Since I started publishing my analysis of Florida’s new US House districts, a number of candidates and/or supporters have challenged the label of ‘some guy’. One supporter sent a nice email, asserting her candidate was the real deal (the facts disagree thus far). Another sent an email with what might classify is disgust. And one ‘some guy’ sent an email to his campaign list using the label as a slur for motivation. Not a terrible tactic.
Candidates can cross from ‘some guy’ to real contender, it has happened before, but not very often and not typically in the span of a single election cycle.
Here are a few notes about what separates the real contenders from the ‘some guys’. Not all conditions need to be true to make you a ‘some guy’ and not all conditions are false in a ‘contender’.
Money: The most obvious indicator and the most unfortunate. Our system shouldn’t be predicated on wealth or access to wealth dictating who can and cannot represent us in Congress. But it does. I only work with candidate who will commit to changing that by supporting public financing as part of campaign finance reform.
If you are running for US Congress, to compete you need to be able to raise six figures your first quarter out, ideally $100,000 in the first 30 days. You should be able to write a list down before you do a day of campaigning, of people you already know, in the hundreds or thousands that you can reasonably expect to give you money. You can learn more about campaign finance/fund raising here.
Regardless of when you start this campaign, by 3-4 months prior to your Primary election (with or without a serious opponent) you should have already raised better than $500,000. In Florida, given the higher costs of doing so many things in most of our districts, you should be aiming for the $500,000 mark by mid-March or sooner. Once you start, you need to pull in six figures every quarter, upwards of $3000/day or $4000/weekday. Note that is a trajectory of roughly $250,000 a quarter, your race may dictate much more per quarter, particularly as you get closer to election day. The quarterly number should get larger as the campaign goes on, significant drops will be perceived as a drop in support or ‘hitting a ceiling’.
In the end, to be a contender as a challenger for a regular (not Special Election) Congressional seat, you need to raise upwards of $1,000,000. That puts you ‘in the game’, possibly as close as within the margin of error. To actually be in a position to win, you likely need somewhere between $2 Million and $6 Million. And in the end, if you spend it poorly, it doesn’t matter how much you raise.
Experience/Network/Credibility/Reach: The next major separator between ‘some guys’ and contenders we will look at is the equivalent of Twitter’s Klout score. This is how many people you know, how many people know you, how likely they are to listen to you, and how likely they are to repeat/share what you say. It is also important what the people know you for, do they see you as an expert/fount of wisdom on political things? Or are you just a person that they find funny from time to time.
When we (MPA Political, LLC) teach public speaking for candidates/campaigns, we talk about the credibility disconnect that occurs when you become a candidate. In normal public speaking, when you are introduced as a rocket scientist, you are automatically given some credibility on the subject by the audience. As a candidate, the opposite happens, everyone becomes skeptical about your qualifications and credibility. The best way to combat that is to have long standing personal connections (and surrogates with credibility) to help carry that credibility beyond the ‘candidate’ threshold.
If you don’t have a network of people accessible to the district that can project credibility upon you, and you have not been a well-known member of the community for a significant period of time, it will be very hard to break through the ‘some guy’ shell without an absolute monster haul of fund raising. The odds of you having that fund raising capacity without the network/credibility are obviously pretty slim.
Campaign Understanding/Experience: Far too many candidates think running for office is some mixture of the various campaign/political tv shows and movies they have seen. Some spice in what they’ve gleaned from CNN, MSNBC, PoliticalWire.com, DailyKos.com, etc etc. What ever picture those put in your head, it’s likely wrong. It isn’t all fairs and speeches. The biggest component of campaigning is phone to mouth. Before you can do that, you need to have a coherent message and you need to know how to stay on message all the time.
A good start is attending a Democracy for America Campaign Academy. The next step is hiring a professional who knows what they are doing. Conveniently for those of you in Florida, there are two DFA Training Academies coming up in March: Miami and Gainesville.
This is a tricky hurdle for candidates, as the majority who have little experience with campaigns on this level won’t even know where to start the hiring process. It isn’t unusual to see candidates with high potential fail from this step, blowing money on bad/opportunistic consultants/staff that provide them with little to show for the money spent. Mistakes often include a perverse desire to ‘hire local’ in districts that haven’t been competitive in recent history. If there was someone local who could make it competitive, they would have already. You can learn more about hiring here.
Common Pushback on ‘Some guy’ status: ‘Some guy’ candidates and their supporters often push back on the label with arguments about the campaign finance system being broken and they are going to prove it is wrong by a) forgoing contributions over XYZ dollars, b) only taking donations from within the district, c) refusing PAC money, d) raising no more than X total dollars or (new this year) e) promising not to seek re-election because re-elections means spending the people’s time raising money rather than serving. Many of these have good intent behind them, there is some honor in there. But you can’t pay for direct mail, radio or TV with honor. You can’t pay staff or consultants with honor. Good intentions only matter if the roughly 200,000 voters you need are aware of them. The system is this way, it is designed to protect incumbents, get over it, raise the money and change it.
Probably my least favorite ‘some guy’ money argument is candidates pointing at other challengers that raised tons of money and lost as indicators that the money doesn’t matter. First of all, just because you raise the money doesn’t mean you spend it well. Second, only one candidate gets to win, did the candidates opponent also raise serious money? Is this particular losing candidate running for the seat of an entrenched and well liked incumbent? Did they have a good message that resonated with their district?
Yes, you need the money to compete. No, it isn’t going to show up because you have the right issue positions or because your opponent sucks that much. Quit praying for a ‘Mark Foley’ and do the work.
Summary: It is very rare for challengers to win Congressional seats, period. It is even more rare for first time candidates (for any office) to win Congressional seats. The most common trait of winning Congressional challengers is having lost a campaign for Congress previously.
If you aren’t sure if you are a some guy or a contender, you are probably a ‘some guy’. The most common path to changing that is through successful fund raising. Put your comfy pants on, sit down (every day for 6-8 hours), and make a ton of phone calls. Call Time is the most important task for candidates to master.
‘Some guy’ candidates are frequently brilliant on policy and push it out by the truck load. None of the voters in their district read it or care, but they do it. And these candidates believe this makes them ‘serious’. It doesn’t. Please stop.
Whining about the system, whining about the media, whining in general…is not going to win you significant support or generate your miracle fund raising. Whining doesn’t reflect the strong leadership voters/donors want. But it does occasionally generate something funny for the rest of us to giggle at.