Decide why you want to run for president of the United States. Talk it over with family members, friends and close political advisors. Whether you already have an established national profile or not, running a presidential campaign requires substantial commitment, along with strategy development and fundraising abilities.
Develop your campaign’s platform. For example, if your goal is to create jobs by cutting taxes, ending wars or reducing poverty, you must fully understand these issues from a national perspective. You must also develop specific plans for voters to understand. Voters primarily choose candidates based on their platform positions and their ability to beat primary and general election opponents.
Ensure you meet the basic qualifications to serve as president of the United States. The U.S. Constitution requires presidents to be at least 35 years old and natural born citizens of the United States (Article II, Section I). Candidates also have to have been residents of the United States for 14 years prior to taking office.
Set up your presidential exploratory committee. A exploratory committee is most often organized as a nonprofit organization, with the mission of “testing the waters” for a formal campaign. At this point, you can only engage in activities meant to explore whether your candidacy is viable. You can raise money to pay for opinion polls (to test name recognition, for example), travel to key states and open an exploratory committee office. However, you cannot raise more money than reasonably required to explore a candidacy, use advertising to promote a candidacy or refer to yourself as a candidate. You also cannot seek ballot access at this point.
Register to become an official candidate. Whenever you raise or spend more than $5,000, you are automatically considered a presidential candidate by the FEC. If you never raise or spend that amount, you are required to file paperwork. You have 15 days after raising this amount of money to file formal paperwork with the FEC. Fill out the “Statement of Candidacy,” which registers your name and address and the name and address of the campaign committee. Additionally, fill out the “Statement of Organization,” the form that registers your campaign with the Federal Elections Commission. The form is also used to designate your campaign treasurer and records custodian. Both officials monitor money that is raised and spent by the campaign.
File periodic reports on your campaigns federal spending to the FEC. These forms include those for money raised and spent, along with forms documenting personal expenditures and debt settlements.
Gain ballot access in the 50 states. Each state has its own rules for being listed as a presidential candidate in the primary and general elections. Therefore, contact each state’s secretary of state to obtain the forms necessary to get listed. For example, Massachusetts candidates can get on the primary election ballot by filing 2,500 signatures with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The secretary can also place candidates on the ballot who are generally recognized by the public. Finally, the chair of the state party committee can designate names. General election ballot access occurs after a candidate has won the party’s official nomination.
Campaign. In order to be a successful candidate, you must get your message out to voters. Work with your campaign’s media staff on your print and media advertising strategy. Have your staff set up events where the public can hear from you directly. For example, hold a campaign fundraiser at a local community center, where you give a speech promoting your candidacy.
Prepare for debates. Although media outlets require candidates to reach a minimum threshold of support to participate in televised debates, be prepared to participate should you reach each network’s (varying) threshold of support. Work with your campaign staff to ensure that you understand the wide array of domestic and foreign policies expected of candidates. For example, in the 2008 election, the candidates focused on the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You must be knowledgeable about these policies and have policy proposals prepared to present. Additionally, be prepared to defend your policy record during the debates.