Candidate Training Program

The Sorensen Institute's Candidate Training Program (CTP) is an intensive, in-depth program focused on the fundamentals of a winning campaign for office. It is designed primarily for people who are interested in running for public office or taking on senior roles in campaigns.

Sorensen’s program is one of the few bipartisan campaign training programs in the country. This unique feature provides key advantages, including how to address opponent perspectives, learn winning strategies from experts on both sides of the political aisle, and ways in which governing requires talking to people who don’t agree with you.

You will also learn from Sorensen’s Director, who successfully chaired five statewide campaigns, oversaw numerous successful local campaigns, and built a track record of success working across the partisan aisle in high-level state government positions.

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 instead provides participants with a framework for developing their own code of conduct to run a winning and ethical campaign. 

Our 2019 Candidate Training Program included two graduates — one Republican and one Democrat — elected to the Senate of Virginia in their initial runs for state office. A news story featured the two new Senators and how the friendship they developed in the Sorensen program helped them to adjust quickly to the Senate of Virginia.

A program-record seven graduates from our 2009 CTP class won office in the same year — 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats and 1 Independent. This included 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats class who were elected for the first time to the Virginia General Assembly and were brand new to state-level campaign politics until they participated in Sorensen. Graduates of the Candidate Training Program have gone on to run successful campaigns for office at all levels of government.

Program Schedule

The 2020 Candidate Training Program will be offered virtually via Zoom.

Six of the eight CTP sessions are scheduled on Wednesday afternoons/evenings. Complementing the Wednesday sessions are two intensive, full-day meetings on Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27. Attendance at all sessions is required.

Session 1: Wednesday, June 17, 2020: 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Session 2: Wednesday, June 24, 2020: 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Session 3: Friday, June 26, 2020: 8:30 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Session 4: Saturday, June 27, 2020: 8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.
Session 5: Wednesday, July 1, 2020: 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Session 6: Wednesday, July 8, 2020: 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Session 7: Wednesday, July 15, 2020: 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Session 8: Wednesday, July 22, 2020: 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.


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


Tuition for the online CTP Class of 2020 is $750 compared to the $1500 cost of our in-person program. A grant from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation helps us keep tuition costs affordable.

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.


Preference will be given to Virginia residents and first-time candidates, but others are encouraged to apply. 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 are evaluated on a weekly rolling basis.


  1. PLEASE NOTE: This is an online application. There is no way to save a partially completed application and return to work on it later. For this reason, we recommend that you prepare everything you will need to complete the application in advance.
  2. After you have read the instructions, questions, and have prepared everything you will need to complete the application, follow the link at the bottom of this page. That link will take you directly to the online application for the Candidate Training Program Class of 2020. Again, please remember to prepare everything you will need prior to filling out the online application. There is no way to save your work and return to it later.
  3. The CTP application includes a series of short essay questions in addition to some basic contact and background information, as well as attendance information. See below for details.
  4. Please make sure you have noted the dates of the program (below) and can attend all sessions.
  5. Applicants may also submit up to two letters of recommendation and a resume. These are not required; we will not review more than two letters. Letters must be received by midnight on Wednesday, June 10, but should be submitted by the day you apply, if at all possible. Letters of recommendation and resumes can be sent to

Essay Questions

The CTP online application includes a number of short-answer essay questions. Each question requires a 250 to 500-word answer. Be aware that the essays are a significant part of the selection process and very important to making admissions decisions. The essay questions on the Candidate Training Program online application are as follows:

  1. Describe your recent leadership activities. What do you consider to be your highest leadership achievement so far?
  2. What academic, community, governmental, political, professional or other activity are you most proud of? What barriers have you encountered while pursuing this activity?
  3. What political office are you planning to run for? When are you planning to run?
  4. What does state or local government in Virginia do well?
  5. What would you like to change about government in Virginia?
  6. What specific skills, knowledge or resources do you hope to acquire as a result of participating in the Sorensen Institute Candidate Training Program?

Contact/Background Information

You should also be prepared with the following information to successfully complete the CTP application:

  1. How did you learn about the Sorensen Institute?
  2. Current employment: employer, your title, your supervisor, work address and phone number
  3. Education: high school, college, graduate school, and any relevant non-degree training programs
  4. Past Employment: list any past employers including your title, supervisor, and dates of employment
  5. Activities: list any past organizations and activities that you have been involved in that demonstrate your commitment to public service, community involvement, and/or volunteer work.
  6. Contact information: your current mailing address, home phone, work phone, cell phone, and email address


The 2020 Candidate Training program will be offered virtually via Zoom. Please review your calendar and the program dates below. To complete the CTP application, you will need to indicate your availability for each session and discuss any planned absences.

Program Dates:

Session 1: Wednesday, June 17th, 2020: 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Session 2: Wednesday, June 24th, 2020: 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Session 3: Friday, June 26th, 2020: 8:30am - 4:45pm
Session 4: Saturday, June 27th, 2020: 8:30am - 4:15pm
Session 5: Wednesday, July 1st, 2020: 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Session 6: Wednesday, July 8th, 2020: 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Session 7: Wednesday, July 15th, 2020: 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Session 8: Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020: 3:00pm - 7:00pm

Please remember, once you start the application there will be no way to save partial work. If you have any questions about the CTP application, contact Sarah Campbell.

Applications Open
Tue, March 10, 2020
Applications Close
Wed, June 10, 2020