Nuts & Bolts—Inside the Democratic party: The decreasing importance of experience

Nuts & Bolts—Inside the Democratic party: The decreasing importance of experience

Welcome back! Every week here on Nuts & Bolts I take time to look at issues surrounding big and small campaigns, and with the help of campaign staff, candidates, and organizations nationally I try to come up with a picture of what goes into a successful campaign, what we learn from the most recent elections, and the trends we think are emerging in the way we communicate our message to voters.

This week, we get to cover a topic that should get a lot more attention. Deciding to run for political office comes with a lot of worry for potential candidates. The biggest worry is that they do not have enough political experience, connections, or the right background to run for office. “I’m not a doctor or attorney” is a frequent note at the local and state level. 

‘I’m too young’

Ah, youth is a big detriment to running for office, right? Not necessarily so. Many young people are deciding now is the time to make a run for office. Issues that are being addressed in office impact them directly and their generation, like the environment and proper wages. What they often run into is an aging Democratic infrastructure that isn’t always as supportive as it should be of younger candidates. 

Young candidates, though, should not be deterred. Hard work and determination throughout their campaign and addressing issues that matter can excite voters who otherwise sit at home. Last week in Nuts & Bolts, I covered why we cannot just count on the youth vote being the rescue for the party if we aren’t able to address issues of importance to them. The party can make a good start by offering support and encouragement to young people who decide to run for office.

You don’t have to be an attorney nearing retirement to think you have a unique perspective that can matter inside of any elected office. 

Listen to a breakdown of the May primaries on Daily Kos Elections’ The Downballot podcast with David Nir and David Beard

‘I don’t have political experience’

There are some serious problems with this argument: How can you get any experience if the only way to have that experience is to get elected, and the only way to get elected is if you have experience? Kind of a chicken and the egg argument, right? 

The beauty of political campaigns is that you absolutely do not have to have political experience, and many fantastic elected officials at all levels were never politicians beforehand: mothers and fathers who ran for local school boards to improve their school districts. People who serve on city councils to improve their community. Special district officers who run for office to manage basic city or county services. You do not need political experience to run for office—what you need is the willingness to run, and to talk to people frequently.

If you are willing to put in the work, the fact that you do not have experience in politics can be refreshing for voters. Talk about yourself as a small business owner, a parent who wants something better, a garbage collector who wants the city streets to improve, or a teacher who wants a more environmentally sound community.

Political experience is not the only thing that resonates with voters. Authenticity resonates with voters.

We are going to have to adjust ‘eliminating’ factors

Almost three decades ago, we had candidates who refused to admit they had ever tried marijuana because that was an experience they thought would doom them. Candidates who had experience in some jobs found that their jobs were so demeaned by the public that they took themselves immediately out of contention to run for office. “I can’t run because 20 years ago …”

We are going to have to get used to the reality that more and more members of our young community do not care a whit about any of that. In fact, there are more young people who are pretty understanding of almost any situation. Did you make money to put yourself through college in the sex industry by stripping or using a paid streaming service? Meh.

Silly video of you on TikTok or YouTube drinking or trying some new dance craze? Again: See the 1996 Democratic convention attempt at “Macarena.”

Did you slip up and say “F you” or other choice words in a fight? The people who will care are not the people who would ever vote for you. 

Did your ex try to blackmail you with vengeance pornography? Talk about it. 

Young people can offer new and unique situations that represent a change in how we elect officials. The truth is many of these problems happened long before, it’s just we lacked cell phones with digital cameras. 

From now on, we’re going to have to deal with the reality the world has changed and the expectations of the voters have changed as well. Be honest. Eliminating factors are not what they once were, and they shouldn’t be. 

Trying to violently overthrow the government should eliminate you from running to many people, but paying dues for the rest of your life over a video taken on a high school field trip is the kind of thing people will get over more frequently as the years move forward and people stop remembering life before cell phones and the internet.

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