A First Run at Political Office: Some Lessons
by David McCorquodale, Green Party Delaware
Early in 2014, I decided to run for state representative in Delaware, in a newly redistricted area. The incumbent, a small-business, moderate type Republican ran unopposed in the last two elections. LESSON #1: The Green Party should always run a candidate against an unopposed incumbent if it can find one. Even if there is little chance at winning, it would at least be fulfilling the goal of providing a democratic choice to the voters, the candidate’s name will get known, and the candidate will receive a better percentage of the vote.
At first I decided not to spend any money on the campaign, which would have made my reporting to the State Department of Elections very simple. In late August, I started knocking on doors in my own neighborhood. LESSON #2: Speaking to people by knocking on doors yields few results. Most of the time few people are home and near the dinner hour they not do care to discuss political issues.
I decided I would spend some money. A Green Party friend designed a Facebook page for a no-cost website and also designed a door hanger. Another friend took a professional looking picture. I found a company that would produce union-made door hangers for a very reasonable price. Being a runner, I figured I could walk the district and put out the hangers on all the doors I targeted. LESSON #3: In order for the voters to get to know who you are, you have to get something in their hands. Mass mailing brochures would be another option, requiring less physical labor.
By early October, the door hangers came and I spent the next four weeks walking several hours every day, sometimes up to eight hours, putting out door hangers. I had used the database of voters from the Department of Elections and originally chose to get to the homes of non-Republican voters who had voted in the last two election cycles. I assumed they would be the most likely to vote and possibly vote for me. But I found that walking around, looking at the numbers of houses I wanted to target and avoiding those I didn’t, was time consuming. Eventually I realized that I had more door hangers than I had ordered and had to go through some areas again, going to some of the houses I had avoided the first time. LESSON #4: When putting out literature, a candidate may as well target every home in the voting district. It’s a lot simpler and less time consuming that way.
So here’s my quick analysis of the results in my district race. I got 965 votes, which represents 19.3% of the total votes cast of 5,012. That percentage is a historic high for a Green candidate in Delaware. But with 17,000 plus registered voters, the turnout was around 30 percent, indicating that overall the voters were not excited by any particular race to go to the polls.
There were more than 1,200 voters, who cast votes in the statewide office races, but who did not vote for either of us. Those people were not yet willing to cast a vote for a third party candidate. This was illustrated to me when one couple said they couldn’t vote for me because they were Roosevelt Democrats and voted straight party line. They weren’t willing to engage with me otherwise they would have found out that the idea of a Green New Deal is a lot closer to what Roosevelt accomplished than anything Democrats stand for nowadays. LESSON #5: Greens have a long way to go to convince voters we are viable candidates for a seat in the state legislature.
We need to start even smaller than that office, with younger people who are committed to building the party long term. Only a record of success will overcome the inertia of party line voting. While there is a significant segment which is willing to split their tickets, not enough are yet willing to cast a vote for a Green candidate.
While I built some name recognition in this race, I am hesitant to think it could lead to success in a race this large. With a Democrat in the field, the odds would be even lower. Part of what disappoints me about the experience was the lack of voter involvement. There was only one “debate” in which we participated and I had a total of less than ten minutes over a number of questions to make any points. The general public did not attend the debate and there were no forums in which just the two candidates could debate on their own. The “democratic process” is no longer about an exchange of ideas, but mostly about spending money on advertising. The Green Party Delaware also lacks the ability at this point to put together a campaign team for Get Out the Vote efforts or fielding a presence at the polls.