Between election events and campaign catastrophes, I've been cogitating about elections past and future - and what we as a community could and should do to affect the greatest amount of real change.
I see us at a confluence of opportunities, a place to pick a path or direction. We proved something with the Kissell race, and demonstrated a hearty bit of influence - in spite of the end result - when it came to Senate recruiting. But how does this work? Have we crashed the gates and gained credibility? Do we want to grow our influence? Maintain it? How important is relevance? Where do we want to be as a community? Is influence something worth maintaining in order to promote a healthy progressive agenda? Soon, the 2008 elections will be upon us in a major way, and we should start thinking about the kind of candidates we want to support.
Though I don't know how influential our community is (we're no Kos), I believe our influence has grown, and I'm going to assume that influence and credibility is a good thing. I'm also going to assume that we don't want to become a special interest group - a group that forces candidates to sacrifice at our altar - though we do want candidates to hear our concerns and ideas. We want to get good, progressive, people-powered candidates elected. Finally, I'm going to assume that, as honestly and openly as possible, we want to promote progressive solutions to important problems.
Where do we start? (Unless we're talking about foreign policy, I'm more of an elections guy than a policy guy, so I'll focus on the elections side of things). We have a unique forum for promoting candidates who don't get a fair shake, and I think that we should continue to help out all comers. The Kissell campaign saw the convergence of netroots people, money people, activists, good luck, and good will - we played an undeniable part and we were recognized for our work. However, most candidates in hard elections aren't going to work as much as Larry did, they're not going to have as advantageous of a partisan voter index, they're not going to be as ... well, good. And while we're going to naturally help candidates in our own districts, and be excited as Hell around election time, we need standards for supporting candidates.
We also need to be honest with candidates we recruit to the blogging world. It's good to have candidates around, but not at the expense of their campaigns. The netroots is not a silver bullet. While this is not a problem that we have with most campaigns and Honorables - we need to get them here in the first place - I'll be blunt: when I see a candidate and staff hitting the blogs more than once a week, I get the feeling that they could be doing more call time/research/organization building.
When candidates come here and present a progressive message, we usually get excited about their campaigns. Nevertheless, if they're going to take the "netroots" label, or expect us to give it to them, I don't want infinite face-time in return. I want a well-run, well-funded campaign. It all comes back to the influence and credibility.
On the influence side, we have limited time/money/interest. We can't be spread thin, like hummus on too much pita. It's simple; while our influence will grow, and we most certainly will bring new people into the fold, we're never going to be able to help every candidate we want to help, much less investigate the Blackwaters of the world and push policy solutions as well.
So why does credibility matter? We may have a strong belief in the dignity and worth of other human beings, but credibility is something that has to be earned. In politics, perceptions matter. Credibility was something we needed when we were touting the Kissell race to the national crowd. Credibility would have brought Rahm to our backyard before the vote count got under 500. I know we've given the DCCC grief for making a mistake last year, but to be fair, every campaign says calls up the national office and asks for attention. Every campaign says they deserve a shot.
This is where we can play a major roll in campaigns - as a credible bullhorn for candidates, using our influence to support good candidates and good campaigns. But if we get behind every candidate that comes our way, shouting their names from the top of the Blue Ridge to Dawson's Creek, then it's harder to get attention for the candidates with a real chance at winning. Worse, it may hurt our credibility on the news side when we post about important progressive causes.
I'm not going to post a comprehensive list of standards and benchmarks, because I know that's the quickest way to promote disagreement (and since we're all going to have different views on such things). Every race is different, and though my personal experience keeps we away from districts with 40-point margins and races I think are almost impossible (and may even hurt down-ballot races), I know some people have valid idealistic reasons for disagreeing with me. Instead, I'll present some general thoughts I've had about our upcoming elections:
• Grassroots support is something that should happen naturally, and while it's a hard thing to measure, it's usually pretty easy to see whether or not the grassroots support is there. We should keep using this yardstick.
• We can help launch a campaign, but the ship has to be built. Still, it doesn't hurt to give everyone a chance at first - at the very least, they might learn something.
• Congressional and state-wide candidates (in hard primaries or hard districts) that are worthy of our support need to have - at the bare minimum - a few tens of thousands of dollars raised by the time they file. By the end of the year before the election, if they can't raise $15,000-20,000 between them self, friends, family, early donors, and call time, they probably aren't working hard enough on their campaign or they aren't doing productive work. Regrettably, early money is that important.
• We can and should take chances, but we should put a lot of thought into doing so.
• Obviously, the candidate's message is vital, but we should also consider who the campaign is going to take with them to Raleigh or Washington ... or if the campaign has any staff at all. We don't want campaigns we support to have insane burn rates, but if a campaign doesn't have a visible body-man or campaign manager by the time they file, they're not going to win.
• The last two months of a campaign is a different thing altogether, but as a community we should be giving the straight dope about our candidates (without revealing anything private or privileged). If we don't keep them honest, who will? If they think we're going to buy everything they sell, they're less inclined to be honest with us. If a problem we spot early turns into a scandal, we either look naïve, or we look like we were a party to the dark side of politics - you know, that side that we're claiming to change.
• We must get some solid progressives, environmentalists, and liberals in the state legislature, no ifs ands or buts.
• We shouldn't let lists let us stray too much from the organic nature of grassroots politics ;-)
These are just some thoughts that have been cantering in my cortex for some time. I'm sure I left something out, and I'm sure that I can be convinced that one or more of my points needs improvement. But I know that we need to be thinking about ways to make our community stronger and to encourage candidates to make as strong a case to us as possible. What do you think we should do?
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