In politics, it’s not always our enemies who keep us up at night. Sometimes it’s our friends.
That’s one of the tough lessons I learned working on the Bill Hedrick (CA 44) race against Ken Calvert in 2008. We came within 2 points of winning that race. Amazing, considering the district was considered a “safe” Republican seat with a 16-year incumbent and a large registration disadvantage. The Democratic candidate who ran two years earlier lost by 23%.
On paper, that district looked impossible to win, even with an incumbent being investigated for shady land deals and questionable earmarks. As a result, Bill got few endorsements and no support from the national players.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. I spent hours on the phone, trying to convince the Democratic leadership that Bill was the perfect candidate for that solid blue collar district. He was a family man — a father of five with two sons serving in Iraq — and an educator and elected school board member with strong credibility and great name recognition. Unemployment in the Riverside portion of the district (which accounted for almost 80% of the vote) was the second highest rate in the nation. Foreclosures were staggering, and the incumbent had voted for everything that had gotten us into this economic mess. The incumbent was vulnerable. It was the perfect storm.
Bill raised only $190,000 in that race. But we had an aggressive field campaign, knocking on doors of both Democrats and Republicans. With another $50,000 we could have secured the votes to win. There’s no doubt that Bill’s race in 2008 was seen as “the one that got away.” Hindsight doesn’t help much in politics. That’s why foresight is so important.
Bill is running again, and I hope he wins. [Blue America has endorsed him and is helping him raise funds; the DCCC is still taking a wait-and-see approach.] Unfortunately, Calvert has been awakened to his vulnerability and will not be complacent this time around. An opportunity was missed in 2008 and whatever lessons were learned, there is no way to apply them retroactively.
In this campaign cycle, I am working for Beth Krom who is challenging incumbent John Campbell (CA 48), co-sponsor of the “Birther Bill.” Beth has won five consecutive elections in Irvine — the largest city in the district — including two terms as Irvine’s directly elected Mayor. Beth is bright, articulate, engaging, thoughtful, and has a proven track record for winning tough elections. She knows the district better than the incumbent and has built an amazing network across many platforms. Beth is Blue America’s most recently endorsed candidate.
Beth understands how to connect the dots, she is solution oriented and demonstrates the kind of passion and courage that is desperately needed in Congress today. Unlike Campbell who is rarely seen in the district and who hates the retail side of politics, Beth Krom is seen as both accessible and effective. She is energetic and focused, and respected by almost everyone– even those who may disagree with her on certain issues.
Consider this: of the more than $400,000 she has raised to date, more than 20% has come from Republicans! THAT has never happened in an Orange County race where a Democrat was challenging a Republican incumbent before. And no district in America has seen registration shift as much over the past decade as CA 48. What was once considered a rock solid Republican district, is now dominated by Democrats and Decline-to-State voters, with Republicans holding only 44% of the vote. People are still amazed to learn that Barack Obama won the district!
Is this a viable race? You bet!
Yet, even with key endorsements from Labor, NEA, Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood and others, the DCCC remains on the sidelines– at least for the time being. They say that people who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
Scott Brown had a 3 to 1 registration deficit when he pulled off his upset in Massachusetts. Charlie Brown ran twice in California and nearly won both times — despite a 15% registration disadvantage. Through both of these races, as well as Bill Hedrick’s, runs a common thread. The presumed winner was out of touch with constituents, treated public office as an entitlement and upset voters so much that they were willing to vote for a person rather than a party.
The same dynamics are at play in Beth Krom’s race against John Campbell. She points out that, during her term as Mayor, he didn’t once visit City Hall, attend a public event, inquire about the city’s priorities, or even send a letter of congratulations when Irvine was named “Safest Big City in America” four years in a row. And despite the fact that CA 48 is one of the “Top 10” districts when it comes to sending tax dollars to Washington, Campbell — who defines EVERY appropriation as an earmark — works every day to make sure not one penny comes back.
That pissed off residents in Newport Beach who sought funding to dredge the Back Bay as part of their coastal preservation efforts, not to mention UC Irvine — a major research university — which loses out of federal grants because Campbell won’t advocate for them. Throughout the district, local leaders cite occasions when they reached out to Campbell for assistance, only to be rebuffed.
When Beth wins this race — and I believe she will — I hope it is with the full support of the DCCC, Emily’s List and other key players. Most of Beth’s current donors have never given to a federal candidate before. That’s impressive. But those who are accustomed to writing checks to national candidates, need the Democratic leadership and the base to openly endorse and urge support for this the winnable race in their own backyard.
The “Mrs. Krom Goes to Washington” campaign recognizes that people are still the greatest source of power in our democracy. This will be a game-changing election for Orange County and for America. There are no magic wands or crystal balls, but with a great candidate, active support, an aggressive field campaign and an “anti-incumbent” sentiment growing throughout our country…this is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.
Lori Vandermeir is Communications Director for the Beth Krom for Congress Campaign.
UPDATE: A Little Note From Howie
I hear testimony from idealistic grassroots activists like Lori — from all over the country — constantly. They are frustrated with the insider game national politicians, and the special interests who finance them, play. This isn’t just about corrupted Republicans; it’s also about a corrupted Democratic Establishment. The DCCC is no friend of progressives, of grassroots activists, or of ordinary working families. Candidates like Beth Krom and Bill Hedrick are.