What Is Involved in a Senatorial Campaign?

Gregory Hanson

A typical senatorial campaign takes almost two years and involves the work of many trained political agents and specialists. The first phase of a campaign involves fundraising and exploratory research. Candidates in some states may face a primary election. A candidate who succeeds in becoming the nominee of his or her party then faces months of steady campaigning and advertising. The process culminates in an election, typically in November.

Senatorial campaigns generally last around two years.
Senatorial campaigns generally last around two years.

Members of the United States Senate are very powerful and stand for election only every six years. These two factors combine to ensure that the relatively small number of contested seats in any given year are the object of significant political wrangling. Senatorial seats from states that heavily favor one party or the other may see less competition during the general election but often feature hotly-contested primaries.

Senate campaigns can span two years before voters actually make their decisions.
Senate campaigns can span two years before voters actually make their decisions.

Usually, a senatorial campaign begins with a period of exploration and fundraising. Politics is very expensive, and a candidate must be able to raise money to finance a run for the Senate. Initial polling and field research are often used to determine whether a particular candidate would have a good chance of winning a primary or general election. Incumbents typically focus more on fundraising but may also engage in polling to determine whether or not to consider a timely retirement instead of facing very difficult elections.

The next phase of a typical senatorial campaign is a primary election. Primaries are used by political parties to select candidates for the general election. Parties and states vary in their approaches to primaries, but primary elections are common, especially for seats that lean heavily in a party’s favor. Political leaders, donors, and insiders typically throw their weight behind candidates whose positions they favor. A primary election is then held and determines which candidate will represent the party.

After a primary, the next phase of a typical senatorial campaign involves months of active campaigning before the general election. The specific tactics used in this campaigning vary from state to state. Small states feature more direct contact between voters and candidates, and large states see more reliance on mass media. Political posters, yard signs, buttons, flyers, and the Internet are all used to disseminate information about a candidate and sometimes to launch attacks on the other candidate. In some cases, senatorial debates may pit candidates directly against one another.

In most cases, a senatorial campaign will culminate in a general election, which is held early in November. In cases where a senate seat has been vacated unexpectedly, a special election may be called and voting may take place at other times, or a governor may appoint a senator, depending on the laws of a particular state. All voters in a given state may vote to elect each of a state’s two senators.

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