Blogging is largely about talking the talk – and that’s important. This diary is about walking the walk.
A few months ago, another member of this community and I made a pair of expensive decisions -- decisions to do what we felt we were obligated to do as patriotic Americans. He -- the good-looking, likable, established-in-the-community one -- decided to run for Congress if I would manage his campaign full-time. And I agreed to manage his campaign (at a steep discount from standard "Democratic consultant" rates) if it would be more than a token run.
A brain trust of Southern Californian Kosters – people like thereisnospoon, hekebolos, Shockwave, OrangeClouds115, occams hatchet, dday, atdnext, vernonlee, honorary Californian clammyc, and many others – were there at the beginning and have provided support and sage advice since. Others have joined the train since then. Tomorrow at 9 a.m. PDT, with the announcement of the name and handle of the nominee, the train leaves the station.
We want you on that train with us. We're ready to crash that train right through the gates of Congress – and you know that that means we’re going to make a lot of noise.
Previous diaries in the CA-42 campaign rollout series:
1. The 435-district strategy
In graduate school, I studied Social Psychology: attitudes, opinion, group dynamics, emotion – that sort of thing. I then moved into teaching in Political Science at the University of Illinois. With all that training behind me, I could explain to you very patiently and extensively why microeconomics dictated that the Democratic strategy -- picking out just the swing states and the swing districts and making a stand there in hopes of running the table and winning an election -- was not only right, but inevitable.
In 2004, I started reading the blogs -- and I realized that I was wrong. More than that – almost everyone in the Democratic Party was wrong. Jerome Armstrong and Markos explain this in Crashing the Gate, but I’ll summarize it here: if you don’t run candidates everywhere, (1) you can’t take advantage when a disaster hits your opponent; (2) you leave people in those communities socially and politically isolated, unlikely to develop informed beliefs about politics even when they move to competitive areas, or (even worse) at the mercy of Fox News; (3) you leave time and money on the table, because the time and money such people have to offer largely doesn’t overlap with that available to you elsewhere; (4) you allow the opposing party to concentrate its money on only a few races, needing only a few victories in decisive races to win, and (5) you look cowardly and unimpressive to people who value strength and decisiveness in their leaders.
Jerome and Markos and Howard Dean were right. 2006 is evidence for it. Some of the record 425 (out of 435) districts where we had candidates were ones where "we couldn't win" -- and yet we did!
Here in Orange County, CA, my boyhood home, we have the second-largest concentration of Democrats in the state – far exceeded, of course, by the number of Republicans. The 50-state strategy – in California, the 53-Congressional District strategy – says that you have to run here. But no one was on the ballot against Gary Miller in 2006 – one of only ten districts where the Democratic Party did not offer an opponent. That meant, among other things, that no one could capitalize on Miller’s ethical problems when they came out.
Furthermore, no established Democrat in any part of CA-42 – a district spanning parts of Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties, stretching from Whittier College in the northwest to Chino Airport in the northeast, down through Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills though Cleveland National Forest down to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo – was stepping forward to run against the ethically challenged Republican incumbent Gary Miller. ("Dirty Gary," as atdnext calls him, must never, ever be confused with the excellent California Congressional Democrat, George Miller!) Everyone knows that it has to be done – the DCCC has actually targeted Miller for opposition (hat tip to dday, who has been all over the Miller tales)– but talks with party officials in the area indicated that no current Democratic officeholder was likely to run.
Whoever would run against the vulnerable incumbent Gary Miller, therefore, would have to be someone from outside, someone who could bring something new and powerful to the table. A personal fortune would be nice, but no one with one to spend could be found. In the absence of that, would netroots backing be nice enough? Maybe it would.
So the candidate and I made our agreement. I offer my story below, because maybe parts of it will resonate with your experiences and help convey why I think that 2008 is a year to suspend business as usual and make sacrifices – yes, eventually I’m going to ask you for money – for the good of the nation. You can skip down to part 3 if you’d prefer without missing much.
2. How I came to manage a campaign
A year ago, I was ready to leave the country for at least a few years if the Democrats did not capture at least one house of Congress in the 2006 election. This was not for of patriotism, but for lack of hope: if Democrats could not do well last year, with the political winds so strongly at our back, then I assumed that the most severe cynics were right and the system was too firmly rigged against us. One could do nothing but wait for the system to collapse under the weight of BushCo misdeeds and then make the case for change from the outside, as political exiles have sometimes had to do throughout history.
I wanted to be able to tell myself and others that I had done everything I could to save the country before taking such a step. So I left work in New York to help manage Jack Carter’s gutty but outgunned campaign for Senate in Nevada. I was supposed to handle the research and internet organizing tasks, but most of the time ended up being involved in the "meat space" side of things, because those demands were more pressing. Working on that campaign gave me a good sense of what running an Internet-based campaign would really mean, and what things can go right and can go wrong in any campaign. Some of those lessons were harsh – but they were learned.
