Friday, November 13, 2009

Why you Run races you "can't win".

Everyone in the Green Party is subject to questions about why they would run races that they can not possibly win. When we do reach the level where our presence becomes a factor in a race, then the charges of being a spoiler roll out from the Democrats, especially of the yellow dog breed, as if it were a Pavlovian reaction.

Let me recount a story. Sometime in late 2003 or early 2004, Jerry McNerney was talking to his son and complaining about his Congressman, Richard Pombo, a man who was so far from McNerney's own values as to bring a shudder when his name was spoken. McNerney's son asked who was running against Pombo and, when Jerry answered that no one was, his son said "The why don't you run, Dad."

From that point, Jerry started to work toward making sure that there was opposition. First, he had to build an organization that would allow him to get on the ballot as a primary election write-in for the Democratic nomination, since there were no official Democratic candidates in this safe district for Pombo, then Chairman of the House Committee on Resources. Even as the sole candidate, McNerney needed a recount of votes to qualify for the general election. He borrowed additional money against his own home as a guarantee of the cost of the recount and ended up qualifying by less than 5 votes.

Predictably, McNerney, a neophyte politician, lost in 2004. But, he came back in 2006, fought against Steve Filson, the candidate hand picked by then Representative Ellen Tauscher and backed by Rahm Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Once again, he pulled out a victory with the odds stacked against him. As one close to all of this, I listened to the frustrations of all of the progressives who complained that Jerry spent too much time fund raising and too little time out in the district. But politicians evaluate each other based not one what they believe or what they say, but rather on how much money they can raise and the media follows along.

Aided by an arrogant and uninspired campaign by Pombo, McNerney won the seat in a Republican weighted district.

So, why might I write this on a Green blog? There are two points. First, Greens seem to be not so adept at fund raising. Having taken the pledge to not accept corporate donations, we have to work twice as hard as anyone else to raise the money from other sources, but we don't. The other is that a continuity of effort based on solid grassroots organizing will pay off in the end. The people that gave McNerney a financial boost were the denizens of DailyKos, but with the number of small donations that he was able to amass, he could then go to other donors and say... look at that track record. It was the work of an army of volunteers who helped turn the tide.

I live in an unlikely neighborhood for precinct canvassing. The terrain is hilly, the streets are winding and the lots are about half an acre. The only campaign that has ever come to my home to canvass was for McNerney. When the Pombo campaign announced its own major canvass action leaving from a rail station, the volunteers were there with a video camera to record the non-appearance of even a single Pombo volunteer and within 30 minutes, it was on the blogs and the video on YouTube.

We have an opportunity in 2010 to make major gains. The really progressive Democrats have had an opportunity to become disenchanted. The Republicans are rather in disarray as it appears that the tea baggers are controlling its direction. But we need to be executing now on those very important basic tasks that got Jerry McNerney his Congressional seat: fund raising and building the volunteer organization. Meg Whitman raised $70,000 yesterday. (Source: ElectionTrack) What are we doing?


Anonymous said...

"Predictably, McNerney, a neophyte politician, lost in 2006."

Nope, McNerney won in 2006. He lost on his first try in 2004.

Wes said...

Thanks. Fingers engaged before the brain. Correction made.

Michael Cavlan said...

I agree 100% with the ideals of running campaigns, even when we "can't win." You "win" by exposing the rotten, corporate system.

It is why I and legions of others left the Green Party. Because an element of the GP seem hell bent on not running, or even worse sabotaging those who try and run strong, serious campaigns.

I was the Green Party US Senate candidate in Minnesota 2006, Ran as a Green for Minnesota State Rep 2002. Former national Delegate for GP

Ross Levin said...

Wes, if you can apply these same principles to much smaller races where victory is possible, what's the point of running in large races where there is a 1% or less chance of winning? In some cases, it could be ballot access, but in most it is not.

Wes said...

Michael, you are absolutely right about this. I think that there are 2 points made by the story of Jerry McNerney. First, is that he ran a race that everyone said he could not win... but he did. The second is the manner in which he went about it, gathering volunteers, reaching out to the public, keeping in touch even though he was not yet in office. That was the core of the volunteer cadre for the 2nd race. In his first year as a Congressman, he came back to the district every weekend and visited every community, standing in front of a Safeway to greet people, dropping in to popular diners to sip coffee and chat. It works. It takes its toll on the rest of one's life, but it work.

Wes said...

Ross, the emphasis, of course, must be on winning the local races. However, having candidates at the head of the ticket offers unique opportunities for outreach if we choose to use them wisely. Consider that a number of the Sunday Spin masters thought that Peter Camejo actually won some of the Gray Davis recall debates. What he lacked was the organization in place to translate that into votes. You can't do one without the other.