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How to Run for Congress in 5 Steps

From Testing the Waters to Raising Money to Filing Paperwork

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So you've been bitten by the politics bug. You've volunteered for a campaign, become a member of your local party committee, written checks or held fundraisers for your favorite candidates - all the steps it takes to be taken seriously in the world of politics. And now you think you're ready for the big leagues: running for Congress yourself.

So what now?

How do you run for Congress?

It's not all that complicated, actually.

1. Test the Waters

The first question you really need to ask yourself is this: Do I really want to do this? Running for a high-profile office such as Congress takes some serious intestinal fortitude, and you need to make sure you're up for it. If you're sure, the next question you should be asking is: Will other people want me to do this? 

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Voting

The second question is really a way at getting to some very important information, such as whether there's already a well funded incumbent whose got the support of the party seeking re-election to the seat you want; whether you can get people not only to support your candidacy but also write some checks to your campaign; and whether you can put together an organization that can turn out the votes on Election Day. 

2. Raise Money

Let's be honest: It takes money to win an election. It takes money to buy television advertising. It takes money to travel across the congressional district to knock on doors and gladhand.

Related: How to Start Your Own Super PAC

It takes money to print yard signs and flyers. If you can't raise money for a congressional campaign, you'd better hang it up. 

3. Do the Paperwork

So when does a potential candidate become a real candidate? The Federal Election Commission says a potential candidate crosses over that testing-the-waters threshold when she starts raising lots of money; starts doing what appears to be campaigning; purchases advertising to "publicize his or her intention to campaign;" or refers to herself as a candidate.

Related: The Term Limit Debate

So what constitutes raising "a lot" of money? If your campaign account has more than $5,000 in contributions or expenses, you're a candidate. That means you've got to fill out the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

4. Get a Good Press Person

A good spokesman or handler is worth her weight in gold. They understand the world of politics, how the media work, particularly how campaigns work in an era of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which have dramatically changed the way political campaigns are run and how Americans interact with their elected officials.

Related: Who Are President Barack Obama's Press Secretaries?

Every candidate and federal elected official has a press person or handler.

5. Prepare Your Family

Running for office not for the faint of heart, regardless of whether that office is in the House of Representatives or your local school board. You should be prepared for personal attacks and understand that you are living in a fishbowl from this point forward, with all your personal information just a tap, click or blog post away from the public eye thanks to the work of opposition researchers.

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