Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dust yourself off and stay engaged

Every year, one team emerges at the end of the MLB season as World Series Champion and that franchise gets to carry that honor until another champion is crowned. It’s worth noting that the other 29 teams that do not win the title do not pack it in or send their players home with a stain on their resume. And yet in politics this is exactly what happens — losing candidates often disappear from the scene and the people who worked for them have a “loser” label on their resume. This is not unique to Rhode Island — losing candidates are treated like pariahs everywhere — but in Little Rhody it actually hurts us all more because we don’t have a deep bench in the “best and brightest” category. This year the leading candidates for governor all had some good ideas we will lose more by not encouraging the candidates who lost to stay engaged.

Staying engaged can be painful. One candidate I have spoken with several times post-loss told me that he can’t go anywhere without hearing “you should have won” and “why don’t you run again?”  Losing is hard — he didn’t want to talk to anyone about the loss — especially not the guy in front of him at Dunkin Donuts. Running again is frequently not an option for candidates that can’t self-fund (i.e. those that aren’t multi-millionaires) since raising money becomes twice as hard when you’ve lost a race. There’s also a fine line between staying engaged and being constructive and seeming like a sore loser who just wants to take a few shots at his former opponent. 

For campaign staff, the loss can be exceptionally difficult as well. Not only do you wake up Wednesday unemployed, but you very quickly lose the camaraderie of being on a team when people — including your former teammates — start to try to pin the loss on you. Whether it was bad fundraising, a disorganized field operation, lame commercials or poor media strategy, there’s always a blame game that feels more like a firing line for losing campaign staffers. Having a losing campaign on someone’s resume should not equate to a black mark. Some of the smartest people I’ve worked with have worked on disastrous campaigns at every level and none of them were responsible for the loss. Campaigns create McGyver-like skills that can’t be replicated in any other environment and train people to prioritize and focus like few other jobs can. Campaign experience is valuable, win or lose.

It’s too early to give much solace to those who lost Tuesday so my unsolicited advice is actually for the winners. Engage your opponents and invite them to join your team. We need more people in the political process, not less. Talk to your opponents about their ideas and incorporate what makes sense. Hire your opponents’ staffers and bring them onto your campaign. In 1990, Governor-elect Sundlun hired “Paolino people” and “Flaherty people” to key administration jobs recognizing their talents and wanting them on his team. Following on the heels of a very bitter primary, the move raised a few eyebrows but Sundlun’s determination to get the best people in his administration was the best thing for Rhode Island. Truth be told, the “Paolino people” still get a ribbing every once in a while (and they give it right back) but we all recognize that asking them to join the administration was key to steering the state through some very tough times. Rhode Island faces similar challenges today and we will all be better off if the losing candidates stay engaged and the winners welcome them into the fold.