Independent Dr. Steve Shogan unexpectedly joined the Colorado US Senate race yesterday. He needs only 1,000 valid signatures to make the November general which should be no problem for a candidate with some means (like Shogan) to wave a checkbook at and get on the ballot.
So who is he and is he a serious candidate?
Shogan is a well-known, very accomplished Denver neurosurgeon who has served on all the right boards, foundations and commissions. He can probably self-fund (a little) — but not enough on his own to buy weeks and weeks of broadcast tv. His announcement and website aren’t detailed enough to know where is on a range of issues. But he says he’s socially moderate & fiscally conservative — which can mean a whole lot of different things to different people. He had a nice appearance on the Dan Caplis talk show today — Dan was cordial, Dr. Shogan had a solid showing. But not a lot of news different than the announcement tour.
Shogan has some appealing, but less than detailed, interest in addressing deficits and debt, Social Security reform, and jobs creation. But it appears his primary issue, at least at launch, is Obama Care and how to fix it. From what I can tell — and it’s hard to be sure based on his web site or his announcement speech, he seems to be in favor of a modified single payer system that maintains both private insurance and private care that would also provide basic preventative and emergency care to all Americans. It’s potentially a perfectly pragmatic solution that could appeal to a broad swath of voters from both ends of the argument (and cause a bit of concern in both Udall and Gardner camps?).
Most interesting is that Shogan seems genuinely independent. A former Democrat, he’s been registered unaffiliated for several years. He speaks well to the current broken partisan political system and the critical need to give louder voice and choice to the majority of Colorado voters who fundamentally understand that the R’s and D’s are more focused on beating each other up and staying in office than in solving problems.
His announcement yesterday came timed a day after a Quinnipiac survey pegged the Senate race as essentially a tossup between Udall and Gardner with a small segment of undecideds (more likely “not-paying-attentions/don’t-care-about-politics-in-Aprils” than “undecideds“). The most painful part about the US Senate race to this point? That it’s April and both sides (and their affiliate c4’s) are lobbing tv face-rippers at each other…. and it’s only April… and there are only 10-15% of voters undecided. So, for now, the only early winners are the media consultants, buyers and tv stations behind the lame tv stuff that has next to ZERO chance of actually turning a Udall voter into a Gardner voter and vice-versa, OR to convince any of those undecideds to actually pay attention (again, it’s April).
There is little doubt that the Senate race will be a battle through the summer and fall. Udall did not have the strongest first term in establishing himself on particular issues or in defense/promotion of Colorado on a national level. No embarrassments … but little stands out.
Biggest problems for Udall (besides that few know him after six years of being in office) is that he’s got weak reelect numbers, a weak second term president of his party, grumpy voters angry about health care and the economy — he’s on the wrong side of both. So, he’ll be forced to cynically shore up his core base (women, liberals, environmentalists, base D’s), paint Gardner into the kookie conservative corner, then figure out some later summer/early fall appeals to centrists/independents to make the 51% math work.
On the other side of the aisle, Gardner is the beneficiary of the same grumpy, throw-’em-all-out electorate, a 2nd-term president who becomes a lamer duck every news cycle (btw, did anyone notice that he’s in Japan this week?), an engaged Republican base that desperately wants to win, a cleared primary field, lots of Koch/etc dollars whacking at Udall, and a generally positive name ID. But he’s still a rural conservative Republican that Denver DMA independents and centrists aren’t so sure about.
So where could Shogan fit in the senate election math?
I’m not quite sure yet. And I’m betting same goes for the Udall and Gardner campaigns for now too. They’ll most likely sit on a judgment until next reporting period and/or survey numbers.
I love his intentions and applaud his candidacy. And I sincerely hope that he figures out how to become a competitive player in the race. But it’s not going to be easy.
