Monday, July 10, 2006

The Purpose of Running a Presidential Campaign

Of course, the number one purpose is to win – but that’s not the only reason to launch a bid for the presidency.

Even though Howard Dean didn’t win the Democratic nomination in 2004 (or any state besides his own state of Vermont in the primary, which he won after withdrawing his bid), the current Democratic Party chairman had an indelible impact on the race that year.

Beyond popularizing the Internet as a tool for grassroots support, Dean shoved the issue of Iraq into the forefront of the nomination race in 2004. This forced other contenders to address the issue one way or another.

Russ Feingold is poised to do the same thing for the Dems in 2008. While he’s considered a long-shot at best by most analysts, the issues he's bringing to the forefront of the early election debate (most prominently Iraq withdrawal and executive power) are going to force the front-runners to take positions they would otherwise be able to side-step.

In fact, we’re already seeing this happen as front-runner Hillary Clinton has just jumped on board with a perennial issue for Feingold – raising the minimum wage. Feingold has consistently returned his automatic congressional pay raises, citing the lack of a minimum wage increase as a significant factor shaping his decision.

Here’s Feingold on the topic six years ago: “The majority leadership…appears to believe that cost-of-living adjustments make sense for Senators and Congressmen, but that cost-of-living adjustments do not make sense for working people making the minimum wage.”

Feingold’s calls up until now have gone largely unheeded, resulting in a congressional pay increase of $31,700 since 1997, while the federal minimum wage hasn’t increased a penny during that same time span.

Now, though, we see Clinton take up the cause along with other Democratic senators and representatives. In part this is because it’s a strong populist issue – you can’t really go wrong on its logic and appeal.

But we’ve had numerous elections since Feingold first started making calls to tie congressional pay raises to increases in the minimum wage, so why are the Dems just taking it up as a party now?

A big part of the answer is surely the recent national exposure Feingold has been earning. The Journal-Sentinel covered Feingold’s rise in an article over the weekend, which demonstrated that the junior senator’s name recognition and approval have increased across the country over the past year.

Also, Feingold consistently smokes the other Dem candidates in online polling at progressive websites like DailyKos – and, since Dean, the online community is a highly sought-after demographic for presidential contenders, particularly those from the left side of the aisle.

This exposure has pushed Feingold’s ideas to the forefront of the national political debate and subsequently into the Democratic agenda. The further Feingold takes his bid for the presidency, the further his ideas will be taken seriously – ideas that he’s been trying to push ever since being first elected to the Senate in 1992.

In short, while I and other progressives would love to see Feingold win, a victory isn’t necessary in order for him to be successful. And, along with that, the potential for victory doesn't need to be the only reason to support a Feingold bid.

Side-Note: Michael Crowley at TNR offers a similar argument for why Clinton is getting on board with linking congressional pay raises to increases in the minimum wage.


Blogger krshorewood said...

With potential Dean style commitment among supporters out there, the benefit of learning from Dean's mistakes last time, proximity to Iowa and the fact that Russ is just a smart guy, I like his chances. (Sorry if this runs twice -- don't know if the last one took).

July 10, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

You're certainly right about all that -- I wouldn't object to it, although I just don't think it's likely he'll go all the way. He could make quite a run, though.

July 10, 2006  
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