Comment Writer Kit Parsons explores the challenges candidates face when running for elected office and what this means for the future of democracy

Written by Kit Parsons
Last updated
Images by Elijah Mears

If you do so with the right intentions, there are few acts of public service greater than running for elected office, such as Congress. There is a reason that running for Congress is so commendable. It appears as if every possible obstacle to put good, hardworking people off the idea of running for Congress has been carefully and meticulously assembled. There are seemingly too many challenges congressional candidates face when they are campaigning. Note the following applies only to those who do not come from the establishment. If you are a well-connected political advisor who has no qualms with taking money from Super-PACS and conglomerates then you need not worry. I have no doubt you will have a long career on Capitol Hill. 

Consider how Kyrsten Sinema takes millions from Big Pharma, despite previously pledging to lower the price of prescription drugs. Unsurprisingly, she is now siding with the drug companies. I wonder why!  But if you are a regular, hardworking person who wants to do everything they can to make the lives of those around them that bit better, and who does not accept dark money, then you may face a number of challenges.

The first, and arguably gravest battle you will face is raising money. Victorious Senate candidates reportedly spent $15.7 million on average, with their successful counterparts in the House spending over $2 million on average. If you are not already connected and plugged into various fundraising circles, this is certainly a difficult task. Not an impossible one, but certainly a difficult one (especially if you do not accept corporate money). A candidate does not just wake up one morning and decide to run for Congress and get given $2 million from their political party to support their campaign, especially if challenging an incumbent. They need to do everything they can to secure donations, which can be difficult if you are a new candidate with low name recognition (lower name recognition for challengers being another obstacle many candidates face).

Another obstacle you may face running for Congress is time. Many candidates, like Aarika Rhodes, who is running in California’s 32nd district and Rev. Wendy Hamilton who is running in D.C still need to work full-time alongside campaigning. It is essentially like having two full-time jobs. Running for Congress is often belittled as a task of self-promotion for people searching for validation or Instagram followers. But the truth is that it is incredibly demanding and that those who run for Congress, like Aarika and Rev. Wendy do so because they truly care about helping those in their communities. You certainly need to be very committed and hardworking to run for Congress.

You certainly need to be very committed and hardworking to run for Congress

Another obstacle you may face when running for Congress, depending on where you run, is the incumbency advantage (i.e., where the person already holding the political office has an advantage, for multiple reasons such as having a higher name ID). Despite the fact that as of September 2020, only 21% approved of Congress, the re-election rate of incumbents is at 94%. This clearly shows how difficult it is to unseat an incumbent, even if a clear majority disapproves of the job that Congress as a whole is doing. Again, this is not to say that it cannot be done, just that it is certainly a challenge to be aware of. Obviously, there are many more challenges you may encounter when running for Congress or any other elected office. Some challenges may affect you more than others. But it is important that you run with determination and with the passion to overcome these obstacles. The world will only get better if good people take up the challenge. 

I spoke with Aarika Rhodes about the biggest challenges she has faced during her campaign. She cited name ID and fundraising as the two biggest challenges. This strengthens my argument regarding fundraising and exposes another element to the incumbency advantage. The incumbent is very likely to have a higher name ID recognition level, meaning the challenger has to work hard to get their name and message out.

The more people who run for office, the more enriched our democracy becomes

The point of this article is certainly not to put anyone off running for office. The more people who run for office, the more enriched our democracy becomes. But I write this to highlight the challenges that many congressional candidates (especially those like Aarika and Rev. Wendy, who reject big money) face during their campaigns. I also write this to inspire you to help and support those candidates like Aarika and Rev. Wendy in any way that you can. I believe they are doing everything they can to try and improve the lives of the people around them, and so they deserve our support. 

If you are a US citizen, I personally urge you to donate to the candidates you believe can make the world a better place. This is one of the most important things you can do to support them. Finally, I would like to thank Aarika for speaking with me for this piece. Although I am losing hope in politics, people like Aarika and Rev. Wendy restore the faith. They make me realise that there are still brilliant and hardworking people out there, who are doing everything they can to improve the lives of those around them. I believe Aarika and Rev. Wendy will win their races and will have very successful careers in Congress, where they will improve the lives of countless people. Remember the names. But more importantly, for now, donate to the campaigns that you support. 

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