Survey after survey confirms that there is a wide spectrum of the Colorado electorate that wants more and better choice and voice when it comes election time. Polarized campaigns desperately need a force in the middle that makes them talk to the forgotten middle (even though they are the majority). But those same voters tend to be the least engaged, least vocal early participants. They are not joiners. They want politics — and politicians — to mostly stay out of their lives.
Dr. Shogan appears to be a level-headed, bright, community-oriented leader who would make a fine US Senator. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to get yourself into the game. So what does he need to demonstrate he can be a player and force his way into the Senate conversation? (in no particular order… except for #1):
1. Money & Supporters.
Call me callous and jaded. But money talks when it comes to viability. So does a killer finance/steering committee of A-list business, community, political leaders. At least at announcement time, he showcased neither. Since there’s no built-in party support he’ll have to grow a one-time field/finance/political/turnout operation. Cerebral, authentic, scholarly, even-keeled, mild-mannered candidates aren’t naturals when it comes to populist, Elmer Gantry fervor…. and it’s really hard to build volunteer, grassroots movements with sober, intellectual appeals to the NPR/Tattered Cover crowd. Showcase some serious $$ and people on board will make the recruitment sale a lot easier.
2. A Great Idea and/or Great Positive Name ID.
He’s known in philanthropic and medical circles. That’s a tiny slice of the electorate. Positive name ID is first order of business. But that can take years and millions on its own. A previous office… a community good deed or three… anything to provide jumpstart ID. A hot idea or issue can solve a lot. His health care plan is certainly timely. But he won’t be alone in offering a fix or a defense. And his hybrid solution could take a lot of time (and money) to explain. Sure it’s a hot button — but does it appeal enough to his natural, centrist constituency to turn them into rabid Independents with a cause? Probably not.
3. Really unlikeable kooks on the Right and Left. Udall is left-to-sometimes center/left; Gardner is right-ish and mostly stays there. Both are personable enough. Neither comes off as looney toons extremists (though both of them will try to paint the other that way). Sure, each will have their set of issues that puts them off center of the Colorado electorate during the general. Gardner/GOP escaped a lot of potential pitfalls of having to go hard right in a primary and then tack back to center for the general. Both he and Udall are free to start playing out the general election independent appeals now. That’s not such a good thing for an Independent looking for an opening in the middle.
So where does Dr. Shogan go from here? I hope he figures out how to get into the mix.
I really, really want a competitive Independent forcing the race to pay attention to the middle — it would benefit whomever wins the race. So, in the spirit of hoping for helping an independent get in the game, here’s my totally unsolicited, probably unwanted, totally freebie political consulting points of advice for the day:
1. Raise significantly more money. Duh, right? But sadly it’s the first, last and always on the mind consideration for campaigns that are part of the conversation. Loan it to yourself to get the ball rolling if you have to. $500,000 dollars. Minimum. Sorry, but this is the equivalent of an independent’s first primary. Show you’re serious and you’ll be taken seriously.
2. Get a solid team around you. Volunteers are fine. Serious ones that have been through campaigns even better. A high octane finance and support committee is also critical. Find community influencers/multipliers who will publicly endorse you. No name lists of family and colleagues don’t count. Chamber peeps, business owners, known political animals. Those are the ones that will get tongues wagging.
3. Keep studying the key issues … but learn the dumb ones too. When/if you get a chance on stage with the big boys you had better keep up and surpass them on knowing the big federal issues cold. (But have somebody quiz you on the price of a loaf of bread and a gallon of gas. I had a presidential client/candidate lose incredible momentum in a New Hampshire primary one year when some cub reporter asked him the price of milk and he couldn’t come up with the reasonable number. Nothing can kill a fresh-faced candidate quicker than simple cluelessness to look completely out of touch.)
Also, appealing to higher angels is commendable…. but it can only take you so far in a competitive campaign. I am all for running positive, issue-based campaigns. I’m glad you’re thinking that way as you start the campaign. But if you’re not going to point out where the others are wrong (or where the entire hyperpartisan system is wrong) and why you make a better candidate than they, no one will do it for you.
