Friday, November 7, 2014

Six Election Takeaways:

My two favorite interviews of election season came from an unexpected place: Philadelphia Republicans with virtually no chance to win.
In a city dominated by Democrats, up against longtime incumbents Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, Armond James and Megan Rath had little support and even less experience. They were raw, unscripted, bursting with energy and naiveté and honesty, for better and worse.
Unlike most candidates, they sounded like real human beings. Ask them any question and they answered in a straight-forward way that let you know where they actually stood. Some of it was even colorful and fun.
When James told me why he wanted to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, he said energy independence would “shut Putin up.” And he called on Philadelphia voters to hold public officials accountable with “the same passion” they used to hold Andy Reid accountable after every Eagles loss.
Some of it may have been bad politics in heavily-Democratic districts. (James said he favored Voter ID laws – hated by many Democrats -- because “if you’re a man and you’re 30 and you don’t have ID, I don’t want you voting.”).
Some of it showed where honesty meets inexperience. (Rath volunteered how she had to return one campaign check after the donors found out she is pro-choice).
And some of it would have been devastating if these races were competitive. (James, who has visited Tehran, assured me that Iranians love America and that the tension between the countries is just media hype).
But as they ran two of the most uphill campaigns in America, the two Republicans still seemed to represent so much of what is both great and ill in our democracy.
On one hand, it was encouraging to see a 33-year-old high school teacher (James), and a 34-year-old medical sales consultant (Rath) able to campaign and argue and raise up their voices as loudly as they could manage, even against two longtime incumbents.
On the other hand, hearing the two ramble through their ideas, go against party dogma and stray into mistakes was a stark reminder of how scripted, professionalized and sanitized so much of our politics are.
When a straight answer on the first try is reason to celebrate, it tells us about the quality of dialogue most candidates offer the public.
I’ve raised the issue of staid campaigns before, after months of hearing candidates who sound indistinguishable.
Professional political advisers –paid to read the polls and script answers and win races – say they have good reasons for what they do. Most regular people are busy and have a limited bandwidth for politics. So when candidates have 30 seconds to woo a voter, their pitches better be precise and they better be sharp and they better be focused on the issues voters care about most.
If James and Rath were in tighter districts, they might have had more money and more staff and more of that type of advice, and the traits that made them distinct would probably be professionally sanded off, leaving only those attributes poll-tested to convey authenticity.
Which would be too bad.

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