The Secret To Winning Political Campaigns? Tech, Startup Culture And Women
Millions of dollars. That’s what a candidate running for Congress needs to raise if they hope to win.
This daunting task — along with a lack of access to wealthy and politically-connected networks and limited knowledge on the process of running for Congress — has left many promising young progressive leaders out of the race.
Square One Politics is working to change that. Co-founded by Brian Bordainick and Will Levitt, this organization identifies and supports candidates under the age of 40 who are running for the first time. They offer these candidates financial support, access to a panel of advisors in politics, business, media, startups, tech, and nonprofits, and effective messaging strategies. Their approach mimics the agility and innovation of startups, including things like bitcoin for donations and social media ad campaigns. For 2018, they are focused on getting progressive candidates into the U.S. House of Representatives in Republican-held states.
Square One Politics Executive Director Miti Sathe, former deputy marketing director for Obama for America and former associate director for the Obama White House, notes that the current political climate has created a shift that makes the company mission valuable. In the wake of the shocking results of the 2016 election, Americans have begun to pay much closer attention to politics. “I think (people) realized that elections have consequences, and results that you may take for granted can actually happen if you don’t show up to the polls.”
But it’s not just about the voters. It’s essential that suitable candidates step up to the plate and offer voters a better choice on election day. To find those candidates for 2018, Square One Politics used a rigorous and thorough research and vetting process. They conducted data targeting and research to find districts with job growth, college education, and a Democratic voter base who turned out for Barack Obama but didn’t make their way to the polls in 2016. They identified 30 districts that met the criteria. Then they put boots on the ground in those districts speaking with heads of universities, local activists, clergy, and residents to find out what an ideal candidate looked like for those constituents, and if there were any leaders in the community they thought were fit to run.
The company conducted almost a thousand interviews with potential candidates. Sathe explained that they wanted to find candidates from the districts who were in tune with the issues that mattered, and who were truly prepared for how challenging, expensive, and time-consuming political campaigning is. “We were looking for people that really had that grit and understood the realities of what running meant, and, more importantly, people who understood the realities of what winning means and what it means to legislate,” she says.
Sathe currently has three candidates in the running: Liuba Grechen Shirley, a young mother from New York with a platform that champions the rights of girls, women and families; Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse fighting for quality healthcare and good jobs in Illinois; and Josh Welle, a Navy veteran and entrepreneur focused on smart defense policy, the environment, and a strong economy in New Jersey.
The diversity of these candidates is not by mistake. The House of Representatives is anything but representative, with minorities making up 34 percent, and women accounting for 19 percent. Thankfully, Shirley and Underwood are part of a much larger movement of women into politics. The 2016 election, the “Me Too” campaign, and other woman-centred social movements have driven women to run for office in record numbers. In an article for Time magazine, Charlotte Alter wrote: “In 2016, they were ordinary voters. In 2017, they became activists, spurred by the bitter defeat of the first major female presidential candidate…Now, in 2018, these doctors and mothers and teachers and executives are jumping into the arena and bring new energy to a Democratic party sorely in need of fresh faces.”
Sathe agrees that these fresh female faces are needed, not only in the Democratic Party but in politics in general. “Women tend to have higher emotional intelligence. They tend to be bigger compromisers and able to find the middle ground. They’re better listeners and problem solvers. At a very basic level, these are all things I think most people can agree are missing from government.”
However, as refreshing as the surge of women in politics might be, it cannot be celebrated without acknowledging the challenges these candidates will face. In addition to the barriers Square One Politics already addresses, they also consider that women are attacked more viciously online and are scrutinized more harshly for their appearance. Generally, women also struggle with the fear that comes with having no sense of what to expect.
Sathe explains, “When you look at Lauren, who is African American, and a female, her examples of “what comes next” are few and far between. Or Liuba, who has two children under the age of three—there is only one congresswoman who has given birth while in office…One of the things that we really had to work on with our female candidates was really breaking down the unknown barriers and trying as much as we could to sort of lay a roadmap of what’s going to happen next.”
While the roadmap for women in politics may still be a little fuzzy, Sathe, Bordainick and Levitt continue to pave the path for the future of the Democratic Party with one goal in mind; to be transformed by new, innovative leaders. They remain open to potential candidates with brilliant ideas and the guts to step up and into the ring to help change the landscape of politics in America.
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