Lest the reader take a quick glance at this column's title and presume I'm another quack throwing his headpiece into the race for governor of California, let me be clear: I am exploring a run for governor of IOWA. Not California. IOWA. As in the American heartland. Fly-over country. Corn. Beans. Hogs. Swarms of Democratic presidential hopefuls and handlers, so thick that from a distance they look like a cloud of locusts. That state.
While the chief executive position presently open in California has attracted well over 100 applicants, I am still the only Democrat actively exploring a run for governor of Iowa. I'd like to believe it's because the Democratic Leadership Council's Iowa lackeys, political hacks and corporate-backed operatives have realized the unstoppable power of progressive ideas and simply decided to let a progressive have the job. But in all honesty, it might have something to do with the fact that the election isn't until 2006.
"Two thousand six? Why would anyone begin a campaign so far in advance?" you may ask. The simple reason is that a candidate who lacks personal wealth and refuses to be bought must rely on other assets. A strong grassroots organization. Creative use of the media. Swarms of volunteers thicker than presidential candidates. And that most essential asset: time.
One thing I have always appreciated about electoral politics is that you know precisely when a campaign will come to an end (a notable exception being the 2000 presidential election). While the end date is certain, the start date is up for grabs. A successful progressive grassroots campaign for governor, Congress or US Senate is a possibility in many states, given enough time.
Time to knock on 60,000 doors. Beginning last February, I started hammering on doors, and since then have talked with over 4,000 people. On perfect and near-perfect Iowa winter days &endash;- 10 below zero with snow blowing horizontally out of the northeast -&endash; I opted to contact prospective voters by phone, an approach to campaigning that seems to meet with the approval of Iowans, who are known for their common sense and pragmatism.
Time to raise money. One reason politicians are eager to have fat cats fund their campaigns is that it's so easy, almost fun. You pop by their yacht for some wine and cheese, meet a few of their rich friends, express empathy for those who struggle with the trials and tribulations of doing business without significant taxpayer subsidies, and before you know it checks for $5,000, $10,000, even $50,000 start arriving in the mail. With my flat-out refusal to accept special interest money or big checks from wealthy donors, I will never raise the $6 million spent in 2002 by the present Iowa Governor (who is not running again, by the way). But with an early start and regular commitments of modest support from many, many people, I am already en route to raising a respectable campaign budget.
Time to reach out to new constituencies. Detractors are always looking for reasons to deem progressives unelectable (talk to Congressman Dennis Kucinich). There is no doubt in my mind that the core of the progressive message &endash;- human need over corporate greed -&endash; resonates well with voters of all political stripes. When progressives demonstrate to detractors within the Democratic Party and the corporate media that they have backing across a broad range of interests and political persuasions, the electability argument is rendered weak and unconvincing.
Given the positive response I've had so far, there's a good chance I'll turn this exploratory effort into a full-fledged campaign at some point. If successful, this model could serve as an example for other progressives interested in running for higher office. If you have some thoughts of your own, want to learn more or would like to donate or volunteer, please consult my web page at www.fallonforgovernor.org.
Ed Fallon is a state representative from Des Moines and executive director of 1000 Friends of Iowa.