is to keep it all in one digital location. With Numero, you can keep everything organized on one central platform— both during your campaign and once it’s over.
Debrief With Your Team Once
Within a week or two of the election, schedule a time to sit down with your campaign team and look back on your campaign – what went well and what could have improved. This isn’t a time to lay blame but to learn from all those involved. The National Democratic Training Committee provides prompts you can use to guide the conversation.
Ideally, your debrief should last 2-3 hours, include a facilitator, and result in a key takeaways document.
Ensure Your Staff Have Landed
You’re not the only one trying to figure out where to go from here. After all your campaign staff have done for you, make sure you help them find their next position if at all possible.
Find Ways to Heal Mentally
Campaign burnout is real. Take some time to reinvest in your mental health and the relationships that could have been strained during the campaign—whether that’s planning a family vacation to get away or getting back into hobbies that were put on hold.
No matter how you choose to recover, be sure to decompress and clear your head before deciding your next move. You’ve earned some time to reflect.
Get or Stay Involved
Don’t forget why you ran in the first place. The issues you focused on can and should remain issues you work to support. Consider starting a PAC or nonprofit to continue your work.
Decide What’s Next
Losing an election doesn’t mean the end of your political career. Barack Obama lost the 2000 Illinois Democratic primary against Representative Bobby Rush but ultimately experienced a long and influential political career.
You can always choose to run again, return to your pre-campaign career, or go in a completely new direction.
Can I Run Again?
Losing isn’t the end but does require an exercise in patience. Here is how long you can expect to wait on average in between various election cycles:
- City Council: 2-4 years
- Mayor: 1-4 years, depending on city ordinances
- State House: 2 years
- State Senate: 4 years
The wait may feel neverending but keep in mind election cycles are every two years. If you’re running for state house, we could even launch your next run in January after losing in November!
This time off also gives you the perfect opportunity to recoup from your losses and learn from your mistakes. For instance, Clinton lost his 1974 congressional race but realized that he had appeared aloof and even timid during his campaign. You can be sure he didn’t make those mistakes again.