Candidate Training Program

The Sorensen Institute's Candidate Training Program (CTP) is an intensive, four-day program focused on the fundamentals of a winning campaign for office.

Participants explore the nuts and bolts of building a strong campaign from the ground up—all within the context of ethics and principled public service. The curriculum does not prescribe a particular set of campaign guidelines or rules, but does provide candidates with a framework for developing their own code of conduct to run a winning and ethical campaign. Participants in the program represent a broad range of ideologies and a diversity of communities from throughout Virginia. The CTP was first offered in 1999 with support from a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Seven graduates of our 2009 Candidate Training Program were elected to office the same year— 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats and 1 Independent. That includes 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats of the CTP 2009 class who were elected for the first time to the Virginia General Assembly on November 3— all four of whom were brand new to state-level campaign politics until they participated in Sorensen.  Each year, graduates of the Candidate Training Program go on to run successful campaigns for office at all levels of government.


The Candidate Training Program is focused on giving participants the knowledge and practical skills they will need to build a winning campaign from the ground up. The program may include in-depth coverage of the following:

  • Message Development and Delivery
  • Ethics in Campaigns
  • Planning and Budgeting
  • Direct Mail
  • Organizing an Effective Field Operation and GOTV (get out the vote)
  • Election Law in Virginia
  • Fundraising
  • Virginia Politics
  • Opposition Research
  • Crisis Management
  • Media 101
  • Online Campaigning
  • Dealing with Stresses on Candidates and their Families
  • Roles and Responsibilities of Candidates, Managers, and Consultants
  • Endorsements


We are absolutely committed to maintaining a partisan balance among the campaign consultants and political experts who speak as part of the program. All our speakers have a wealth of experience in Virginia campaigns and elections.


The application process is open to Virginia residents who are eligible to run for political office. Preference will be given to first-time candidates. A commitment to fully participate in the program is required. If you would like to refer a candidate to our Candidate Training Program, please visit our referrals page.  Information provided will only be used to contact potential candidates about applying for our program.

Applications for the 2020 program can be found on our Candidate Training Program Applications page.  Applications are due by midnight on Friday, February 14th, 2020.


Tuition for the CTP Class of 2020 is $1,500. Tuition covers food, lodging, including a private room, and all program materials. Acceptance to the program is not dependent on ability to pay; financial aid is available. In 2019 we met 100% of demonstrated financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships and financial aid. No individual is ever denied participation in a Sorensen program because of inability to pay the tuition cost. The Candidate Training Program is sponsored in part by the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, which helps us keep tuition costs affordable.  Information about the financial aid process can be found here.

According to IRS guidance, the Lifetime Learning tax credit applies to students who are enrolled in one or more courses at an eligible educational institution. The course or courses must be either part of a postsecondary degree program or taken by the student to acquire or improve job skills. There are many other details surrounding the Hope and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits. We suggest that you contact your own tax professional to see if you qualify for these credits. Unfortunately, neither the Sorensen Political Institute nor the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service can provide tax advice. You can also contact the IRS' Office of Public Liaison at 202-622-2970 or view Publication 970 on the IRS website for further information.

Program Schedule

The 2020 program will run over the course of four days from the morning of Thursday, March 26 until the afternoon of Sunday, March 29. A typical program day starts at 7am with breakfast and class begins promptly at 8am. Presentations, discussions, and workshops run throughout the day with multiple breaks and a catered lunch. The evening sessions include a dinner, speakers, and discussion. The program culminates with a Sunday afternoon graduation at around 2pm with dismissal by 3pm.  Attendance at all sessions is required for participation in the program.


If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Campbell. If you would like to refer someone to our program, please visit our referrals page.