CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a senator.
Is becoming a senator right for me?
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Long before entering their preferred career, aspiring senators can lay its foundation by following the news and starting to form their political views.
Pay attention to the news, especially to coverage of political events.
Gather news from a variety of newspapers, television stations, and websites – even ones whose editorials you do not agree with.
Think critically about each person’s political opinion.
Engage in debate with people of different political persuasions.
Investigate the details of issues and determine which ones you feel most strongly about.
Run for student government.
Technically, formal post-secondary education is not a requirement to become a senator. However, it is extremely difficult to get elected without at least a Bachelor’s degree; and most serving senators possess a Master’s. In 2014, only one of the entire hundred members of the United States Senate had no education past high school.
Not surprisingly, political science and law degrees are the most common among future senators. In 2014, fifty seven of the hundred U.S. senators held a law degree.
Most prospective senators establish valuable connections and earn respect by first pursuing a career in law, business, education, the non-profit sector, or the military. It is not necessary to follow the traditional legal or political science path, but it is wise to engage in work that helps and serves people in some way.
Many senators recommend participating in local politics before making a run for the Senate. This is referred to as ‘coming up through the chairs.’ There are several ways to prepare for eventually taking a senatorial seat:
Attend political events.
Find out when city council or local branches of political parties hold meetings that are open to the public or party members. These events can reveal a lot about the political process.
Get involved in local politics.
Volunteer to work with the local branch of a political party. Volunteer at a polling station. Research local issues. Contact non-profit organizations to inquire about other potential volunteer opportunities.
Talk to as many people as possible.
Support from a wide variety of people is key to a running for election. Start with family, friends, and coworkers; but talk to local voters and organizations as well.
Get campaign experience.
Work on a candidate’s election campaign to learn about the process.
Run for local government office.
Seek election as a committee, assembly, or school board member; town mayor; or local congressman. This kind of experience allows future senators to see how government processes work on a community or civic level. It presents opportunities to make connections, establish a track record, and develop a positive reputation and valuable credentials. Progress to running for higher positions, such as state legislator or governor before taking on the challenge of getting elected to the Senate.
Keep sight of senate goals.
Aspiring senators should keep sight of what they want to do in the senate, and not focus on what they think they have to say to get there. Building a base of committed supporters is crucial.
Aspiring United States senators must fulfill three eligibility requirements:
They must be at least thirty years of age.
They must have been a United States citizen for at least nine years before running for the Senate.
They must live in the state that they want to represent.
In addition to these constitutional requirements, U.S. senators must abide by state registration regulations (typically including registration with a political party and eligibility to vote), be up-to-date on tax obligations, and pass a criminal background check.
Party & Voter Support
Gaining the support of party politicians, known as the ‘party machine,’ can go a long way in helping a senate candidate run and get elected.
A senatorial candidate needs a minimum number of signatures from voters registered in their party to get their name on the ballot. They must also file their candidacy with their state’s Secretary of State.
Campaign Committee & Fundraising
A candidate for senate needs to establish a campaign committee. This entails appointing a campaign manager; selecting public relations, communications, and advertising staff; and hiring a fundraising manager. The fundraising manager is perhaps the most important staff member of a senate campaign. He or she must be up-to-date on and abide by campaign finance laws in the area. These laws may include a limit on how much each candidate can spend. Getting elected to the Senate is expensive, so more money raised means more advertising can be purchased to achieve greater name recognition among voters.
Participate in interviews
Participate in debates with opposing candidates
Focus efforts on voters likely to vote for you
Produce white papers about issues and philosophy of government
Develop a list of prominent people who endorse you; ask them to run mini-campaigns on your behalf within their organizations or associations
Stick to a campaign schedule so you can see the campaign unfold according to a planned timeline
Election versus Appointment
United States senators are elected for a six-year term. When a senator dies or leaves office in the middle of a term, the vacant position must be filled. In some U.S. states, the Governor appoints a temporary senator, who serves until the next general election. In other U.S. states, the temporary appointment lasts only a few weeks or months until a special election is held; or the seat remains vacant until the next general election.
How to become a Senator
For centuries, the much sought-after status of Senator was ‘born and bred’ and accorded through aristocratic descent. Even today, in monarchies such as the United Kingdom and Scandinavian states, tradition dictates that a portion of the senate be reserved for barons, lords, dukes, or other nobility ranks. Most senators, however, are democratically elected to office.
Eligible candidates for the role must normally meet a set of criteria, including minimum age, citizenship, and place of residency. While their educational and career paths can be very diverse, they often share competency and experience levels. These typically comprise graduate studies; involvement in community and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and political activities. It is not uncommon for senators and aspiring senators to have a background in political science, law, social sciences, or liberal arts. They may follow very different trajectories, but are invariably high-ranking professionals with public visibility and credibility.
Education and community involvement are certainly vital parts of the foundation needed to run for senate. Equally important are leadership abilities, communication skills, and moral integrity; as well as the capacity to organize a campaign and the stamina to run it. Perhaps most essential, though, are party endorsement and backing. A candidate without the support, muscle, and influence of the ‘party machine’ is at best disadvantaged and at worst hopeless.