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So You Want to be a Congressperson?

Everything you need to know in order to become a congressperson.
by

Caroline Gervais

on 24 October 2014

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Transcript of So You Want to be a Congressperson?

So You Want to be a Congressperson?
I'm not sure... Why would I want to run?
Most people run for personal or political reasons.
If you...
want to serve your country because you feel you have a sense of duty to your country or your party
wish to realize certain ideals
feel that you have the best intentions for your nation and constituents at heart
want to make policies that reflect what you think is best for the country
Then
YOU
should run!

Yes I do... but who can run?
For the House of Representatives:
Anyone who...
is at least 25 years old
has been a citizen of the US for 7 years
lives in the state they want to represent
lives in the district they want to represent
For the Senate:
Anyone who...
is at least 30 years old
has been a citizen of the US for 9 years
lives in the state they want to represent
How much does it cost to run?
It is quite expensive because you must pay for advertising, travel and staff. Most non-incumbents have to raise about $1.14 million to have even a chance of winning a House seat (don't get me started on how much a Senate seat would cost!). In 2004, non-incumbents who won spent more than four times as much as non incumbents who did not win.
Are there any educational requirements?
No! You don't even have to be a high school or college graduate... but if you aren't you may be scrutinized by the media and by your future constituents.
What is the incumbency advantage?
It is the advantage that existing office-holders have over their challenger. Incumbents have an edge in visibility, experience, organization, and fundraising ; making them hard to win against.
Okay I think I'm ready... but wait, when should I run?
Ideally, you should run when your party has a popular leader or presidential candidate because then you can be easily "swept into victory on their 'coattails'" (this is the
coattail effect
). When constituents are happy with the leader, they will be more likely to vote for other candidates in that same party.
What are the benefits?

You get:
to live and exciting and powerful life in DC
your salary would be: $174,000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaries_of_members_of_the_United_States_Congress)
health and life insurance
a substantial pension
generous travel allowances
ample staff
franking privileges (you get to send mail for free)
to be a VIP
to be invited to speak at community gatherings
to build a power base and a jumping-off point for higher office
Are there drawbacks to being a congressperson?
As with any job, yes there are...
Hard work & long hours
No job security
You must spend a lot of time away from your family (it can be very hard on families)
You have to face opponents who accuse you of not doing enough no matter how hard you work
It is very expensive to maintain 2 households (one in DC, one in your hometown)
High level of conflict
Intense pressure from interest groups
Salaries aren't that much compared to what you can make practicing private law; 1st year associates make
$160,000
(http://www.nalp.org/associate_salaries_2014)
How can I win?
You must be a strategic politician when it comes to deciding when to run and what position to run for. It is essential for you to have a strong commitment to some sort of public service or cause. Also, you must make sure that you and the district you are running in are compatible. For instance, if you are a liberal trying to run for a Congress seat in a more Conservative part of the South... well, may the odds forever be in your favor!
What if...
an incumbent of my party already holds the seat?
an incumbent of the opposite party already holds the seat?
the incumbent is not running?
It would be a long shot to even win the nomination.
You might be nominated, but it is doubtful that you would win the spot, unless your opponent is weakened by scandal. More than 94% of incumbents running won in their general elections (between 1984 and 2006).
This is your best chance to be nominated and win, but you may have some stiff competition!
So how would I fund my campaign?
Through private benefactors or through Political Action Committees (PAC's), which raise money for a particular interest group and make donations to candidates that they feel will represent that group's interests.
Typically, incumbents have access to more money from PAC's.
What about running during midterm elections?
Midterm elections are the off-year elections that fall in between presidential election years. These elections can result in the presidential party losing seats in the midterm congressional elections (
midterm loss
), depending on the president's standing with the public and the state of the economy (which then carries over to the public's impression the rest of the party and its candidates).
In 1994, fifty-three Congressional seats changed from Democratic to Republican control.
Sometimes midterm elections result in the presidential party gaining seats.
In 1998, 5 House seats changed from Republican to Democratic because of Clinton's popularity and the sound economy.
In 2002, Republicans picked up several House and Senate seats because of Bush's popularity (after the 9/11 attacks).
If you win, you could work here!
Now I want run for Congress!
Me too!
Which seat do you want??
How about this one!
Vote for me!
by Caroline Gervais
Full transcript