Saturday, June 07, 2008

Back From the Dead . . .

As some of you know I have withdrawn from my congressional race and am back to being a pumpkin (and a blogger) again. The reasons for this slightly unorthodox decision are explained in more detail at my campaign website which should remain up for the next few weeks as I sort things out. Suffice it to say that I did not take the decision lightly, and lack of funds, although frustrating, was not the primary reason. Only a series of embarrassments and humiliations, many of them at the hands of my own Party, were sufficient to cause me to leave the race after securing the nomination and investing a considerable amount time and effort. I expected rough treatment or indifference from the opposition and the media, but not my own side: the latter made it clear that I would not only lose the election, but was unlikely to stimulate the kind of debate that I had in my earlier school board campaign, and that the honorable course was to get out while I still could.

It's a little bit early to sort out the lessons of this unhappy affair, but a few stand out already:

1. Don't run for office without having all of your ducks--financial supporters, campaign team, endorsements, etc.--in a row before you start. Once you are a declared candidate, you immediately become so busy with day-to-day operations that it is difficult to find time to plan ahead adequately. You also lose at least some of the leverage that you have when deciding whether to commit in the first place.

2. Never trust ward leaders or other party operatives to do anything you can do for yourself. Everyone in politics, even your best friend, has their own agenda that may and will differ from yours. You need to have your own team, whose primary or only loyalty is to you personally, and treat the rest as gravy that may or may not be available when the time comes.

3. Be clear about your goals in running. If you are running to win--obviously, the preferable case--be clear about your strategy and enthusiastic, even excessively so, in describing it to others. If you are running for other reasons, that's fine, but be clear what they are and careful whom you share them with.

4. Ideology goes only so far. People will support a candidate they agree with, but more often a candidate they thank can win. To paraphrase military historians, amateurs think issues; professionals think support.

5. All the stuff your mother told you in elementary school--make eye contact, tuck your shirt in, don't get stains on your tie--really does matter. In six months of campaigning, only two or three people told me they disapproved of my political philosophy. Six told me my shoes were untied.

I'll be talking more, in future posts, about broader lessons of the experience, including what is wrong (and right) with our political system and my recommendations for changing it. I'll also be talking about the 2008 campaign and other issues of contemporary importance. Right now, I'm taking a nap.


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