Should I volunteer for this candidate?
January 23, 2019 11:40 AM   Subscribe

A woman in a neighboring district is challenging her state rep. The challenger is in my demographic, the district has similar demographics to mine, and I want to run for the same position in my district in a few years. However, I don't have a preference for the challenger over the incumbent based on platform. Should I still volunteer for the challenger's campaign, basically for research and networking opportunities?

I met the challenger at a recent political/community event, and it really struck me that she was running because she's around my age and running for a position that I also want to run for in the next cycle (different district, so we would never be in competition). This weekend, I was at a training for people interested in running for office and the idea occurred to me that working on her campaign would be an interesting way to start prepping for a future campaign of my own. So I sent her an email to follow up on the meeting and said that I wasn't in her district but that I'd be interested in volunteering for her.

She wrote back that her campaign is canvassing this weekend. I could probably do a shift on Saturday. But now I'm hesitant to RSVP because it feels really weird and cynical to campaign for someone for research and networking opportunities rather than because I actually support their candidacy.

Not that I definitively don't support her candidacy, it's just that now that I've looked into it a bit more, her campaign and platform seem pretty cookie-cutter and milquetoast. I get the sense that she's got big political ambitions, is pursuing this position as a stepping stone, and is following the manual for How to Be a Politician to the letter. Honestly, the only apparent differences between the challenger and incumbent are that the incumbent is older, she's been in this position for a long time and seems happy to stay in it, and she evidently runs in different social/professional circles because I've never met her.

Also, as a maybe important side-note: the challenger is very plugged in to the business community that my employer is part of and knows everyone I work with. They all like her and find her very impressive. I feel somewhat out of step with this business community (I am more idealistic, I guess) but I am still a part of it and don't want to burn bridges.

So, should I volunteer? Is that too weird and cynical? Or is this a good opportunity that I'm being too fussy about?
posted by static sock to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. No. Yes.

It doesn't sound like anything the challenger stands for is offputting to you, it's just that nothing she stands for really excites you. And it seems that the only reason you have for not helping her campaign is lack of excitement about her positions; otherwise, volunteering would be a big positive for you in terms of experience, networking, and stature in your own business community. President Obama popularized (but didn't originate) the phrase "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and I think that is relevant here.
posted by DrGail at 11:51 AM on January 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Would you possibly harm a potential advocate in the current incumbent if you volunteer for the challenger?
posted by bluedaisy at 11:52 AM on January 23, 2019

Volunteering with your party's local chapter and any candidates they endorse is going to help you network. You need to learn the game, the players in your area (donors, fixers, campaign managers, strategy experts, or just all around chummy folks on the local political scene) so that these same people can get to know you, trust you and become enthusiastic to help you.

So while you don't have to volunteer for her specifically, I would get involved with your local chapter, start attending meetings and offering to help out in whatever way you can. Showing up is 90% of success, or whatever the saying is.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:53 AM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

My vote (heh) is to do it. You'll learn the ropes, apply it to your own campaign (best of luck; I'm so excited whenever I hear of MeFites running for office!), win your race - and maybe need to ask her a favor sometime; you never know in politics and it doesn't hurt to make friends and help others out. Now, if you didn't like her positions, I would say absolutely not - but in this case, I see win-wins all around, especially if your employer likes her.
posted by widdershins at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

It will take a lot of bad blood between the two for your work to be held against you, especially if you're working at the canvasser / phone banker / volunteer / intern level. Take the opportunity. Knock some doors. Get to know the ropes. Be friendly with Incumbent if you happen to meet.

Don't get sucked into local party drama -- come up with a simple one- or two-sentence reason that you're working for Challenger rather than Incumbent, and stick to it.
posted by Etrigan at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

If the incumbent wins the primary, you can always go knock doors for them in the general. You'll learn more about building a campaign without an incumbent advantage from the challenger. Go for it.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a one-party area, so the primary is essentially the general. That said, it's a good point that whoever wins the primary will still need volunteers for the general regardless, so if the incumbent gets the nomination and I'm still worried about bad blood, I can just volunteer for her then.

My main worry is that I think the incumbent is the better candidate. If I were a voter, I would choose her over the challenger because she's more experienced -- was a civil servant, then on a county board for a long time, has been in this seat for nearly a decade, etc. She also has a pretty solid if boring platform (basically down the party line). The challenger is more of a pro-business yuppie, which is not my bag. But I think working on the challenger's campaign would be an interesting learning experience for me. She's also extremely ambitious and pretty well-connected, so I don't think it would hurt to make the connection. *shrug* That's why I'm so torn.

I am involved in the local party chapter, but I doubt they are going to endorse either because they historically don't endorse during primaries. I am also involved in a lot of nonpartisan civics groups that are unlikely to endorse. I will no doubt be volunteering for other campaigns later in the year, but like usual, I will probably volunteer either because the candidate is someone I really, really support or because it's a very contested general.

I've done a lot of political volunteering, so volunteering for a campaign wouldn't be new to me, but volunteering for a young woman who has never run before would be. That's the fundamental reason that I'm even thinking of volunteering for her, but I just don't know if that reason justifies telling other people to give her their vote?
posted by static sock at 2:36 PM on January 23, 2019

I wouldn't volunteer for the candidate you wouldn't vote for! Surely there will be other opportunities? Indeed, you might learn something volunteering for the incumbent running against the person more like you.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:54 PM on January 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's not clear to me that volunteering for this candidate would actually be strategically in your interest-- that you'd be setting yourself up to run as a different sort of candidate than you actually want to be. Volunteering for a candidate is really the closest thing we non- public figures have to an "endorsement"; if you were campaigning for my vote and I learned that you had volunteered for Candidate X against Candidate Y, I would take that as information about your political alignment. Especially for a new candidate who hasn't established a record from holding lower/other office, this may well constitute the entirety of your "record".

It sounds like you were inspired by the candidate's confidence and saw yourself reflected in her in exciting ways! I think you can totally take that energy from the experience without necessarily linking yourself to her as a figure.
posted by dusty potato at 9:32 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

It turns out that a really awesome candidate is going to primary my own state senator from the left. (The state senator in my district is OK, but he's been in the office for forty years and is more centrist and stodgy than the district is, so it's a good time for someone new to come in). I signed up to volunteer for THIS candidate with no compunction!

Thanks, everybody, for helping me to put volunteering for a candidate in perspective. I agree with dusty potato that volunteering is an endorsement, and I can't do that in good conscious unless I really believe in the candidate's policy goals and her ability to carry them out. Luckily, there is now a candidate in my own district that I'm happy to endorse.
posted by static sock at 7:16 AM on February 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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