Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Election Notes, Part 4

Immediately after the election, I was pretty down on my results. I'm not used to losing, and while I accepted going in that the overwhelming odds were against me and that I needed to take stock in the secondary objectives, I found that easier to say than to do.

Mainly, my numbers were less than our candidate for the same office the last time around. Indiana Libertarians improved in every category but one- mine. So, I found myself questioning my strategies.


I am convinced that in terms of this years results, making 200 campaign appearances made no difference. I could have done 1000, and my numbers would have been the same. I was actually advised not to run a real campaign, but to sit back and raise money exclusively. I rejected that advice, so I can't complain too stridently. In short term thinking, I was plainly wrong.

Long term, though, I believe the results will be better for future candidates because of the full-scale campaign. I was at so many events where my R & D counterparts failed to turn up that it was literally becoming front page news. We improved relationships with the media and the hosts of events, especially by turning up in Clark County, Knox County, LaPorte County, and others on the remote corners of the state.

Also, the bar has been raised up high. It will be tough for any future statewide candidate to run the way we used to, as paper candidates, and not have some scrutiny come their way. This is good, because if we are going to compete, running a real campaign is one key component. Raising a million remains the other significant one.


I also came to question my focused message. Having heard the complaints from media and voters while observing other campaigns about irrelevant candidacies (running on drug war opposition while seeking the office of surveyor!), I was determined to be germaine. I was running for Secretary of State, so I endeavored to learn about the office and to formulate policy positions aimed at improving that office to the extent I could. This means, I couldn't eliminate the office, but I could make it less wasteful, less a tool for self-promotion, more adherent to the core functions prescribed by the Constitution and by law. I could further lobby to change the law.

This bored our base and the undecided voters alike, but especially our base. While very few had enough interest in improving my campaign, or even the courage of their convictions to question my message directly to me, there was plenty of sniping going on about the boring nature of the campaign. Well, Secretary of State is a boring office. I don't think you get anywhere by turning the campaign into a circus. Some Libertarian candidates get short-term media hits by flashing part of their anatomy, but many of those hits happen on News of the Weird. Oscar Wilde was wrong. Sometimes it is better to be ignored than covered, if you're being an idiot. No, the goal was to further the growing opinion that Libertarian candidates are serious candidates and not charlatans.

You have to know that I really questioned this after seeing the results. It would have been a lot more fun for me to talk about the issues that really rile me up. Many times I said to myself, "I should have cut loose! I should have just gone off! The results would have at least been the same, but maybe a bit higher." But really, while that would have been self-satisfying, I was running for something bigger than my own short-term satisfaction. I was running to assure continued Libertarian Party ballot access as a minimum, and to build the esteem of the Libertarian Party of Indiana. This was achieved. That will give me long-term satisfaction.

Bridge Building

I began seeing this with greater clarity once Bob Barr signed on to be a representative on the Libertarian National Committee. Bob Barr is a former Republican Congressman. As it happens, the LP was instrumental in defeating Barr in his re-election attempt, as we targeted him on his drug message, running a candidate in that race and turning the district over to the Democrat. Barr hasn't entirely walked away from his position on drugs, and this has upset many Libertarians. This recalled for me the fact that there isn't a single person alive that I agree with 100%. Believe me, I've looked.

So, Barr is with us enough to become a life member with a contribution of $1,000 and to take a large leadership role. Why isn't that good enough? So, he doesn't agree with the whole platform? He is willing to advance the Party, thus, the platform and the principles that the candidates will espouse.

There was a great comment on Reason Hit & Run from a Gerry Tripwell:
Welcome Mr. Barr to the party and give him some time and slack. I became a Libertarian 15 years, mostly in response to Bush I's war in the middle-east. I accepted the party's positions one-by-one and the last one that I accepted was the oppposition to the war on drugs.

Liberty applies to the whole scope of human affairs. Is it better to embrace a man who has a 95% appreciation of liberty, or to alienate him for the 5% he can't see?

I say it's better to embrace one who even only gets liberty on one issue. Show appreciation and affection, and soon enough that person will begin to see it on more and more issues. Indeed, some of the more ardent Libertarians I know came from other parties and with reservations. Today, they are the staunchest, most stalwart Libertarians you could ever hope to meet.

