Candidates get a view from inside the fishbowl

Prof C Explains
3 min readJul 25, 2006

by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Being a candidate for elected office is like being a fish in a fishbowl. Everyone is looking at you from all sides, and danger lurks in the deep. As one candidate recently told me, “It is a heck of a lot different being inside the fishbowl looking out than being outside looking in.”

As a biologist by trade, I have been carefully observing the natural history of candidates and campaigns, and I want to share what I have learned about how some of them make it from small-fry candidate to big-fish officeholder.

One of the first things a fingerling candidate must do is figure out who the kingmakers are in the community and their party. The candidate must try to woo as many of these people as possible. Acting behind the scenes, these folks work tirelessly to get their candidates elected. Getting their endorsement and help is a great asset. You can swim on without them, but others will be more eager to help you if they see one or more of these folks are on your campaign committee, are acting as your treasurer or are cooking hot dogs at your fundraiser.

Next, a candidate must make a choice about hiring a campaign consultant. In the age of mass media, most candidates simply can’t get by without professional help. You can tell which candidates have not hired a consultant — their campaign materials look like children made them, which is often the case.

Not that I am against child labor, but today’s campaigns are more like marketing campaigns, and most candidates need help to develop a clear message. The options range from traditional ad agencies and graphic artists with a political bent to full-time political consultants — bottom feeders who can win elections but rarely consider what is right or wrong.

Fundraising allows the small candidate to grow and swim faster. Candidates running for an office that is “down ticket” — county dogcatcher, for example — need to develop some fundraising skills quickly. The candidate can only tap his friends for so much, and there is a group of “usual suspects” invited to everyone’s fundraiser. These folks can quickly develop a bad case of fundraising fatigue, and if the candidate has waited until June to start raising money, he is one dead fishy.

Then the candidate must solve one of the most complex mathematical and geographical questions ever devised: Where to place yard signs…

Prof C Explains

J Scott Christianson: UM Teaching Prof, Technologist & Entrepreneur. Connect with me here: