Winning a political campaign requires more than a good ground game. Yes, you absolutely need to focus on voter contact to spread your message and convince constituents to vote for you. But your message won’t be nearly as effective if you don’t carefully evaluate your opponent.

When running for office, you may be up against a single candidate or several. But it is imperative that you take the time to research your candidate, so that you can better position yourself as the best person for the job. Don’t leave it to your voters to do this legwork – because most of them won’t. You must know who you’re up against if you want to win.

Use these questions to evaluate the other candidates in the race and differentiate yourself to voters.

Who are your opponents?

Here’s the easy one: find out who’s running. Depending on the position you’re vying for, there was likely a filing deadline administered by the local election board or political party. After the deadline, you can inquire directly with that organization about who is running; this is public information. You should have this information in your hands long before voters do.

What is their background?

Use every available resource to learn about the background and experience of your opponent. If they are unknown, reach out to colleagues and others in your network to find out whatever you can. It’s not snooping – you’ll need this information as a basic foundation to learning how your opponents’ credentials stack up against yours.

What are their stances?

This one is important: where do they stand on the issues? How do their proposed policies compare or contrast with your own? How can you strategically leverage those differences to appeal to voters? If you’re running for a small local position, for example a school board position, it may be difficult to dig very deep into such issues. But if you’ve done your homework, you should be able to find ways in which you would handle the responsibilities differently from your opponent – and that is exactly the information you need to share with voters.

What have they accomplished (or failed at) politically?

If your opponent is an experienced politician, it should be easy to find out what measures he or she has opposed or supported while in office. This is a great way to find out not only where they stand, but also what they’ve accomplished. If, for example, they supported a measure that was highly unpopular with the community, then you may be able to use that information to your advantage. These hot button issues can also be a great way to spin fundraising appeals that are likely to generate the highest volume of donations on your website.

What are their weaknesses and strengths?

If you’ve done extensive research on your opponent, you should have a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses. Capitalize on issue-based weaknesses and use their strengths to identify ways you can improve on your own campaign.

Remember: the more you learn about the other candidates, the better prepared your campaign will be to defeat them on Election Day.

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