10 Questions Every Candidate Should Be Ready To Answer

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 15, 2012 – 6:10 am

Rep. Rick Berg, a candidate for North Dakota’s open Senate seat, was recently asked a straightforward question: “What’s the state’s minimum wage?” He didn’t know the answer – and he’s far from alone.

The Huffington Post points out that four candidates at a recent Senate debate in Missouri also didn’t know the minimum wage. And that’s surprising, considering that this is a perennial question that trips up candidates in virtually every election cycle.

So today, I’m offering all campaigns and candidates a free prep sheet to help them avoid these obvious errors.

Here are ten questions you should be prepared to answer during your race:

1. What’s the Minimum Wage? The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Some states are higher. The full list is here. Candidates should also be able to answer similar questions about their state’s unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Here’s Rep. Berg’s attempt at answering the minimum wage question:

2. What’s the Price of Milk? Reporters ask these types of questions to gauge how much a candidate understands the struggles of “real” Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a gallon costs $3.50. (A handy list of other product costs is here.)

3. What’s the Price of Bread? The average price of a loaf of white bread is $1.40.

4. How Much Is a Gallon Of Gas? The national average for a gallon of unleaded regular gas is $3.87. That’s up from $3.55 last year, $2.78 in 2010, and $1.95 in 2009. Candidates can accurately say that the price has doubled in the past three years. Also know your state/local gas price averages.

5. Why Do You Want to Be a Congressman/Senator/Governor? You’d be surprised how many people blow this simple question. In fact, that very question derailed Ted Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1980.

6. What Mistake(s) Have You Made, And What Have You Learned From It (Them)? This question is sometimes intended as a “gotcha,” but can be a perfect opportunity for candidates to explain a position change.  

7. Who Is Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice of All Time, and Why? Candidates should also be able to name a decision they agreed with and one they disagreed with. In recent years, these types of questions have tripped up both Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin.

8. When Is The Last Time The (Local Sports Team) Won The Championship/Pennant/World Series/Stanley Cup? During a Democratic debate for Massachusetts Senate late last year, four candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, couldn’t list the years their beloved Boston Red Sox had won the World Series in this century. Candidates should also have similar answers ready for local college teams, and should be able to name their favorite players, as well.

9. Who Is Your Personal Hero? This is a cliché question which typically elicits cliché answers. But unless Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or Eleanor Roosevelt are really your personal heroes, try to come up with something more original – and more revealing about who you are and what moves you.

10. What Newspapers Do You Read? After Sarah Palin’s disastrous handling of this question from Katie Couric, other candidates can expect similar questions. Be ready to name your favorite journalists,  newspapers, radio stations, news programs, and websites.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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