Bob Mercer dedicates his his weekend column to cataloguing the dozen ballot measures we may get to vote on next year (listing eleven, Mercer doesn’t mention Rick Weiland’s brainchild, the anti-corruption initiative). He finds this surge in direct democracy anything but “normal.” I find it thrilling.
But Mercer concludes his ballot-measure sampler with this political observation:
Meanwhile, with the State Fair six weeks away, there aren’t announced Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents John Thune for U.S. Senate and Kristi Noem for U.S. House.
Zany? Indeed [Bob Mercer, “Pick Your Adjectives for the 2016 Ballot, But Skip Past ‘Normal’,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.07.18].
What? A dozen ballot issues to talk about, and Bob Mercer thinks we need candidates to bat around?
Democrats (and everybody else), don’t let Bob Mercer fool you. There is nothing “zany” about not having declared candidates on the ballot eight months before the filing deadline and sixteen months before the election. John Thune didn’t announce his run against Tom Daschle until January 2004. Kristi Noem didn’t pop into the House race against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin until February 2010.
Democrats, I’ll actually argue you shouldn’t announce until after New Year’s Day. Here’s why:
- Keep the Republicans guessing.
- Keep the Republicans complacent.
- Keep your job: odds are that if you choose to run for Congress, you’ll have to quit your day job and campaign full-time. Keep cool, keep working, keep making grocery money, and hit the campaign-launch/job-eject button as late as possible (remember, Kevin Weiland showed you can get enough signatures to run in one week).
- Keep your powder dry: Do you really think people at the State Fair or anywhere else other than the blogosphere will be paying that much attention to the House and Senate races this summer, or this fall? No! Save your assault for the election year.
- Keep out of the line of fire: if the Republicans take you seriously (and if you’re serious about running, you’d better be serious about waging a campaign that would force Republicans to take you seriously), they will attack. Why give them an extra eight months to do opposition research and lob grenades at your character, your family, your education and travel and superior intellect?
- Keep cool on fundraising: whether you start raising campaign cash now or next March, you will not catch up with John Thune’s or Kristi Noem’s millions. The additional cash you might be able to raise from a few attentive donors this early probably won’t be worth the extra expense and hassle you’ll incur from running a longer campaign.
- Keep quiet: don’t piddle around with fake online draft movements or trial balloons. If you want to run, you should believe in yourself enough now that you don’t need to “test the waters” to see if other people believe in you. Believe that you can deliver the policies and the pitch that will make people believe in you. Talk to some friends, talk to some smart people for advice, but by Gaia swear them to secrecy so they don’t leak to the blogs (I suffer a grave conflict of interest here) and torpedo all the advantages I’m trying to explain to you here!
- Keep your sanity: do you really want to spend sixteen months applying for a job and sleeping someplace other than your bed with your spouse in your home? Do you really want to spend sixteen months making the same speech and half of that time to crowds that will be small because it’s too early for people to pay attention anyway? Save yourself a lot of stress and do South Dakota a favor by doing everything you can to condense our excessively long campaign season.
- Keep the attention on the ballot measures: We’ve got a bunch of petitions circulating right now. Let those measures (especially redistricting, the interest-rate cap, and the constitutional amendment to strengthen initiative and referendum) have the spotlight at this year’s State Fair. Come to the Fair and help circulate petitions—it’ll be good practice for your own campaigning come next spring. And by helping get those measures on the ballot, you give yourself, Mr. or Ms. Candidate, some good issues to talk about as you run against the corrupt and anti-democratic Republican monolith that your opponent represents (true, the statewide ballot measures deal more with state affairs than the national affairs you’ll discuss in a Senate or House race, but a creative candidate can find some rhetorical leverage with the ballot measures).
Bob Mercer just needed a good line to wrap up a sprawling essay about diverse ballot measures. He’s not offering good campaign advice. Democrats, if you want to launch your Congressional campaign this early, have at it. But I see no competitive advantage to starting this early and possible advantages to waiting to spring your aspirations on South Dakota next spring.