Observations of the ¨Progressive Candidate-to-Freshman¨ Transition – aka an Opportunity for expanding Progressive Power (and the power of the CPC)0
Since 2005 I’ve worked with dozens of Federal candidates/campaigns, some for a few days, some for a few weeks, some for a few months. One of the things I do often is ascertain what expectations have been given to candidates and what assumptions they have about not just running, but what happens next.
I’ve worked with a nominee who had never visited DC. I took him on his first visit to the Capitol, got him a tour, let him see how things work. It was like a child learning about wind as it turns a pinwheel.
I’ve worked with candidates who have been lobbyists, state legislators, Mayors, etc.
All of them have significant flawed assumptions and frequently are either allowed to walk away with rosy expectations or blatantly fed rosy expectations during the recruitment process, whether it be conducted by local, state or federal agents.
Recent writings, discussions and legislative battles have opened the question of whether or not the Congressional Progressive Caucus has power, wields it effectively. Some of these rants dismiss the tremendous successes of the CPC in taking on the White House and Democratic Leadership in both the House and Senate. I do believe there is room for significant growth, but we should give credit where credit is due.
These observed assumptions and expectations shape the behavior of victorious progressive Freshman, and I believe this is a significant opportunity for power expansion among the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
1. Candidates believe that win or lose, the day of the general election is the last “hard day” they will have to work for quite some time. They see victory as meaning they can hang up the “campaign hat” for at least a year, if not forever. They see defeat as the beginning of an extended vacation, most with a ‘screw everyone who didn’t do enough to help’ attitude. And frequently there is no one who did enough in their eyes.
2. When they start their campaigns, particularly among liberal/progressive candidates, candidates far too frequently believe that the positions they take on issues in and off themselves have value in terms of votes. Even when they figure out that is wrong during the campaign, they regain that assumption on or shortly before election day, which then carries in to their assumptions as a Freshman Representative. The lesson on the power of effective communication and messaging is lost. Every one of them (and you!) should read Anat Shenker-Osorio’s Don’t Buy It.
3. ”Good” campaigns are a constant exercise in expanding the network of the candidate, the pool of potential voters and the targets for volunteering/donating. This shifts in the GOTV phase where everything narrows to just those 1′s and 2′s. Those that have already given. Those that have already volunteered.
Progressive candidates frequently carry that narrowing philosophy in to their life as a Congressman. They rarely resume robust expansion efforts. This is 100% the opposite of their conservative counterparts, who see election as their mandate to become a national icon.
4. Compounding the narrowing problems from #3, we have the heartstrings problem. Progressives care too damn much, not wanting to seek donations from people that don’t have a huge surplus of money unless they absolutely positively need it. This means their fundraising operations scale back in all respects, nearly eliminate the small dollar/high volume efforts and narrow their efforts to the high dollar traditional donors. This dramatically alters the content and focus of their discussions, frequently away from the real experiences of working people and towards more broad view observations of wealthy individuals and organization leaders.
5. Generally narrowing everything about their efforts – to a specific set of issues, sometimes tied to their passions, sometimes their committee assignments. As such, they let many many opportunities sail by, failing to capitalize on earned media, network expansion and fundraising opportunities.
You can sense a trend… narrowing is a common thing. To candidates, campaigns are like being sprayed with chaos from every direction, the natural response is to try to narrow things down to a controlled flow from one small spout. Some candidates in this transition do go the exact opposite, Representative Alan Grayson tried to fill the void of outspoken progressive leadership for all progressive activists/causes in 2009/10 and it really killed him, he had one night stands with every niche group of activists but never got full engagement with any of them. This left him more vulnerable in the 2010 then he should have been. We need something in the middle. Leadership, courage, passion…on the issues that really matter to that member, taking advantage of key opportunities and passing on things when it is smart to do so.
When you look at the members of the CPC, think about these assumptions/expectations and consider where they might be if they kept their new media efforts at the same intensity they were at during the peak of their victorious challenger campaign. Think about how they would feel about the fundraising if they continued to raise ~$10K a week from email after they won their elections? That’s $500K/year. Likely that would incur increased costs of between $50 and $150K (for staff/services/office space), but still leaving a net gain of over $300,000. If they do it well, they could do double, triple or more.
In the process, they would be amplifying progressive messaging/values to a broader audience. From party activists to cable news audiences to earned media coverage to the netroots at large.
