Friday, November 24.
Much of the foundational work is done: paperwork filed, website up and running, email list growing and several emails sent, system in place to accept credit card donations, press release announcing my candidacy sent, first media interviews done, first $500 raised.
So, now what?
I’ve been a runner, on and off, most of my adult life. In every run, even if I’m in a long stretch when I’ve been running daily, there’s a moment after the first five minutes or so when my mind starts to betray me. An inner voice says, “You can stop now.” It’s after the energy I had stored up before I started to run is spent, breathing is starting to be labored, and the run starts to feel like work. At that moment, to stop and catch my breath seems more appealing than continuing. That’s when I have to tell myself, “Just keep running,” and after a few minutes the discomfort fades and I get into the meat of the run. That’s the point I’m at now, in this campaign. My initial burst of energy was productive, but now I have to shift gears to keep going. It’s no accident that the language of campaigning – you “run” for office, the campaign is a “race” – is the language of running. Based on my experience as a jogger, I anticipate there will be a moment near the end of this campaign when I am near the finish line and I tell myself I can stop. Because I will have already gained what I was seeking and I’ll be exhausted, and the finish – election day – is an abstraction, an arbitrary date on the calendar, just like the distance or length of time I’ve set out to complete on a given day.
But it's when the end of a run is in sight that a successful runner will pick up the pace and sprint to the finish.
In my first two media interviews, with my hometown Telluride radio station (KOTO) and newspaper (The Telluride Daily Planet), I was asked how I can win in a heavily Republican district. The interviewers anticipate I’ve signed up for a marathon, maybe an ultra-marathon, an Iron Man. It won’t be easy, they were telling me, and they were right in asking me the obvious tough question. I was pleased to have what I think was a good answer and this is because in laying the foundation for the campaign, I’ve had to think hard about the logic behind the run for office.
The original impulse to run comes, I said, from the strong sense I have (along with millions of others) that this is no time to stand on the sidelines of American politics. And then there is a practical reality that we can fight best where we live and I live in the heart of a conservative district that has gone largely uncontested by Democrats. But there’s something more. If I lived in a more liberal district, my running for office would not be about fundamental change. If I lived in Boulder or Denver, I could run for office, but most likely I’d be competing with others who feel more or less the way I do about the issues. Those offices are mostly already held by Democrats. If the goal is to change the direction of our society, to build support for progressive policies, then the only way to really accomplish that is to bring folks who are not already there into my camp.
Yes, for a Democrat, the 58th House District is a challenge. But that challenge is, perhaps, not best understood as a problem to be solved. If you think of it as a problem, your first instinct might be to move to the center or the right to try to pick up votes in order to get elected: to put on a costume that you think better fits the district. Then you might rationalize you’ll do good things once you are in office, even if you sacrifice some values to defend others. But that would be completely contrary to the deeper purpose of running, which is to move people. The goal of being a progressive should not be to change as much as necessary to accommodate the electorate. It should be to move the electorate to embrace progressive values and ideas. Otherwise the deeper motive for running is a thirst for power, not a hunger for social change.
Thus, the journey (the campaign) is the destination (to bring about social change), and an improvement on previous election day results (maybe even a victory!) is a marker that some degree of social change has been accomplished. Then it will be time to start laying the groundwork for the next campaign.
In this framework, the conservative political makeup of my district, which is closely tied to its demographics, is not a problem so much as it is one end of a polarity. The opposite pole is that the 58th House District represents an opportunity to accomplish real change, and that opportunity is precisely equal in scale, or weight, to the challenge. The purpose of my campaign is not to solve the problem of winning votes from voters who are conditioned to be suspicious of what I represent by virtue of my being a Telluride Democrat, because that sort of political victory is often achieved by some combination of deception and self-betrayal, and is the opposite of progress. The purpose is instead to understand that the concerns and problems of the conservative-leaning voters in the district are real and are precisely what progressive politics should be speaking to. If I can show enough voters that progressive solutions are a better response to their issues than conservative prescriptions, then any victory will be based on a solid foundation and thus represent real progress.
I would like to think that voters have the instincts to favor candidates whose motive is not fundamentally a thirst for power. The hunger for real change should be more compelling, as it was in the election of Barack Obama. His campaign and his governance always conveyed his sense of social purpose. Obama’s political opponents tried to tarnish his authentic character by, for example, promulgating the birther nonsense, trying to paint him as un-American. Those sorts of attacks did damage, but not enough to make him unpopular. Then came Donald Trump, whose motives were nakedly self-serving, and yet he was elected anyway, in part because his crudeness was a proxy in the minds of many voters for authenticity. In this, he seemed to compare favorably with Hillary Clinton, who many voters saw as the epitome of the inauthentic, scripted politician. If every election is essentially binary, then the Trump-Clinton polarity was tragic for America, pitting two candidates who lacked essential credibility as agents of positive change against each other. It was negative change on one side of the polarity and no change on the other.
In politics, character is destiny, both in terms of electability and behaviors in office.
What about me and my character, in the microcosm of the polarized 58th House District? Will voters see me as credible when I tell them I want to work to improve their lives?
That will be the measure of my campaign, and I will only start to find out when I hit the trail.
It seems relevant to note here that on Thanksgiving morning I received my first threat to attack my character to hurt my election chances. It came from someone I know very slightly, via Facebook messenger:
“I will fight your candidacy as hard as I fought against _________. Letters are going out Tuesday to alert orgs how you refused to stop the online bullying of me by ___________. How you lied and protected him until he resorted to violence. You are scum Cagin and always will be. I know more about you and your sordid life than you may think.”
No wonder people think twice before deciding to run for office, right?