Run for Something – Politics’ New Paradigm?

rfs.net

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve thought about running for office.

C’mon – safe space here at MP – we have too! The stirring oratory, the yard signs trumpeting your name, the hubbub of campaign excitement all around as you blaze a path towards legislating glory. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, daydreamer, go ahead and cut that West Wing re-binge short. We think there’s someone you should meet…

Run for Something (RFS), the joint concoction of Amanda Litman and Ross Rocketto, is a wild idea.  A bananas, “you’re gonna do what?”, shoot-for-the-moon kind of idea. An idea so novel that it will draw plenty of skeptics and enthusiasts alike (count MP in the latter.) And it is precisely RFS’s eyebrow-raising ingenuity that gives it the potential to be a genuine game-changer.

Amanda, who served as the Clinton campaign’s email director (raising a dizzying $330 million in the process), was “tired, angry, and sad” after the election. While wallowing in self-pity (like the rest of us) would have been an understandable response, Amanda and her co-founder, Ross, a seasoned political operative and a principal at the Smoot Tewes Group, got down to work. They teamed up to tackle what RFS’ strategic plan calls a “systemic problem” plaguing the progressive movement: the unwieldy and unattractive process of running for office. “Friends would ask how to get involved in politics, and I wouldn’t have a good answer,” says Amanda, “the entry point for politics is so high.” High indeed. Consider, for example, a few of the questions one must ask themselves prior to running:

  • How do I get on the ballot?
  • Who do I talk to about running a campaign?
  • Can I keep my day job and run for office?
  • Who else is running? What does that mean for my campaign?
  • What’s my message to the electorate? My policy positions?
  • I know there’s a local political committee, but what exactly are they good for?
  • How much cash do I need to do this? Where do I get it and what am I spending it on?

Considering the above – which is just a small sampling – it’s not too surprising that many potential rockstars decide to let someone else run the political gauntlet. In their strategic plan, RFS points to Virginia’s 2016 elections as an example of the consequence that this byzantine process is having across the country:

“….In the last election, 71 of those 100 districts [in Virginia] were uncontested. Part of that is because the districts have been dramatically gerrymandered, but that is not an excuse. In Virginia, Hillary Clinton won in 17 state house districts currently held by Republicans and 51 districts across the state.”

Those are some harrowing numbers. What could one organization hope to do about something this ingrained, messy and “systemic”? Well, a lot actually. Here’s how:

Run for Something plans on recruiting and assisting people under 35 run for state and local office. From prothonotary (yup, that’s a thing) to the mayor’s office or the statehouse, RFS plans on helping candidates side-step political trap doors, hurdle mountains of paperwork, and bust through mazes of decision-making by helping them every step of the way. From assisting with the development of campaign strategy to fundraising to hiring professional operatives (no, your best friend can’t be your campaign manager), RFS is there to lend a hand. Everyone who signs up to run for office will start by having a one-on-one call with RFS to discuss what their candidacy may look like.

So, now you know what I mean when I said this is a bananas idea. RFS, in essence, wants to democratize…democracy, allowing anyone – so long as they align with RFS’ principles (more on that in a sec) – to take a run at elected office. This idea could change, literally, the face of politics. From the RFS website:

“Under-35-year-olds make up nearly a quarter of the American population, but only 5% of state legislatures…[we] don’t have young people ready to move up in politics and we don’t have a bench that looks like the people we aim to represent.”

Not only is RFS looking to add young blood to the political process; they want at least half of their candidates to be women and men of color. And enough lawyers already! RFS is looking for “a diversity of experience” amongst its candidates.

We at MP couldn’t agree more. Imagine the potential change in tone and substance of our political discourse if more biologists, middle school teachers, and small business owners were running for office. As for political leanings, this probably isn’t going to come as a surprise: to work with RFS, you gotta be progressive, and you gotta run as a Democrat. Full stop. That said, RFS recognizes that it means something quite different to be a Democrat in Mississippi compared to Massachusetts. Finally, (in case you’re taking notes) RFS is looking for people with deep roots; people who are a part of, and invested in, their communities. “You know it when you see it,” says Amanda, adding that one of her go-to questions for a potential RFS candidate is “if you were holding a launch party in four days, would you be able to fill the room?”

As if all this wasn’t enough, there’s another key pillar of the RFS mission: cultivating the next generation of progressive political staffers. RFS believes that “just as it is important to have a bench of young elected officials, it’s important to have a bench of young political operatives.” While young field, communications, and finance staffers abound, there’s a real shortage of those who’ve taken the leap to become campaign managers. RFS wants to get some of these young guns in managing roles by connecting them with senior political operatives willing to act as mentors during the campaign.

Phew….let’s step back to take a breather for a moment….

With all the novelty surrounding the RFS approach, we here at MP couldn’t help but wonder about two burning questions:

  1. Is there interest? Are people getting involved?
  2. RFS is the new kid on the block. How will more established players like EMILY’s List or party organizations like the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee react to RFS?

As to the latter – according to Amanda – it’s pretty straightforward: “treat us like a frenemy.” While game to be a team player, RFS isn’t about to roll over and compromise on their values. How about other groups outside the party apparatus that have overlap with RFS in terms of candidate recruitment, training, and the like? “We’re not trying to replace those entities. Instead, we want to help feed people into those places, and we want to take the best of the best candidates that come out of those trainings and give them an extra hand in the mechanics of running for office.”

Okay, that’s all well and good, but how about question number 1? How many people – particularly in a national political climate that makes Turkmenistan look rosy – are willing to devote untold quantities of time, energy, and money to maybe, just possibly, getting elected? 50 you say? 100 perhaps? Try 8,000. Yep, Run for Something has had 8,000 people talking to them about running for elected office. They’ve also raised over $100,000 from 3,000+ people. To account for this rather unexpected level of enthusiasm (RFS’ strategic plan mentions them hoping 100 people would show interest), RFS has had 2,000 volunteers sign up to speak with prospective candidates about their interest in running. Already 250+ hours are on the books. And it’s not all political neophytes either. RFS is bringing in the cavalry with over 115 experienced political operatives signed on- including folks from the Clinton and Sanders campaigns – to mentor both the candidates and those potential newbie campaign managers.

So, yeah, a small army of about 10,000 people has materialized out of the ether to run for office or support those who do. Something big is happening. Something that could change politics-as-usual. If you wanna get in on the action, head over to  https://www.runforsomething.net/. Who knows, we may all be calling you POTUS someday.

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