"Mom and pop" go to Washington by @BloggersRUs

"Mom and pop" go to Washington

by Tom Sullivan

"A lot of mom and pop candidates," said one trainer at last weekend's first Democratic Candidates Conference outside Washington, D.C. The #Resistance has spawned a lot of new interest in local, state, and federal politics, and many first-time candidates came to learn what filing for office had got them into. Unlike Netroots Nation's spectrum of progressive advocacy groups, DemCanCon drew a more focused crowd of 250 candidates, staff, and organizers from 24 states and Canada.

Convention organizer Andy Millard ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016 against Republican Patrick McHenry in North Carolina's 10th Congressional District. Millard explained to attendees that he wished someone had told him in the beginning all the things he'd learned by the end of his campaign. Not simply the campaign-craft Wellstone teaches, but the nuts and bolts. Hence the conference in Silver Spring, MD addressed digital media, volunteer recruitment, staffing, data management, early voting strategies, and perfecting a stump speech.

Fundraising is serious business. Perhaps more serious than newcomers anticipate. Flipping a congressional seat will take 200,000 votes and $3 million dollars, veteran campaign manager Mario Piscatella advised candidates in one break-out session. It is a system those "mom and pop" candidates want to change. But one they'll have to first beat to have that opportunity.

Maryland's new public financing law, however, opened the floodgates for 29 candidates to file for Montgomery County's June 26 primary for four at-large seats on County Council. Several candidates attended the conference. There are six more weeks until the filing deadline.

Andrew Metcalf writes for Bethesda Beat:

At-large candidates using public financing must raise at least $20,000 in individual contributions of $150 or less to qualify. And they must do it 45 days before the primary election.

More than a dozen at-large candidates have filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to use the public financing system.
DemCanCon arrives on the heels of the federal court ruling against Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina. Maryland's Democratic gerrymandering, though less "surgical," poses its own challenges for Democrats running in districts safe for Republicans. And no thanks to the Democratic Party's mapmaking in Annapolis. Gerrymandering safe districts for Democratic incumbents over here disenfranchises Democratic voters over there. It doesn't matter which party does the gerrymandering. Someone's democracy is compromised.

In heavily Democratic counties such as Montgomery, however, the primary is the de facto election, Maryland candidates said. But while safe districts mean easy wins for incumbents, they mean skills atrophy at the local level.

State and federal candidates attending from outside Maryland offered their perspective on the health of their local and state party organizations. Assuming they got through their primaries, how well-organized were their local committees to help them get out the vote in November?

The question generally drew a pregnant pause, a sigh, and perhaps an eye roll.

One blue-state congressional race staffer described his state organization as "a hot mess," and county organizations in the district had little more to offer his candidate. A state House candidate from the Midwest explained that members of the local county committee were typically over 70 years old. The local county chair had held that position for 25 years. Attendees from Indiana to New York told similar stories.

One story I offered was about visiting a rural county a week ahead of Election Day as part of a congressional campaign. The field director asked local party officers where they stood in their preparations, what else they needed to do, and what help they might need from the campaign.

"We're done," they said. They saw us looking at each other sideways.

"We called through the phone list and put out the signs," they continued. "You want us to do ... more?"

Candidates and staffers who heard that story were dumbstruck.

But if you are not in a swing state, and especially if you are in a rural county not in a swing state, Barack Obama is not parachuting in a team from Michigan Avenue to show you how to coordinate a months-long, high-energy Get Out The Vote program. Neither is the DNC, the DCCC, or the state party. Governor's races don't set up out there, nor Senate races. That part of the party ecosystem is sorely degraded, several attendees confirmed. And many of them are running out there.

It's not that local committees can't do more. They simply don't know what more looks like. Many have never been exposed to it and no one is teaching them.

Almost no one.

Anthony Flaccavento, an organic farmer running in the Democratic primary in Southwest Virginia's rural 9th Congressional District, won the stump speech contest. It is his second campaign in a red district. With that experience under his belt, this time Flaccavento started five months earlier.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.