March 26, 2010
Through literally thousands of candidate-generated emails, tweets, Facebook posts, blog mentions, and even print ads in Democratic Senate District Conventions in some areas of the state last weekend, you may have already heard about Kirk Watson’s “Monopoly Busters” contest.
In fact, you’re probably being stalked by at least one Democratic state representative right now on the issue. It wouldn’t be a surprise if you started getting robocalls about it before the end of the contest (even now I can practically see a House candidate somewhere reading that and thinking, “hmmmm….”).
Here’s the deal: Watson announced a few days ago that anybody can go to his website and vote for any one of the 28 House Democrats opposed on the ballot this fall. He said that the top 5 winners of round 1, which ends at 5 pm today, will go on to compete against each other in round 2. The ultimate winner’s campaign gets a $10,000 contribution from Watson, and the runner-up gets $1,500.
Watson will ultimately hand over to all 28 contestants the names and email addresses of the folks who voted for them, so the harder they work for the support, the bigger the list they will get. But clearly, the immediate motivation to House candidates is the money, and fair enough: $10k will pay for a lot of radio spots in a House district.
But here’s the kicker: the contest has been so wildly popular so far that Watson is announcing this morning that 10 House candidates, not just 5, will progress to round 2. I know there’s a House candidate somewhere who has been working his or her ass off to get into the top 5, who upon hearing this announcement will think this is the biggest pain-in-the-butt change-of-plan they’ve ever heard of.
That grumpy House candidate, whoever it is, will thank their lucky stars in November that Watson encouraged more of them work harder. In fact, if you’re a House candidate who at this point believes you have a fighting chance of even coming close to winning, it might be worth it to consider investing $10k to win the $10k, because while the immediate motivation is in the money, the lasting benefit is in the supporter list.
What Senator Watson is really accomplishing has shockingly little to do with the money. Rather, he’s encouraging House candidates to organize harder, faster, and earlier in the process. And at the end of his contest, he’s prepared to hand over to all the House candidates all the people who have already demonstrated support for that candidate, and who have already decisively acted on that support. Candidates have spent far more than $10,000 on voter I.D. programs to identify far fewer supporters than they’ll end up with in this contest. Plus, since the contest has been hyped exclusively through social media (email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs), it’s also reasonable to assume that voters in the contest have their own social media networks – their own email lists, Facebook friends, and twitter followers.
What Watson is really contributing is invested supporters who will work for their favorite Democratic candidates for the rest of the year, keep contributing their time and money, and involve their own social networks, all to help that candidate succeed.
In a state House race, the $10k would last about 3 minutes – long enough for the campaign to write the check for that radio time, or that piece of direct mail. But at the rate Texas Democrats are voting in Watson’s contest, by the end of round 2 it wouldn’t be a surprise if the top few candidates’ supporter lists don’t exceed 8,000 – 10,000 people apiece.
Would you invest a dollar to know the name and email address of a supporter who is likely to contribute his or her time, money, and social network to you for the rest of the year? Businesses pay more than that for hot leads all the time. Whether your own answer is yes or no, what Watson is very wisely doing is encouraging candidates to re-think political organizing priorities, opportunities, and timelines, and the Democratic House candidates will reap the benefits of his innovation – at Watson’s expense.
It will be obvious which candidates didn’t miss the point, because they’re the ones in closely contested races who are about to survive round 1. By extension, because they’re working hard to reach out to potential supporters so early, they’re also the candidates most likely to win in some very tough re-election battles, in marginal districts. And it ain’t just because one of ’em ended up with an extra $10k.
Go to Kirk’s website and vote for the candidate of your choice. And next time you see Senator Watson, thank him for helping to bust the Republican monopoly, and build something important.