One of the things I have many times harped on is the disparity between Republican Party events and Democratic Party events. Even in small counties in mid-sized states, the headline attendees to Republican fundraisers are congressmen, senators and governors — and these from other states and regions, not just locally.
The same events for Democrats often struggle to get a state senator who represents the county. Florida has somewhere around 45 “active” Democratic county parties. The 70+ members of the CPC should be fighting to appear at a fundraising dinner for every one of them. There should be a line of CPC House members begging for the chance to headline events for the FDP Progressive, GLBT, Black, Hispanic and Women’s caucuses. Our elected officials can’t sit on their hands and wait for invitations — they need to reach out and challenge organizations to create opportunities for them. Feel free to re-read that last paragraph and insert Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Michigan, California, Texas, Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, and so on in place of Florida.
In addition to increasing the power and efficacy of the CPC, this kind of action would also provide employment for more progressive talent. By keeping them in the system and interested in working more than 1 campaign cycle you further dramatically improve the quality of progressive campaigns.
I have two sessions proposed for RootsCamp 2012 at DC’s Washington Convention Center.
Already scheduled for Saturday in Room 149B at 10:30 AM (first session) is: “Where are we & how do we fix it. Auditing campaigns to right a sinking ship, even when already under water.”
You can find the handout for this session here.
Beth Becker of Progressive Social and I have also proposed a session entitled: “The word Consultant really isn’t the dirty word some would have you believe. How to find the good ones!”
You can find the handout for this session here.
With the passing of Neil Armstrong this weekend, we lost an American hero. His giant leap for man was an inspiration for mankind. His courage inspired the nation to consider new possibilities.
Just a few weeks ago, Sally Ride passed away. She too was an inspiration for humankind. The first woman in space, a hero to all young women inspired to reach for the stars. Her legacy is a generation of female scientists, astronauts, and barrier breakers driving America to greatness.
Today we must not mourn the loss of these heroes, but instead honor their legacies. The burden is on us to return this to a nation that values inspiration. A nation that invests in science and technology, invests in teachers and education, a nation that provides every child a world class education.
With the party conventions upon us, each side will present their vision for the future of America. The Republicans will put forward Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Their vision is to double down on shifting the tax burden to working Americans, slashing investment in infrastructure and the next generation. They want you to forget about the collapse of Wall Street just a few years ago, gambling with the Social Security and Medicare you paid for and earned, offering you coupons instead of health care.
President Barack Obama and Joe Biden will present a vision of fighting to make America work for working Americans again. To reinvest in our roads, bridges, and schools. A vision to move this nation forward by investing in the next generation while preserving the right to dignity that FDR promised our nation’s seniors.
Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride may no longer be with us, but their spirit, their inspiration, their courage lives in all of us. We have the power to keep that legacy alive.
Founder, MPA Political, LLC
An associate offering condolences for this past Tuesday’s election results offered the reminder that we need a Constitutional Amendment to fix campaign finance. Amending the Constitution is the only certain means of leveling the playing field between self funders trying to buy seats, those willing to sell their values for special interest money and establishment support and those tried and true progressive warriors honestly trying to make the world a better place.
The decline in the quality of media coverage of elections has been a perverse accelerator of the downward spiral, favoring big money, the establishment and creating the illusion of similar qualifications/values where vast differences exist. Why? To make money, profit over truth, profit over quality of governance, profit over everything.
Until we have major campaign finance reform and media reform, we as progressives (and Democrats in general) need to stop making the same mistakes campaign after campaign. We need to invest drastically more in infrastructure that supports candidate campaigns. The key phrase being, “that supports candidate campaigns.” We have a number of great organizations out there that are improving some of the message and starting to push back on some of the right wing attacks on our Democracy in favor of the 1%, but they aren’t doing nearly enough to help us actually win elections and shift the balance of power.
We need a return to the 50 State Strategy. It isn’t even debatable which strategy is more effective. When we run more quality campaigns, we do vastly better at controlling the message and we win more seats. We raise more money. We inspire future candidates and activists. Incumbency protection is best served by expanding the playing field, not contracting it to a defensive posture.
We must do more to provide candidates with the resources to compete – not just money, but training, quality staff and research. Candidates need to start by recognizing that being a candidate is not easy, and they should do more to learn to how to be better as a candidate. Progressive organizations need to begin their actions six months or more before primaries/elections, they need to get in early to make a big impact. They need to to do more to promote the positive narratives for progressive candidates.
