National Edition

A family affair: Political candidates need family backing before seeking outside support

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 1:00 p.m. MST

Thom and Susan Tillis, separately and together, campaign for Senate around North Carolina for the 2014 elections. Thom will finish his last term as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives this year.

Debra Young, Debra Young Studios

With the upcoming elections this year, thousands of candidates across the United States are raising money, hiring campaign staffs and spending every minute of free time on the stump and glad-handing constituents, seeking their votes.

But before the candidates decided to take on the emotionally and physically taxing experience of running for public office in America, they likely sought the support of those who know them best — their families.

It doesn't matter if candidates are the darlings of their political parties or the public at large; if they want a chance to win, they need the backing of those in their own home, according to Holly Robichaud, the founder of Tuesday Associates, a Republican campaign consulting service based in Scituate, Mass.

Robichaud lists family support as the first step to take when running for office in an article she wrote for Winning Campaigns Magazine.

"If a family is not happy with you running for office, then it undermines your candidacy," she said. "It’s a huge time requirement to run for office, so the family has got to be very understanding of that time commitment. If they’re not, you’re not going to be able to give up enough of your personal time to run."

A family decision

Thom Tillis, a Republican and speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, had his first campaign experience running for the North Carolina Legislature in 2006. Now he travels across the state, campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Both campaigns had similar beginnings — they both started with a family meeting with his wife and two children to learn how they felt about his desire to run for public office. He said the support was immediate.

"In many respects, I think my family was more prepared than I was," Tillis said. "In my discussion with my wife, she was probably more inclined that I run from the beginning."

Tillis’ decision to consult his family first is not novel among potential candidates. The recently released documentary "Mitt," which documents the Romney family through both of Mitt Romney’s bids for the presidency, shows Mitt and his family deliberating in their Deer Valley home over whether he should run for the GOP nomination in 2008.

As his children, their spouses and Romney's wife, Ann, discuss the pros and cons, the documentary shows the potential candidate studiously jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad. The decision was to run then and then to take another shot in 2012, although the downsides they predicted came to be.

A political campaign thrusts the family of a political candidate into the spotlight whether they want the attention or not, Robichaud said. Familial deliberation before making a decision to run allows potential candidates to gauge if their families are capable, ready and willing to deal with that attention, which can be negative.

"Once you throw your hat into the ring, your family will be living in a fishbowl. Be prepared and have them prepared," she wrote in her article for Winning Campaigns Magazine.

Tillis understood the potential impact, which is why he wouldn't have run for the North Carolina Legislature and the U.S. Senate unless he had his family’s support — in particular, his wife’s.

Because running for office requires candidates to put their campaigns before their families, Robichaud warns that jumping into a political race without the support of the family is detrimental to the campaign. While she wouldn't name any candidates specifically, Robichaud has had clients for whom the demands of the family had disastrous effects.

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