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Want to Run for Congress? Prepare to Ask People for Money 8 Hours a Day

As a political analyst, it’s easy to criticize candidates for not raising enough money. But it’s also easy to forget how hard it is to raise money. And it’s no wonder that most potential candidates pause before taking the plunge into a congressional race because of the burden of fundraising.

The dirty secret of campaigns is that unless a candidate is independently wealthy, the vast majority of his or her time will be spent raising money. Those kitchen table meetings with struggling parents and standing up for the Constitution on a street corner soapbox? They’re put on the back burner compared with fundraising for candidates who hope to win.

Raising money can be difficult, even for candidates favored by the party campaign committees. It’s even tougher for candidates running in districts that are considered safe.

In the latest issue of Campaigns & Elections magazine, I wrote about Adam Cook, a Democrat who ran in Virginia’s 1st District last cycle. He challenged GOP Rep. Rob Wittman in a seat that was drawn by Republicans to elect a Republican.

Here is an excerpt from the story, including some reflections from Adam:

For at least eight months, Cook’s primary function as a congressional candidate was fundraising. With the help of three “callers,” finance staff or interns who would dial the phone numbers, Cook would ask people for money for up to eight hours a day. And it was challenging to persevere with sometimes little return.

“All those weeks and months, to try to go through the same pitch and sound excited over and over again,” Cook said in a post-election interview. “No one can prepare you for that.”

Making 150 calls a day to see a yield of a few hundred dollars was normal. It would have taken Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) two days, on average, to raise the same amount that Cook brought in over the course of the entire election.

But his story is like so many other candidates who find their congressional aspirations clashing with a daily battle to ask people to raise money.