We need to stop hiring/promoting staffers based on arbitrary measures, winning or losing a prior race isn’t necessarily indicative of any one individual’s talent and capacity. Being on a winning team in one capacity is not at all indicative of a capacity to succeed in a completely different capacity on the next campaign. Carrying staff not getting the job done is extremely detrimental to campaigns, where resources are highly limited and the impact of team morale is far greater than many recognize. A person not living up to the responsibilities of their job will drag everyone else down, any temporary drop off felt from firing that person among the rest of the team will be overcome by the greater impact of bringing in someone capable of doing the job. Rip off the band aid, don’t let it fester.
We should be willing to pay quality wages for quality staff. When you buy at a bargain rate, too often you get less than a bargain of quality and capacity. Which leads to this – donors need to get involved earlier, need to get involved in primaries, and need to recognize that their money can and should be spent on things other than TV. When progressive donors opt to sit out primaries, they are giving a huge advantage to the big money/establishment candidates and crippling our progressive heroes. Money has a decreasing value over the course of a campaign – the earlier you have it, the better you can plan and execute a campaign for victory. Late campaign TV is rapidly declining as an effective means of communicating with voters, the value of field, online and targeted mail campaigns are all increasing rapidly. All of these require having money earlier. More staff, less consultants.
We MUST MUST MUST do more to keep quality staffers in the campaign system between cycles. We must pay them living wages in and out election season. We must provide health care and career advancement training. We must strive to keep the best of our warriors on campaigns for 5 cycles. 10 years. That should be the goal. We need to make it a viable option by increasing the quantity and quality of mentorship, by providing employment options designed to fit between campaigns that continue the work for advancing progressive values, and by doing more to make sure the right people are hired by the right candidates at the right time to be successful.
We have a handful of strong progressive candidates running across the nation and Democracy Corps tells us 54 House Republicans are in danger right now. We can make gains this November, and we need to work our butts off to make that happen. We can make bigger gains in 2014 and beyond if we start learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over.
For my part, I’m currently looking for the best opportunity to make a difference between now and November 6th. If you have ideas about what I should be doing, use the contact form.
Four years ago (8/29/2008), I wrote the following as a reaction to the pick of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate:
Following the premise of Head of State, McCain chooses Sarah Palin as his running mate, undercutting his own arguments for his own selection, but (possibly) opening new doors for the party’s future.
After an intense three months spanning the nation, working with Connecticut’s Chris Donovan to sharpen his message and write an acceptance speech for the nominating convention and then packing the car, passing through Mount Rushmore and on to the Pacific Northwest where I ran Darcy Burner’s campaign for Washington’s First Congressional District, I’m now looking for what is next.
Does your campaign need a communications director? Some quality control auditing? Training and process improvement? I can make your campaign better. So long as you are a progressive Democrat that is.
Whether you are looking to hire a consultant or a full time staffer, you should contact us here.
One of the best things going on right now to help progressive candidates find their way on to ballots and to run effective campaigns is The Candidate Project, a joint venture of The New Organizing Institute and Democracy for America.
The Candidate Project’s goal was to recruit, train and empower 2012 candidates to run at all levels in the 2012 elections. They really failed somewhere along the way…in the goal setting department, because they are WAY past 2012, in to the 8000 range. Yeah, major kudos guys, kick ass!
One of the ways the Candidate Project is training these candidates (and staff, activists, & volunteers) is through online webinars. They’ve conducted eight of these training sessions so far (you can catch up on the ones you missed here) and tomorrow night (Tuesday 4/3), I will be co-hosting Communications, Media & Message. I’ll be joined by DFA’s Deputy Communications Director Linsey Pecikonis to conduct this training. Have you signed up yet?
A few weekends a year Democracy for America sends me to a new community to participate in their Campaign Academy program as a trainer. DFA posted a profile of me as a trainer on their blog recently. This past weekend, we took the Campaign Academy show to Miami’s FIU Graham Center. Thank you to our hosts, the FIU College Democrats.
As I promised to those in my sessions, here are digital versions of the materials I referenced during the training:
I hope all the trainees had a great time at the Miami Training Academy!
