Doorstep Democracy: Face-to-Face Politics in the Heartland by James H. Read is about candidates rolling up their sleeves seeking out the grassroots. Not a bad strategy, considering how well it worked for, say, Huey Long and (face it, he won) Jesse Ventura. It doesn’t take an expert to observe that, unless the election’s rigged, the candidate who reaches the common man and woman can be outspent to the last dollar and still beat corporate-funded candidates. You do, of course, have to reach enough of them.
Read, a 1992 hopeful for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 14A, didn’t win. So, one reasonably asks, why buy a book by somebody who lost? Well, for one, the material makes a world of sense. Second, no matter how sound your approach or the quality of your integrity, it’s called “politics” for a reason: unpredictable aspects come into play, and logic not infrequently runs dead last.
Doorstep Democracy: Face-to-Face Politics in the Heartland by James H. Read. $54.00 (hardcover), $17.95 (paperback). Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way by Jeff Blodgett and Bill Lofy with Ben Goldfarb, Erik Peterson, and Sujata Tejwani. $22.95. Both published by the University of Minnesota Press (2008).
For example, the St. Cloud Times endorsed Read’s opponent, St. Joseph mayor Steve Dehler, with what a reader quite sensibly decried as basically ass-backward thinking. The paper acknowledged that Read was “more knowledgeable about the complex issues that will face the legislature and doesn’t back away from controversial stands,” but got behind Dehler because he was a lifelong district resident. In a letter to the editor, one Jeanne Cook declared, “[B]orn and raised in Stearns County…I am insulted by this attitude [and] want to be represented by the most knowledgeable, not the most local candidate.” There is, after all, no accounting for stupidity.
Here’s another example. His campaign got itself in Dutch with, of all sainted entities, the Girl Scouts. In the town of Sartell, Read took part in a parade, for which his campaign workers gave away balloons without checking to see whether the Girl Scouts were selling them to raise funds. Despite sending a guilt-ridden contribution, he was in the Girl Scouts’ doghouse. He writes, “Many people have asked me, ‘If you knew then what you know now, what is the one thing you would have done differently?’ I answer, in all seriousness, ‘No balloons.’” Stuff happens.
Okay, so, he didn’t come out ahead in his bid for office. Read still, with his memoir of a hard-fought battle, gives an excellent heads-up on how to run for office by connecting with people as a flesh-and-blood human being instead of broadcasting yourself as an image. He doesn’t do half-bad, either, at reflecting on the general state of democracy in America. It’s great reading, especially as an integrity-over-popularity alternative to the way things are done as usual.
Similarly, Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way: A Comprehensive Guide for Candidates and Campaign Workers, a thorough blueprint of how to wage a political campaign, is not some snake-oil sales pitch but a study in common sense. For which we can be grateful, since as the year’s races heat up, it’s more refreshing to read a mapped out, behind-the-scenes strategy than it is to sit through even one more mud-slinging ad. After all, if you haven’t decided who to vote for by now, information’s only going to get murkier and more hysterical. Here’s a chance to sit back, leave Face the Nation and Meet the Press in the background, and enjoy a bit of related reading that won’t bombard you with we’re-the-good-guys, they’re-the bad-guys rhetoric.
Naturally, Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way has its bias, its very title broadcasting a progressive mindset. It’s written by Jeff Blodgett and Bill Lofy with Ben Goldfarb, Erik Peterson, and Sujata Tejwani, professed dyed-in-the-wool Wellstone devotees. Don’t be put off, though. Liberals, conservatives, progressives, and others: these are fundamentals you’d be shortsighted to the point of stupidity to disregard. When you’re shooting it out in the trenches, do you care what political affiliation your bullets came from, or are you more interested in hitting that mark when you pull the trigger? Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way hits the mark so sensibly, you could accuse the authors of astutely stating the obvious.
Remarkably, a layperson can read, understand, and appreciate this book. It’s written in clear, straightforward, down-to-earth terms. No political jargon, just smart concepts in plain English. Truly, it’s a welcome chance of pace.
The first chapter is “Running to Win: Qualities of Good Candidates and Managers.” It starts with an obligatory nod to the Wellstone Action coalition, then takes you through a incisive overview that concludes with that all-important concept: finding people who get the job done. “[Every] campaign needs a manager [and a] team of people who keep focused on the goals.” That should go without saying, but consider something else the chapter brings up: staff who lose focus because they can’t see past themselves. The authors describe one dysfunctional campaign by saying, “the personal egos of the senior staff got in the way of the business of campaigning.” Be effective in working for your candidate and, when you get to the office, hang your own ego at the door.
The last chapter is “You Won. Now What?” It’s a step-by-step by marvel of simplicity in its advice on how to, after you’ve got something, keep your clutching hands securely wrapped around it. The authors present such notions as elected officials giving campaign staffers a regular job and giving volunteers a job, period. After all, you want those who got you here to help keep you here. The authors also stress maintaining a database and mapping relationships with the constituency—the ones who really got you there. For instance, professional associations, labor, cultural, religious, and ethnic affinity groups and even such relative small fry as block club leaders. It makes sense. If you’re going to connect with the community, you have to do it down to the roots.
In between, there are chapters like “Working with Reporters and Communicating Your Message through Earned Media,” “Voter Targeting,” “Creating and Delivering a Message,” and more. Each conveys such elemental wisdom as to make you wonder why nobody has published such a game plan before. Might as well simply enjoy the fact that somebody did.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.