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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. Click here to learn more about the history of the program.

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 09 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.  Click here to see other graduates of our Candidate Training Program. 


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



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 2016 Candidate Training Program are currently being accepted.  The priority deadline for applications is 11:59PM ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2015. To ensure your best chances of acceptance, we highly recommend completing the application by this deadline. Those who apply by that date will be given priority. After this, applications will be considered on a rolling basis.

Applicants may also submit up to two letters of recommendation. These are not required; we will not review more than two letters. Letters must be received by Wednesday, November 16, 2015 for consideration and should be addressed to:

The Sorensen Institute
Attn: Lauren Gilbert
P.O. Box 400206
Charlottesville, VA 22904

For more information about how to apply, or to submit an application, visit our Application Page.


Tuition for the CTP Class of 2016 is $800 for a shared double room and $1000 for a private room. Tuition covers food, lodging and all program materials. Acceptance to the program is not dependent on ability to pay.  The Candidate Training Program is sponsored in part by the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, which helps us keep tuition costs affordable.

Participants can apply for financial aid.  Requests for financial aid will be reviewed by members on the Sorensen Statewide Advisory Board after applicants have been accepted to the program.  In 2015 we met 100% of demonstrated financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships and financial aid.  More information about how to apply for financial aid is on our Financial Aid Page.

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 program runs from Thursday morning until Sunday afternoon. 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 concluding no later than 1:00pm.  Attendance at all sessions is required for participation in the program.

The 2016 Candidate Training Program is scheduled for January 21-24 at Carter Hall in Millwood, Virginia.


If you have any questions about the Candidate Training Program,
please contact Lauren Gilbert at 434-243-2844 or
If you would like to refer someone to our program, please visit our
referrals page.
To apply to the Candidate Training Program, visit our Application Page.

Trust, Civility and Respect in Politics


Featured Alumni

  • Pat Gottschalk.jpg

    Patrick Gottschalk

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2000

    Pat is a partner at Williams Mullen. He serves on the boards of the Virginia Economic Developers Association and the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. Pat was Virginia's Secretary of Commerce and Trade under Governor Tim Kaine.