I was a Democrat as a teen. I got liberty on exactly three issues. For the rest, the coercive power of the state was excellent, as far as I was concerned, especially where money was involved. In time, I came to see the injustice of state interference in every area of life. It took time- until I was 25. If a Libertarian had gotten in my face about an issue, it would have hindered my acceptance of liberty, not accelerated it.

So, I did what I thought was the respectful thing, and tried to find the area where a person had affinity with liberty, and talked it up. It seemed so entirely pointless to learn the area where we had disagreement and to zero in on that and let the person know he was wrong and stupid, and that I had the right answer. No, I worked to build a bridge on our agreement and encouraged them to seek out our positions in other areas of life.

After seeing the comments on Barr I finally got over my disappointment with the numbers. I found some peace with my campaign. I have no regrets. I believe I did it correctly, long term.

Update: Bob Barr's position on the War on Drugs is already moving towards a more pure libertarian philosophy, per Reason Hit & Run.


Jeff Pruitt said...


Do you feel you were hurt by the fact that so many races were competitive? It seems like this might've drawn out more party-line votes than in the past.

Ultimately, I think a statewide office is an extremely daunting task for a Libertarian but I commend you for your effort nonetheless...

Mike Kole said...

Thanks, Jeff. It is a monumental task, but less so all the time with persistence.

I feel I was hurt by two things: I didn't raise & spend a million dollars, and the fact that the average voter still gets the news from the networks or the cable news outlets.

This all leads to a general unawareness of the state offices, but also tends to make the Secretary of State cycle "unsexy". By that I mean that SOS, Treasurer, and Auditor, by their non-legislative nature, are not interesting to the average voter. Most people couldn't name any of the incumbents, let alone the challengers. Factor in that all the township races happen here, and you have a snooze fest. The gubernatorial/presidential is the sexiest cycle with the highest turnout. The municipal cycle (coming soon!) is next, and then there's the one we just had. On the trail, I had a lot of people tell me that they were not planning on voting because it didn't interest them this time. When challenged, they said they vote for president and governor, or mayor.

Now I don't mean to go off here, but I did not find this to be a competitive cycle at all. It's probably the least competitive of the three cycles here in Indiana. The conventional wisdom is that Libertarian candidates are hurt by competitive elections. Witness the 2004 gubernatorial race where we got less than 1% as it was perceived that the race would be close, despite Daniels' 9% margin. I got more than 3%, and we tend to average 4% in statewide races that are non-competitive.

Here's why I say this year was generally uncompetitive.

This year, less than half the state had competitive Congressional races- Districts 2, 7, 8, & 9. On top of that, most Statehouse races were not competitive (remember: 38 of the 125 Indiana House & Senate seats had no challenger. About 30 more had only token challengers. Only about 10 were strenuously challenged.), and most counties (about 85 of the 92) are significantly inclined to vote either Democrat or Republican in huge, untouchable majorities, so the township seats were a fait accompli.

So, I wouldn't say that there were many competitive races at all. Really about 3% of the total races run in Indiana were competitive.

There were four Congressional races that were competitive at some point. By the end, Ellsworth was clearly going to win District 8, and it was becoming plain that 2, 7, & 9 were not really going to be all that close.

Turnout was marginally higher this year than in 2002, but I'd also chalk some of that up to the fact that the voter rolls were purged.

Mark W. Rutherford said...

Thanks for your hard work and this evaluation of your campaign. Definite short-term and long-term benefits to the LPIN. I've yet to be involved with a campaign where with the benefit of hindsight some actions and strategies would not have been changed.

Georgie said...

Just curious, is there a report that you as a candidate may obtain from the election authorities that would allow you to zero in on the precincts/counties that exceeded the 4% then tie those back to the kind of activities you conducted in those areas or possible coatail effects from other local Libertarian candidates?

Might be tedious but would be valuable for a post-mortum analysis.

Mike Kole said...

Yes, you can check on the precincts. It is a bit tedious, but it certainly is worth the effort. Where you identify precincts that vote Libertarian, the chances are better of finding people who are willing to become candidates or otherwise more involved.

I've seen some amazing precinct numbers, where I scored in the 20's! That's really incredible for a statewide race. Mainly, these numbers are happening where we had strong local candidates. Look for a report on this in the next few days.