It’s often useful to read your critics, and I thank the Illinois Review (genuinely) for pointing out what seems like inconsistencies from last night’s blogging. Last night I endorsed and praised Bill Foster, disagreed with him on a particular policy and then critiqued one of his competitors (John Laesch) and offered advice. Looked at in summary, I appreciate the confusion. My wife is sick tonight – and I’m a bit tired out from the kids – so this is part one of two parts.
I’ve rarely offered my endorsement in a local Democratic primary – so I should reveal my thinking. Generally I see what I’m doing here as giving voice to people and positions that locally don’t get a lot of press and attention (although it’s been improving) – so I aim to cast a broad net. But part of building a political infrastructure necessarily involves getting people into office so that public ideas can become public policy. Sometimes this can be in tension, such as endorsing one candidate while acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of their competitor, but the overarching goal is to improve the whole to improve public policy. Where there are limited resources, responsibility dictates joining the conversation about where resources will do the most good. In my judgment that means supporting Bill Foster in the 14th Congressional Democratic Primary, because Bill is the only Democratic candidate doing what it takes to win the race, and that is how we will turn American public ideas into American public policy. Below are some reasons why.
Coming from the Howard Dean experience and believing in democracy (small “d”), I have a bias towards grassroots candidacies. Ideally every candidacy would be about getting more individuals engaged in the electoral process. As a matter of winning or losing, having more people supporting you is better than having less. They provide a volunteer base, a fundraising base and, when properly cultivated, they provide a base of knowledge that can lead to better, more responsive government.
In what was a crucial test of viability for Jotham Stein and John Laesch, two candidates with limited funding, Bill Foster showed dramatic success in getting grassroots support for his campaign.
In the third quarter the low dollar donations (unitemized contributions that serve as one indicator of grassroots support) in the race were as follows:
[Full disclosure - I gave $14 to the Foster campaign at the end of the quarter.]
Bottomline: Bill Foster’s low dollar contributions decisively beat the total of both of his Democratic opponents and weren’t that far from equaling all the low dollar donations in the race, Democratic and Republican. That’s impressive. Bill also had 680 donors in the quarter – also impressive – and the total amount Foster raised dominated the Democratic field and was competitive with Republican candidates.
While I’m not in a position to judge the total number of volunteers and activists in each Democratic campaign, I can say that none of the other Democratic candidates has made a compelling case that they in some other way dominate the grassroots. Right now Bill Foster is arguably the Democratic candidate of the grassroots.
Bill Foster’s campaign team communicates better with the press and, as far as I can tell, with activists than the other Democratic campaigns. Bill has easily dominated the press among Democrats. His email list for volunteers/activists has also been effective. That matters and, ironically, it matters more to campaigns like John’s, Jotham’s and Joe Serra’s because they so far lack the money to get their message out. John has used independent media to extensively record events that are later placed on Youtube – and he deserves credit for it – but the Laesch campaign has failed thus far to fully exploit the potential. Despite some prominent blog backing, the Laesch campaign has seemingly not been able to convert modest online enthusiasm into an actionable mass movement.
In other words, the Foster campaign has thus far won the Democratic communication battle and it is only just now starting to advertise on cable TV – where the other Democrats likely will not have the money to compete to get their message out.
Conclusion for Part I
Grassroots support and communication (and the volunteers, supporters and money that flows from them) aren’t everything – but they’re a lot. They’re a lot more when candidates are underfunded. Bill Foster started the race with a tremendous financial advantage over his opponents in personal wealth from creating a lighting company. But it is not Bill’s wealth that led to his dominating the Democratic field in grassroots support and communication. Instead it was Bill’s intelligence and experience, spending time working for Patrick Murphy’s congressional campaign so that he could learn by doing, make connections and even work on policy in Washington. Then Bill took the steps to make sure his campaign would be a success, polling early to prove viability, making sure he had solid campaign infrastructure, and hiring key staff. Did some of this cost money? No doubt – but the money spent should not have been beyond the reach of John Laesch and Jotham Stein to get things started – and the investment has paid off. As I’ve said before, Bill finds what he wants to do, he does the work necessary and he is successful and committed in what he does. While I’ll have more thoughts later, let me leave you with this: my endorsement of Bill Foster’s campaign is also an acknowledgment – he has what it takes.