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? Voters have higher expectations for women candidates which create obstacles and some opportunities. 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. Findings from Barbara Lee Family Foundation research paint the picture:

  • Women candidates have to prove they are qualified. For men, their qualifications are assumed.
  • Women face the double bind of needing to show competence and likeability. Voters will support a male candidate they do not like, but for women – this quality is non-negotiable.
  • Voters accord women candidates a “virtue advantage,” seeing them as more honest and ethical than men. This advantage can be dramatically reversed if voters perceive a woman candidate to be dishonest or acting unethically.
  • As more women run for office and are elected, voters question how women can serve constituents and take care of family responsibilities at the same time. Voters recognize a double standard for moms, but actively and consciously participate in it.

While the current political landscape for women candidates presents obstacles, our no-nonsense, pragmatic guide helps
overcome them. We study and analyze the challenges of campaigning in order to give women directive advice on how
to succeed. The Essential 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.