Back in December of 2010, I reflected on the previous RootsCamp. Among the biggest negatives was the large crowd & less than stellar session leaders. The positives? The wonderful people and efforts of the New Organizing Institute, the activists and enthusiasm.
A little over a year later, we returned to the scene of the first RootsCamp (2006), the NEA Building. Attendance was limited to a more reasonable number and the quality of experience was back up to the expected (very high) levels.
There was one session that was horrifically bad and I would certainly like to see more content geared at challenger candidates/campaigns, but overall it was a great experience with some wonderful sessions/presenters/discussions.
One of the more amusing sessions Saturday was led by Adam Green & Stephanie Taylor of the PCCC, “Fire the Consultants: Venting & Solutions.” Similar to sessions they have conducted in the past, the intent is both therapeutic and to stop so many campaigns and organizations from repeating the mistakes happening far too often every cycle. Among the more amazing revelations, one participant discussed how a consultant was 4 months behind schedule on a 6 week deliverable. They asked what they could do about that, several in the room responded, “Fire them.” A better question would be, why weren’t they fired after passing 12 weeks on a 6 week deliverable?
Too often candidates and lefty non-profits find themselves in this sort of situation. Sometimes the result is a poorly communicated proposal, an inadequate or absent contract, or just the unwillingness to demand what was paid for by the organization. Refer back to the Rules of Organizing, #9 If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. The consultant telling you they have written a plan, collected the data, and so forth isn’t good enough. They have to both write down the plan and share it with the customer. A good contract will specify that all data procured or created by the consultant in the process is also handed over (or shared digitally) to the customer.
Some RootsCamp attendees were put off by the title, and the animosity directed at consultants. As a consultant, I say get over it. The profession is rife with leeches, hacks and stuffed shirts. The few good and honorable among us need to understand that, accept it, and not get hostile about being mistaken for one of vast majority of vultures that dominate the profession. Unfortunately the burden is on us to prove we aren’t part of that majority that serves only to inhibit or exploit challenger candidates.
Notes from the closing session of RootsCamp 2012, “Some Guy Candidates: How they Delay Progress & How to Make Them Suck Less.”
You can find some background here: ‘Some Guy’ vs Contender – which are you?
Reviewing, the basics of the ‘Some Guy’ candidate: Lacks money, social network and the experience/understanding of how to be a candidate.
We talked about the common ways ‘Some Guys‘ push back – blaming the system, proclaiming too much purity to be sullied by doing the work, and of course attacking those that try to help them.
We explored the common motivations of ‘Some Guy‘ candidates, that they typically have a high degree of ideological (or egocentric) resolve. This means that if you are trying to move a ‘some guy‘ out of a race, you better have an idealistic win-win proposals for them, the right advocate to make the case and an expectation that their resolve is much stronger than rational logic can conquer.
As an idealist, I admire the confident idealism of these candidates. But, I’m also a strategist – one that recognizes that these candidates running on sheer idealism are hurting the progressive movement and damaging the Democratic party brand.
The best thing you can do to help these candidates is get them to attend a Democracy for America Training, like the ones coming up in Miami (March 17-18) or Gainesville (March 24-25). The DFA Training program is a comprehensive overview of campaigning designed to help people at all levels of experience and engagement. Whether you are a 5 hour a week activist/volunteer, full time staff to a candidate running for office, the DFA Training Academy will make you more effective. The DFA Training Manual (provided to Academy attendees or purchased direct from DFA) is also a fantastic resource that you will use day after day throughout your adventures in campaign politics.
After they attend the training, the next step is rule #9 again, If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. This means writing a landscape memo and campaign plan (and all the component parts, field, finance and communications). Somewhere in the midst of this process, if not sooner, the (former?) ‘Some Guy‘ candidate should begin to recognize that the water is way over their head. This is the best time to do a ‘right size’ analysis. Very few candidates should be running for Congress the first time out. State House, State Senate and city/county offices are much more attainable and can help build the foundation for a later campaign for Congress. This is also the point that we should remember that local offices hold the most power.
Long term, ‘Some Guy‘ candidates need to work to expand their social networks (offline more than online). This means reaching out to like minded organizations, attending meetings and conventions, building relationships and working to earn media. This process can also serve to help (future) candidates improve their campaign skills without the pressures of an impending election. If you are not certain three hundred people will give your campaign money in the first 30 days, you aren’t ready to run for Congress. Write down the list.
It was a great discussion, thanks to all who attended.