As more candidates announce for statewide races (joining an already crowded field), and presidential candidates are not dropping out (even after lackluster fundraising and poor kernel polling in Iowa), the time has come to ask “Is this sustainable?”
Take a deep breath, because this column is probably going to alienate everyone.
Fundraising End of Quarters are always a painful time for email inboxes; sometimes with hourly requests from the same campaign for donations. And for others, text message requests for financial support roll in during day time hours in the week leading up to EOQ. An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that there’s too much money in politics across the entire political spectrum (in this day and age, a rare show of unity). But we also all know that campaigns cost money – that if a candidate wants to even sniff a win during a primary race, not to mention a general election, they will have to fundraise an increasingly higher and higher amount to even be viable. We all don’t like the Game, but it’s the only game in town.
That fundraising amount increases more and more as Republican candidates self-fund in Montana; loaning their campaigns millions of dollars for an edge. And we are naïve to think that Greg Gianforte won’t be pouring his personal fortune into 2020’s gubernatorial race. Rumors have him stating he is prepared to self-fund at a cool $2 million. For other candidates in that race, Republican and Democrat, that’s a hard amount to compete with. Republicans are already complaining about Greg swinging his money around, but that won’t stop the MTGOP caucus from voting for him if he’s the nominee (MTGOP supporters fall in line pretty quickly post-primary). Gianforte is not the only candidate self-funding: Elsie Arntzen and others are already setting the stage for what will be a very expensive election cycle.
What does this all have to do with more Democrat candidates announcing? I fear we may be over the threshold of what Montana Democrats can afford to financially support. With this many candidates going up against a plethora of wealthy GOP candidates in Tier A and Tier B races, there may not be enough blood left in the turnip for ANY of our Democrats to successfully fundraise enough to keep up. We are being spread too thin. Is this sustainable?
This trend extends to the Presidential race level – with candidates still clinging to the dream without poll numbers (or even national fundraising numbers) high enough for a truly viable “go” at the Presidency. How many of these folks are really just auditioning for cabinet positions? Tom Steyer (billionaire) is still pouring his personal fortune into the Presidential race. John Delaney (multi-millionaire) is spending a ton of money. Many candidates are practically setting fire to money in Iowa, New Hamshire, and North Carolina chasing a nation-wide race.
Sit back and take a moment to imagine what an exponential impact men like Steyer and Delaney could have on statewide races with their fortunes. Instead of feeding their egos, instead of succumbing to hubris, they could make a lasting impact on numerous states around this country. $1 million goes much further in statewide races than a national campaign: state legislatures could be flipped, Governorships, Tier B races dominated by candidates who have no qualifications (see 2018’s Montana Clerk of Court race), and in many more places those dollars could fund a transformation on multiple levels of government.
I encourage ANY and ALL Montana Democratic candidates currently running to consider their campaign, the funding, and if a statewide race is the best use of said money, time, and energy. Let’s not forget that there are many ways to serve your fellow Montanans. There are many races and levels of government in this state that are in desperate need of competent leadership that is focused on preserving what makes Montana great, while shoring up where we fall short.
Perhaps a Senate race isn’t for you right now, but a Legislative House District needs flipping.
Perhaps Governorship shouldn’t be your target when there are City Councils, Commissioner seats, and Public Service Commission races that have been dominated by “small government” (read: defunding government/bashing government) Republicans who delight in reducing necessary services to citizens.
Perhaps a statewide race isn’t in the cards, but replacing one of the inept Republicans who use their positions as political stepping stones (read: Corey Stapleton, Matt Rosendale) at the county or District level would make a real difference for thousands of Montanans.
Democratic change must come from all levels. A Democratic President will not change the difficult City Councils, the backwards Commissions, or the inept advisory boards in counties across this state. Strong, competent, Democrat leaders must step up and be present and engaged at ALL LEVELS.
Don’t let your hubris blind you to the leadership that is needed in your own backyard.
Now that I’ve manage to anger everyone … thank you to each and every person who pledged their coffee money, wrote big checks, hosted fundraisers, made calls, pulled favors with friends, done whatever they could to support the candidates running in Montana. Fundraising sucks. Begging for money each quarter is a slog. Keeping up with the millionaire candidates is exhausting. We all hate that money runs elections – but we can’t change the Game until we WIN. Let’s WIN at all levels of government so we can change how this Game is played.