By Rita Topalian, AD-57 Candidate

With 15 months until the November 2016 election, Republicans aren’t wasting any time preparing for legislative victories. Prospective candidates are engaged in year-round training to learn the skills needed to run winning campaigns.

Whether it’s learning the latest voter outreach technologies or effective fundraising strategies, Republicans are actively embracing opportunities to strengthen their campaigns during the off year.

This wasn’t always the case. Republicans have learned over the years that running on policy platforms alone isn’t always enough to get us across the finish line, especially in close races. I know firsthand that campaigns can come down to the wire. During my 2014 race for the 57th Assembly District, I came up just 1,800 votes short of a major political upset- despite being outspent 15 to 1.

One of the ways I’m preparing for the next election cycle is by participating in California Trailblazers, a recruitment and training program that has stepped in to fill the education gap for legislative candidates. Modeled after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s successful Young Guns program, Trailblazers boasts a record of success that speaks for itself. The program has prepared candidates like Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, Assemblywoman Young Kim, Assemblyman David Hadley and Senator Janet Nguyen for victories in districts across California. In fact, more than a dozen Trailblazer alumni are currently serving in the legislature.

I was fortunate to participate in a Trailblazers all-day training seminar a few weeks ago and want to share my experience in hopes that other candidates will take advantage of future opportunities. The goal of the training is to help candidates refine their messaging, practice interview skills and learn to deliver compelling speeches-critical elements of a campaign that are often overlooked by candidates who believe being on the right side of policy is enough to win.

The seminar had about two dozen candidates from across California in attendance, each working to improve their chances of victory in November. As candidates, we worked closely with messaging and on-camera experts, social media strategists and crisis communications specialists.

The program brings in Republican lawmakers and top talent to coach candidates. During the Burbank training, Assemblyman and Trailblazer alum Marc Steinorth offered invaluable insight into the dynamics of his own campaign and provided advice for attendees. We worked with a leading consultant on the strategies and techniques needed to establish winning campaigns. The FlashReport’s Jon Fleischman also took time to talk with us about the impact of blogging as a voter outreach tool. We worked with the talented professionals of Randle Communications and Targeted Victory to learn how to leverage traditional and new media to define our campaign narratives. A former Communications Director for the California Senate Republican Caucus provided practical instructions to navigate unanticipated events and ensure a crisis doesn’t spiral into defeat. And given the changing demographic of California, I found a presentation about communicating with Latinos incredibly relevant and instructive.

I sincerely encourage Republican candidates seeking legislative office to participate in the California Trailblazers program to sharpen their skills and become better candidates. Our growth and improvement not only ensures more competition and a healthier democratic process, but a better future for hard-working Californians.

People from communities across California are starving for leadership and honesty in politics. I’ll continue to work tirelessly over the next year and a half to communicate with voters and gain their trust-and if successful, obtain a new Republican seat in the legislature.

Let’s make sure I’m not the only one.

Rita Topalian, a family law attorney from Whittier, came close to pulling off a major upset in Assembly District 57 in 2014. Assemblymember Ian Calderon won with 51.5% in a district with a 20 point Democrat registration advantage (Dem 47%; Rep 26%; NPP 22%).