Keys to Elected Office

Campaign Essentials

The essential guide for women by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation as part of the Governors Guidebook Series.

Since its inception in 1998, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied every woman candidate’s race for governor, producing nonpartisan, pragmatic guides for women on both sides of the aisle to enable them to maximize their strategic advantages and clear the hurdles on the way to public office.

While each woman’s race is unique—with region, political landscape, party affiliation, and key policy issues playing roles—the pages that follow offer the most direct, must-know advice we’ve gleaned for women elected officials and candidates running for office.

From the personal traits, to actions that convey qualification and likeability, to bouncing back from mistakes, this guide is a concise look at what it takes for a woman to run and succeed.

This guide is also an invitation. If you are running for office or planning to run, I invite you to use it to its fullest to help inform your campaign. If you have not yet decided to run, consider our research an invitation to become a candidate yourself.

And since we know that women need to be recruited to run, I urge you to pass this invitation along to other smart, strong, inspiring women who you know and want to see become our country’s future leaders.

Thank you—and onward.

Barbara Lee
Founder and President
Barbara Lee Family Foundation
Cambridge, Massachusetts

" I just hope that it is boring one day that a woman is governor. I hope that breaking a glass ceiling means that somebody threw a rock through your sunroof.


Running for office as a woman is different than it is for a man. Why? Because voters expect more from women and afford them different advantages. And even though voters say it is important to have more women in office, it doesn’t always mean they will actually vote for women. Facts from Barbara Lee Family Foundation research about voter demographics help paint the picture.

The core of voters who say there are not enough women in office are unmarried, particularly unmarried women, Democrats, African Americans, Latinos, post-graduate, and college-educated women. On the other hand, men who are weak partisans, Republicans, unmarried men, and born-again or Evangelical Christians are more satisfied with the number of women in office. Of these satisfied groups, all but unmarried men are less likely to vote for women candidates. Older men are the least supportive of women candidates, according to our findings. Among women, controlling for all other factors, those under 50 were less likely to vote for a woman candidate than those over 50.

This guide is the compilation of nearly 20 years of research studying these complex attitudes toward women candidates, every woman’s campaign for governor on both sides of the aisle, and real-time polling on voters’ views on everything from words that work for women candidates to how to call out an opponent’s record. Find more about our research methodology here.

In the pages that follow, we distill the most relevant findings into three key categories, designed to be easily-digestible resources for elected officials, candidates, campaign teams, and the general public.

In Preparation

We look at what it takes for women to lay the groundwork for a run for office- the traits and resources, and how to acquire and convey them.


In Substance

We break down the essential issue areas to master, from establishing qualification, to owning an economic plan, to contrasting with opponents.


Finally, In Presentation

We lay out the importance of using messages that resonate, having a professional and approachable style, and bouncing back from mistakes.