Thursday, May 3, 2018

Oregon 2nd District: Doctor vs. Community Organizer


Jennifer Neahring and Jamie McLeod-Skinner present themselves.  Doctor vs. Community Organizer.

This is not a fight. It is a race.  

The distinction between a fight and a race is important. Neither candidate has significant disagreement with the other and they don't do compare-and-contrast campaigning, saying they are better than the other. 

They are in a footrace and each has her own lane.

But first, two caveats. 

1. I realize there are seven candidates, not two. It is my estimation that the two frontrunners are Neahring and McLeod-Skinner, which I based on the size of campaign that I observe with my own eyes here in the population center of the District. I figure that if any of the other five were making a big final push, I would have seen it. I might be wrong. 

2. I also realize some of the candidates' campaign volunteers are getting touchy and saying negative things about others, but without apparent sanction from the candidates. I am hearing conflict over little points of hurt feelings and accusations. I consider this kind of Facebook bickering utterly trivial, and the predictable result of having a spirited campaign with volunteers. The candidates are essentially ignoring one another.

Jennifer Neahring's campaign:  elect a doctor. 

Neahring entered the race late, and did it after having consulted with public policy experts in DC and the Harvard School of Public Health. She talked to Oregon congress people. People encouraged her.

She loaned herself money, she hired expert campaign advisors, she raised some money from physicians and others, and she has a campaign hoping to become known across the District. She has Facebook photos of herself meeting with people, she holds meet-and greets, and she has money for two big outreach pieces that I have personally seen: a big mailing piece and a TV ad.  

I described the TV ad on April 30.  Click here  Its value to her comes from the clarity and simplicity of its message: She is a doctor who lives in the District

Her mailer makes the same point. "It's time for a Doctor in the House of Representatives."  There are two photos of her, both in a white doctor's jacket. Her logo is "Dr. Jenni Neahring." Headlines include protecting rural hospitals, making healthcare affordable, protecting Social Security and fighting for veterans, but there is only one real message one would get from a glance at the mailer: she is a doctor and this is good thing.
Mailer from Neahring

[NOTE: have little reason to think Neahring's campaign has paid any attention to general advice I have given her or the other candidates, most of which is public in this blog. However, I did give Neahring one-on-one advice to wear a white doctor coat for campaign photos, which advice she strongly resisted. I recommend it because I thought it was a clear, simple way wordlessly to brand herself "the doctor candidate," which I said was her best chance of being memorable in a short campaign. I also urged her to emphasize the threat to rural hospitals--not just Medicaid recipients--from the loss of expanded Medicaid via the Oregon Health Plan. I said rural hospitals were essential to the entire community, both rich and poor. It wasn't an entitlement for other people poorer than themselves, which many people resent paying. Hospitals are a benefit for everyone, and therefore a political bridge-builder, I said. She probably came to the same conclusions on her own, but I do see that the mailer mentions rural hospitals multiple times. I donated a courtesy donation of $100 to her campaign because I attended an event and ate food at the home of hosts I know well and respect.] 

If Jennifer Nearing wins the primary it will not be because she out-organized Jamie McLeod-Skinner. She didn't. It will be because Neahring's media strategy and clarity of message worked. The vote for this nomination is complicated by having seven credible candidates, and there isn't much policy difference. Neahring is giving them something mentally sticky to use as a reason to vote for her: We need a doctor in Congress to fix health care.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner's campaign: elect an experienced public servant.

McLeod-Skinner does not call herself a politician. This is smart. In polls, Members of Congress and politicians generally are held in very low esteem--considered less trustworthy than any other profession. She calls herself an experienced public servant.

What I observe is that she is a very able community organizer. She has outreach. She talks clearly and forcefully, she seems to know the issues, and her manner connected with politically engaged people of my acquaintance. Politically engaged people talk with one another, they have Facebook friends, and they circulate a message: vote for McLeod-Skinner. They show up at candidate forums wearing tee shirts and buttons and they vote for her in the straw polls. (She wins them all.) I get Facebook updates and emails from all the campaigns, but none so many and effectively as from McLeod-Skinner. 

Mailer: endorsements. She has friends
Politics is not about  "qualifications" in some abstract way. We are not hiring a scientist, we are choosing a representative. Politics is about gaining the support and energy of people who trust you and give you their vote and sometimes their money and who communicate their support to their friends. Politics is building networks of support, rather like nonprofit development work. Non-profit fundraising professionals with a capital campaign in front of them try to build a community mood of support and opportunity and obligation, using networks of other people with influence. Present a worthy cause, enlist support, get people to influence other people. It is how hospital wings get built and how politicians get elected when they don't have a lot of money.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner has excelled at this. 

I consider it evidence of this outreach that McLeod-Skinner got the public endorsement of all four of the Democratic candidates for State Senate in the Medford-Ashland area. All seven Congressional candidates campaigned here, and by taking a position in support of McLeod-Skinner the four state senate Democrats theoretically risked alienating some of their supporters in their own contested race. Why did they take the political risk? Because they realized their own key supporters were already supporting McLeod-Skinner. It would be safer to endorse her than not. That is evidence of McLeod-Skinner's outreach. She influenced the influencers.

Click to see video of her speech
She, alone of the candidates for Congress, secured a speaking spot in front of several thousand people at a woman's rally in Medford. Her videos get thousands of viewings. Friends tell friends to watch.

Politics is a skill and a craft and not everyone can do it. McLeod-Skinner has a disadvantage compared to Neahring, having a much more complicated story, with a variety of jobs in a variety of far away places. She is an engineer with a law degree and there is no one-word profession or description, but nevertheless she has created a large body of supporters. She sold herself.

[Another NOTE: Most of my thoughts and overall advice to McLeod-Skinner has been given publicly in this blog. I was sharply critical of her announcement, which I later thought was overly harsh and presumptuous, so I donated $500 to her campaign as a kind of apology. I told her privately that I thought her exit from the City of Phoenix job could be a problem, so she had to have a short, easy to understand, totally honest explanation, and perhaps a person or two in Phoenix who would vouch for it. She said she agreed and was on top of that already. I have no reason to think she has paid any attention whatever to my general campaign advice and perspective.]

Since I do not consider the word "politician" to be pejorative, i will lay out the choices for a Democrat in my words: Do voters want an intelligent, able, progressive doctor, or an intelligent, able, progressive politician?  


Anonymous said...

First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question which I'd like to ask if you don't
mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing.
I've had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting
my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or
hints? Thank you!

Up Close: Road to the White House said...

I wake up every morning and read the news, plus the updates to Facebook chatter on the candidates, and within a half hour have two or three things I want to say. I write a headline and the first two or three sentences, usually the words that will appear in bold print at the start of a post. I realize I write too much and on multiple topics in a single blog post. They would be more fun to read if they were shorter. By the time I have finished my post I usually realize that the direction I thought I was going was wrong, so I revise the headline and that stuff in bold. It is interesting to me to discover the burden of putting my argument together often changes my conclusion, and therefore causes me to change the headline. I don't know what I really think until I try to write it.

Peter Sage