This article explores the relationship between the adoption of core party political values and an individual’s electoral prospects. Our survey of 355 local candidates in Prague, Budapest and Bratislava shows that many aspiring politicians, including non-profit leaders, make a strategic calculation to adopt core party values in order to improve their prospects of success in running for election in local government. Their willingness to enter a political party may increase the likelihood of their being selected as a candidate. However, it did not improve their chances of being elected. The results suggest that voter behaviour is influenced by other factors and in particular the national standing of political parties. The finding that local political issues are secondary to national politics in city elections casts doubt on the scope for effective local collective action and has implications for our understanding of local leadership and for policies that seek to promote devolution.