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Electing Independents

Of course, winning an election is never easy. But electing an independent in your congressional district may be far more achievable than you think. We'll talk later about Senate campaigns.

A Few Ideas—Until You Give Us More

What follows is a limited list of general ideas. We'll ultimately need many more ideas, more detailed and more sound—backed by research, and vetted by informed discussion among politically knowledgeable people. That's why we're building a Think Tank instead of a blog site.

Conventional Wisdom Isn't Wise

The first suggestion is: don't be intimidated by conventional wisdom. A House campaign probably won't cost a bank-full of money. The incumbent may not be as well-liked or as formidable as you're told. The campaign may not be a nasty mud-fight. You don't have to have politically powerful backing. Etc. If you believe in these obstacles, you can defeat yourself (or the independent candidate you support) before you begin, and you can waste resources confronting these perceived obstacles instead of campaigning directly to voters.

Congressional Districts are Local

Long-time Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neil famously said, "All politics is local." That's certainly true for the U.S. Congress. Each of the 435 congressional districts will be different. Some will be more winnable than others. Except for the single districts in the seven least populated states, all districts have about the same population—700,000 for the 2012 and 2014 elections.

An urban district can be only a few miles across. Most are entirely within one media market, some only a small part of that market. Many are ethnically and culturally diverse. At the other extreme are the seven rural states with only one congressional district each.

Many House races are won with fewer than 100,000 votes—even when only two candidates are running. When an independent enters the race that number could get even smaller. For example, suppose a district had 170,000 total votes in the last election, and the incumbent won with 90,000 of those. In the next election, with an independent running, the vote total might rise to 180,000. Evenly split three ways, that's 60,000 per candidate. So an independent might be able to win with as few as 62,000 or 63,000 votes—perhaps even fewer.

Citizens trying to elect an independent will need to study their districts, work to identify and recruit good candidates, then develop sound strategies.

Here are a few characteristics that might make a district winnable:

  • Densely populated, urban
  • Ethnically or culturally diverse
  • Traditionally low voter turnout
  • Divisive local issues with Federal implications
  • An incumbent who hasn't communicated well with constituents
  • An incumbent in some kind of legal or other trouble
  • A prominent and popular local figure who can be persuaded to run as an independent

But this is only a suggestion of a few possibilities. Well informed local citizens can spot trends other than these, which will create possibilities. For example, a heavily partisan district might be won by splitting it into factions. If the Democratic or Rebublican incumbent has been winning with 65% or 70% of the vote, it's likely that some of those voters disagree with that party on numerous issues. An independent who can identify and capitalize those issues could win a lot of votes.

Here are some characteristics that might make candidates attractive:

  • Successful service on a city council, county commission or state legislature
  • Popular leaders who have lost other offices through redistricting, divisive party politics or term limits
  • Popular and respected sports, business or entertainment figures
  • Smart, talented people who have been overlooked by local Democratic or Republican parties

Again, local citizens know their neighbors and can identify the talent that can succeed.

Senate Campaigns are Statewide

The strategies in House races will certainly depend on local issues and circumstances, but a populist kind of appeal may be generally workable. With 85% or more of Americans dissatisfied with congress, and more than half dissatisfied with their own representative, voters will likely be swayed by a candidate they think will really listen to their needs and ideas. Many and frequent town-hall kinds of campaign appearances will likely be a productive tactic.

Much of the above is as applicable to a Senate race as to a House contest, but there are major differences in elections for the two bodies.

Every state has two Senators. All Senate races are run statewide. Terms are six years instead of two, so every state has a Senate race in two out of three national elections. Nationally, we elect 33 or 34 Senators in every election.

Just as with the House, we still need to identify states where elections can be won, and candidates who can win there, but the criteria will be different.

Where densely populated urban congressional districts may the most winnable, we may find that sparsely populated states are more fertile for Senate victories. It's about the numbers. In the last Wyoming Senate election for example, 250,000 votes were cast. In California, it was nearly 9.5 million—almost forty times as many! Furthermore, five small media markets in Wyoming contain more than 55% of the population. Campaigning to win the 100,000 or so votes necessary for a Wyoming win in a three-candidate Senate race would be far easier than campaigning to win perhaps 4 million California votes.

In terms of the candidates, a successful Senate candidate will have to appeal to a larger, perhaps more diverse population than a House candidate. A former city council member probably won't be effective in the Senate race. A former statewide officeholder, or former leader in the state legislature might be.

You and the Think Tank Will Generate The Real Plan

Please recall that the ideas on this page are general examples of what campaigns will need to consider. The whole purpose of the Think Tank is to generate much sounder, better researched, better detailed strategies and tactics.

Please Speak Up…

  • If you have a response or an additional thought regarding these pages,
  • If you'd like to write an article for possible publication on these pages,
  • If you have an idea or suggestion about developing the think tank…

…Send it along to: leaveparty@greatreality.com

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Other Musings

The National Debt
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at a Glance

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