How does an exploratory committee actually work

Step 3: Form an exploratory committee

Now, you're probably wondering what happened to Form 1. That one concerns "exploratory committees," and it's kinda optional. These groups are typically set up as non-profits, and are there to see how people are responding to you as a candidate. Their function doesn't have to involve much beyond making some phone calls and knocking on some doors, but many people use them as a media tool in the early stages, while they're still "testing the waters."

Since exploratory committees don't have to file financial reports with the FEC, once a candidate starts raising significant funds or explicitly calling his or herself a candidate, it's necessary to ditch the group. But if Form 2 was submitted, then a committee has 10 days to file Form 1 with the FEC, so get that together.

Step 4: Get on state ballots

Here's where it gets tricky. You need to get your name on state ballots and, because they're all special snowflakes, each state's rules are different. As the Washington Postexplains, it could be a matter of netting 500 signatures on a petition (i.e., California) or it could be a matter of literally showing up to a caucus and shouting the loudest (seriously, Iowa?). You need to do this in enough states so that, come your party's convention time, you have delegates to back you up.

Step 5: Debates and dinners

After that comes the televised debates (during primaries, the network has to pick you for those), the dinners with trade unions (your campaign manager will set those up), and kissing so many grimy babies (you can do that without any red tape). You got this, champ! As long as you have approximately one bajillion dollars.

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Kristin Huntis a staff writer for Thrillist, and will never run for president, because she doesn't want all her embarrassing AIM screen names to come out. Follow her to skeletons in the closet at @kristin_hunt.