4. Own 1, maybe 2 issues. Voter attention spans are really short. They will give you a few minutes to hear your pitch. Make it count. What defines you? What is different than the others? Why should they care about some independent guy they’ve never heard of?
Fine to make health care your issue. It fits. So own it. But make sure the way you talk about it tells a deeper story about your approach to government, about you and how you would serve as Colorado’s senator. And keep hammering the “system is broken” message. It works — to an extent. No matter how well voters know the system is a mess, it’s also the only one they’ve got and are used to. Independents are exotic, non-native creatures. Don’t assume voters are ready to abandon their cultural, historical party just because there is an interesting alternative on the ballot. Continue to spell out what’s wrong with this phony, ineffective red v blue construct … show them examples. Remind them of how compromise is how the Constitution was created… how progress is not the same thing as capitulation. They get it… but they will come around slowly.
Last point on this point. Don’t feel compelled to tell voters everything you know. First-time candidates want to show they have a wide-spectrum grasp of lots of arcane issues. It’s good that you know the stuff. And you’ll use it in the right venues — just not in public. Your issues are health care and fixing a broken system (or whatever else you want to own). That’s it. That’s all the time you will have to sell yourself. Keep hammering on those two things. Come up with a variety of stories and anecdotes and personal examples to prove your point. But then tell it over and over and over again. You, your staff, your family and friends will be bored stiff on the 15th time they have heard you tell the same story on the trail. Try to remember that it will likely be the first time new voters will have ever heard it.
5. Own Independents/Centrists. The base R’s and base D’s will almost always return to base when it matters and especially when not given a choice. The persuadable majority in the middle of the spectrum are the ones that matter to you. They’re winnable, they’re approachable. Go get them and lock them down. Start small but then build out concentrically with the messages that will appeal to them. Don’t spend one dime talking to the crazies on either partisan end — you’ll never win them over. Get the 5-10 percent of the middle that would love to vote independent. Turn them into your donors and field army (electronically speaking.) Leverage Facebook/Twitter and more social to find them, talk to them, own them. The 80-20 rule applies here for the foreseeable future (really, until the first survey comes out that says you’re a serious candidate) spend 80% of time on the 20% persuadables in the middle.
6. Be passionate. This may be out of your personality comfort zone. But you have to consistently demonstrate that you’re running for a reason and others should care as much as you do about the outcome. This doesn’t mean banging fists on podiums and screaming at opponents. It does mean finding a positive, productive, active voice and energy to prove your commitment. Nothing kills a campaign faster than a candidate who looks like they’re going through the motions. Some reporter, etc fires another “who are you in this to spoil?” question should get a passionate rebuke: You’re in to win and the question is an affront to the majority U/I voters in the state that Independent candidates are so casually dismissed.
7. Keep it simple. This applies to everyone on the campaign — especially you. Find your 1-minute, 5-minute and 15 – minute pitch. You’ll rarely need anything more than those three speeches for the next five months (with a few new anecdotes thrown in from time to time). Raise money. Build your committees. Talk to and convert independents and middle persuadables. That’s it. Anything else is taking you off task. Television ads? Don’t even think about it — not part of the discussion until you prove viability.
8. Take the campaign seriously. But not yourself. Enjoy the process — otherwise it turns into a burden and you’ll stop doing it well.
9. Paint the ambulance. I know, it’s a small thing. But it sends a huge signal. You rolled up to your campaign kickoff announcement in a plain white ambulance with a Kinko’s campaign banner kinda/sorta tied down to the side of it.
Are you in this thing or not? Look serious. Act serious. Only then will you be taken more seriously. Same goes for your online presence. Your NationBuilder site is a nice start. But where’s the campaign’s email and phone number on the site. No one (particularly a reporter, a donor, a supporter) should have to search for it. Again, look serious and you’ll be taken seriously.