Reasons to Run When It's Hopeless

I take issue with the notion you should only run for office if you have a chance of winning…

Around the office, I’m known as The Patron Saint of Lost Causes. The wall behind my desk is adorned with posters from several of the races in which I’ve been involved. They were all long shots and many of the candidates lost but there isn’t one I wasn’t proud to support or work with.

On Thursday, the Campaign Workshop published a blog post entitled “9 Tips for Your Political Campaign.” A good post. Good lessons other than the first.

“Don’t run unless you have a chance to win.”

As you can see, I did not agree. At all.

“Energizing the state party’s good. A well-funded airing of the issues is good. So is mollifying House Democrats, but you have to ask yourself, is it worth it? You’re going to lose.
– Toby Ziegler, West Wing S4E8 “Process Stories”

It is worth it. For several reasons.

Ticket support

You likely aren’t the only one on the ballot and we’re reminded every election that every vote counts. Even if you don’t win, driving up the Democratic vote in your precinct/district/state will help those running above and below you on the ballot.

Democrats in Iowa likely wouldn’t have kept our three Congressional incumbents had Roxanne Conlin not been on the ticket against Senator Grassley. Was she strong enough to win? No. But she did better than any Democrat had against him since 1986 in a terrible year for Democrats.

Raise issues

Sara Sedlacek campaigns for the Iowa House

Sara Sedlacek campaigns for the Iowa House

Like Toby said, the airing of issues is a good thing. We have the government we deserve right now because too many good people choose not to run and keep other candidates honest. When you are out on the doors courting undecided voters, they’ll get energized and start asking questions of the other candidate(s) that maybe they wouldn’t ask before. Make these people work for the jobs they’re seeking!

Raise your public profile

“There is a political campaign legend that if you run enough times, you will build name recognition and get elected.”

You will build name recognition. That’s no myth. You’ll also gain a community of like-minded neighbors and supporters who are rallied around, if not you, then the issues you fought for. When the time comes for your victorious opponent to start casting votes, your coalition needs to remain active. Not in a mean, sour way but assertively make their voices heard to their new elected official.

William Rock and supporters during his campaign for the Iowa House

William Rock and supporters during his campaign for the Iowa House

If you’ve run a good campaign, you’re also going to have a database of donors, activists and early voters. That’s gold to the party and future candidates. If someone you believe in runs in the future, sign on as an advisor or finance chair and hit up those old contacts.

Never say never

Barack Obama canvasses in Des Moines, Iowa

Barack Obama canvasses in Des Moines, Iowa

Barack Obama lost his race for Congress in 2000. In 2008 I heard over and over “he can’t win.” In 2012 Claire McCaskill was a dead woman walking. She stuck with it and her opponent imploded.

In conclusion

Yeah, you may lose. Living in the state house and senate districts I do I know all too well the chances me or someone like me will get elected. And then if you do? You’re vulnerable and they’re going to come after you even harder than before. You may only get one term but you’re running to do something, not be something, right?

Photo credits: Me! and Obama for America.