Life in the Third Tier: The Day After
by CA Pol Junkie
Yesterday, I blogged about life as a House candidate in a third tier race, from the point of view of Steven Herr, candidate for the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District. Herr lost yesterday's 5-way primary:
Jeff Thomas 25.34%
Mike Hebert 22.02%
Ruth Bradley 18.94%
Steven Herr 18.47%
Don Hall 15.22%
We're analyzing the data to see what worked, and what didn't, for each of the candidates. Here's what we know so far:
Jeff Thomas: A perennial candidate who has now won the nomination for the fourth time in seven tries, he hasn't broken the 35% barrier in the general election against Republican Paul Ryan. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin had passed what it called the "Jeff Thomas" rule, which allowed county parties to endorse or dis-endorse candidates in primaries, but none of the counties followed through in this rather obvious case where a candidate should be told to %! off. The number one thing in Thomas' corner was name recognition from having run so many times before, and possibly Republican crossovers giving Paul Ryan a free ride in the general election.
Mike Hebert: As near as we can tell, his campaign consisted mostly of a large number of large hand made plywood yard signs. He advertised himself as the "working man's candidate", which was probably effective branding in a district with lots of blue-collar voters.
Ruth Bradley: She apparently campaigned primarily at churches, and advertised herself as motivated by her faith to run for Congress. Otherwise, her campaign had little visibility, but what she did behind the scenes was pretty effective.
Steven Herr: He ran an issues-based campaign, highlighting his qualifications as a small business owner and his deep knowledge on the issues. His visibility was through going anywhere there were crowds (fairs, festivals, busy downtowns) and meeting as many voters as possible. He had a professional looking website, lots of standard issue union print shop yard signs, and targeted mailings and doorhangings to reliable Democratic primary voters. He also had the endorsement of Milwaukee's major newspaper, the only one to endorse a candidate in the primary.
Don Hall: He also ran an issues-oriented campaign, and appeared at many of the same events as Steven Herr, but had less time and resources to devote to his campaign.
So what are we learning so far? How good your campaign looks on paper doesn't mean alot if you don't have a hook to connect to the voters. We have also learned alot about Party building. The local parties (and unions for that matter) punted in this race, even though they desperately wanted someone other than Jeff Thomas to win the nomination and would have been utterly justified in railroading his candidacy. Steven Herr is going to take a break for a few days, but he's already seeing a potential role for himself: rebuilding his local Democratic Party. As Howard Dean observed, we need to rebuild our party from the ground up, and that is evident in Wisconsin's first congressional district. Only when the local party infrastructure is strong will it be able to attract and support winning candidates.