In Defense of Walking

Jeff Jacoby offered a cautionary tale to Elizabeth Warren a couple of weeks ago by reminded his readers that the candidate favored by the party leadership is not always the favorite of the party faithful.  Warren’s relationship to the grass roots of her party makes her unlikely to suffer Elliot Richardson’s fate in 1984.   But being the favorite of party leaders at a time when said leaders are not very popular has its dilemmas.  It turns out that walking the state may not be such a bad strategy.

Which brings me to Tom Conroy.  Conroy is the walking candidate, as he reminded those who tuned into the UMass Lowell debate.  His website notes that he “walked 657 miles this summer across Massachusetts, to over 125 cities and towns, talking to people just like you.”  I passed Conroy this summer while he trekked up Rt. 6A in Sandwich as I was driving off Cape to go to my office and stopped to chat with is loyal crew.  Conroy is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Florida Senator, then Governor, Lawton Chiles, who got to know the people of his state on a 1,003 mile walk  Like Conroy, Chiles was a state legislator running for Senate.

In a sense, all credible and successful candidates “walk” the state.  The Elliot Richardson strategy rarely works in the modern era.  Being chosen by party leaders to run before demonstrating your democratic creds is a throwback to an earlier era when politics was much more exclusionary.  It can backfire in a big way, such as the Jack E. Robinson fiasco of 2000.

Ideally, candidates have the support of the leadership (whom they need to govern) and the support of party members and activists (whom they need to win and rally support).  When Conroy walked the state he met with local leaders, interested voters, grass roots activists, methodically building an organization and network of supporters.  Alan Khazei and Bob Massie have experienced doing this at the state level once before and are no doubt relying upon their original networks this time around.  These contacts, gathered slowly and over time, are the backbone of a credible GOTV organization.  Scott Brown walked, well, drove, the state, putting together a rock solid organization in 2009 and early 2010.  Deval Patrick did it in 2006.

Elizabeth Warren began her race with whispers from party leaders in DC and moved to bring it to the party faithful.  That’s a challenge but so far it’s working.  The money that will come from her front runner status will help in a big way, though money alone can’t win in a ground game. 

Whoemever wins the Democratic nomination will inherit a network of support around a GOTV operation that John Walsh has meticulously put together on more than a few occassions.  So the real test of the walking candidates will be the first ground game of the season, the early caucuses next year.  It will be the first test to determine who {CLICHE ALERT} really walked the walk.

About Peter Ubertaccio

Peter Ubertaccio is the Director of Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies. His work focuses on political parties, marketing and institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Professor Ubertaccio and his family live on Cape Cod where he is on the Board of Directors of the OpenCape Corporation and the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation.
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