As it turned out, the Democrats swept Congress in 2006. I wasn’t prepared for that; I had made no plans for what to do after the Carter campaign ended other than renewing my passport. I thought about returning to the practice of law right away, but I don’t think that the nation is out of the woods yet politically. This is still a time of crisis, one that still cries out for extraordinary measures and strong individual responses to the perfidy of the Bush Administration. We still need to fight like our nation depends on it. So, rather than returning to work, I’ll spend the next 15-1/2 months managing the first homegrown netroots campaign for federal office.
In light of the Democrats' success last November, after leaving Las Vegas I had planned to some time spent decompressing in California and then go to Oregon to work to take out Gordon Smith. Then, last January, I met the candidate you’ll meet tomorrow. And before long I said to myself: to hell with caution and prudence – we’ve got to do this.
I hope that you’ll say the same.
3. What we’re about:
Running a campaign is – try not to think of Bush saying this in the 2004 debates as you read this – hard work, as my experiences with the gutty but outgunned Carter campaign taught me. But at base it’s an exercise in fundraising, management, and persuasion, much like other businesses. We have 15-1/2 months left before the election; while even more time would have been better, that’s enough time to take a good swing at this. One thing I learned in Nevada was that if you’re going to be doing "meat space" campaign management (as I was unexpectedly called on to do), you had better have someone else devoted to managing your online volunteers. And I also learned that some of the best help can come from people from all over the country. So I will be calling on you, on the individually good and collectively great members of this community, to help shape a new kind of campaign. It doesn’t matter where you live. You can be part of this campaign.
This is the first-ever conception-to-execution viable netroots campaign for federal office. It won’t be the last, but it will always be the first. As a distributed model of organization, as something that capitalizes on the strengths of our party and our movement, and (not least) as something being organized in more than the two months we had for the Carter campaign, it’s something that ought to scare the hell out of people who like their citizens docile and confused.
We want to win, but we also want to scare our opponents and inspire our supporters enough to change politics for the better. Our announcement isn’t until tomorrow, but you should already know where your credit cards or checkbook are – and your calendar, if you’re willing to volunteer. Since a few already figured out and published the name of the candidate, though not the DKos handle, you can go to the ActBlue page if you’d like to make a contribution before knowing which Koster it is that will receive it. (Talk about a leap of faith! But when you find out that name tomorrow, you’ll want to make another contribution!)
By the way -- with more work than is sensible to do, it is evidently possible to figure out the candidate's handle from available information online. Some people cannot help themselves from scratching that itch. That's understandable; we all have our strange urges and at least you aren't paying prostitutes $300 to dress you in diapers. However, if you are able and inclined to do that research, do not post the results here! Doing so will simply make everyone who wants to see this rollout work as intended dislike you for raining on the parade. Instead, send an e-mail to me and I will announce the "winners" who figured it out after the announcement is made. And of course there's no glory to be gained by revealing the candidate's real name here, as anyone can find it by clicking the ActBlue link. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
4. The First Laplander
I’ve been telling people in the party and the grassroots that being the first homegrown netroots candidate to run for federal office is a bit like being the first candidate to run from a previously politically dormant ethnic group – let’s say, oh, Laplanders. (And no offense intended to any Sami People reading this -- we all know how well-connected Finland is -- your day will come.) The first Laplander who runs for Congress will inspire pride and enthusiasm and support from the Lapland community, because it is a way of putting that community on the map and showing that is has arrived.
No one has appointed our candidate to be the first netroots candidate to run for federal office, but I hope and expect that the pride of this community will be no less than when any community sees "one of its own" take such a step. We have disagreements here, sure – I’ve been known to take part in them from time to time – but they are mostly around the margins. Our candidate believes in:
- restoring the Constitution and rule of law by reining in the Imperial Presidency
- removing our troops from Iraq and concentrating our foreign policy on fighting terrorism, poverty, and human rights abuses
- reverting to the fiscal sanity and responsibility that this Administration squandered and dedicating the government to helping people avoid the catastrophes that come from lost health care and pension protection
- respecting facts rather than convenient wishes when it comes to federal policy in areas such as the environment, energy, education, and health
- refusing to use the power of office to enrich oneself and one’s friends at the expense of the public good
And our opponent believes in none of those things. This is a netroots kind of race -- a fight to make us all rightfully proud.
We will walk the walk between now and November 4, 2008. We will take the frustration and disgust that so many of us feel and hammer it into a message of hope and resolve.
Tune in tomorrow: politics will never be the same. We in the netroots made history in 2006 – and we’re going to make even more history in 2008.
Please note: The candidate intends to post tomorrow, July 18, at noon EDT/9 a.m. PDT.