Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Abel Collins Headshot

Campaigning on the Cheap: An Independent Path Forward

Posted: Updated:

Following the elections, there are still no Independent/Third Party members of the House of Representatives. This is despite the abysmal approval rating Congress has had for well over a year, despite the feeling held by the majority of voters that the country is moving in the wrong direction, and despite the fact that a plurality of registered voters identify as independent. If there was a year for an Independent to break the duopoly, this was it, right?

I ran as an Independent in Rhode Island's 2nd District, and with 9.2 percent of the vote I earned the second best showing nationally of any Indy/3rd Party Congressional candidate running against both establishment parties. The highest total was Marcus Lewis in Illinois at 13.5 percent (running against incumbent criminal Jesse Jackson Jr). So, none of us got particularly close. A reasonable person might argue it's time to raise the white flag and let the Democrats and Republicans continue their ruinous policies of selling out the American people to Wall Street and Big Business.

I can't in good conscience let that happen, so let me explain why 2014 will be the year we see at least one Independent in the House.

Deeper than the election results, allow me to reveal a few more details about my race. I was 33 when I jumped into the race (my first) five months before election day on June 6. The campaign budget was nonexistent. The assets that I had going into the fray were the accumulated vacation time that I had built up for being a workaholic environmental organizer over the past two and half years at Sierra Club, the campaign organizing skills that I developed there and in my previous activism, and the invaluable network of forward thinking folks I had gotten to work with and know in the process.

I was young, but I was not naive. I knew that I was going to be outspent by orders of magnitude. My opponents were both millionaires backed by their respective party apparatchik. I set out to win, expecting it would take between $100,000-200,000 of fundraising and the endorsements of a few prominent progressive politicians and groups. I still believe that I would have won, if I had been able to secure those things. My theory was (and remains) that there is a viable low-cost campaign model, relying heavily on social media, a volunteer ground game, and a popular platform. The big question was if we had sufficient time.

I ended up raising about $25,000 in individual donations, which translated into spending about $1.25 for every vote I received. I didn't get the big endorsements, but we did generate great volunteer and social media efforts. We were efficient to a degree traditional candidates can only dream of.

As for building a popular platform, the establishment parties have made that easy as they have both drifted right of center when poll after poll shows Americans to the left on nearly every issue. The planks read like the grievances of Occupy and echo complaints heard over dinner tables all over the country; institute Wall Street reform and accountability, get money out of politics, bring jobs back by holding foreign industry to the same standards we hold our own with fair trade policies, create a real works program, get real about global warming, and scrap the insurance industry driven healthcare model for a single payer system. Both Democrats and Republicans are vulnerable on all these fronts.

Here's what it sounded like in our debate

My biggest miscalculation was in time. Five months was inadequate to get the name recognition and credibility necessary to draw in the endorsements and the subsequent fundraising needed to win. I believe now that it will require at least a year of active campaigning.

The whole race was filled with thousands of smaller lessons that will make the next run more effective. We will be ready earlier, and I will be a better candidate. Just as importantly, the opposition will continue to deteriorate. Gridlock will plague Congress again. Big banks and corporations will continue to reap record profits at the expense of the working class, and the growing existential threat of climate change will be ignored. Dems helpless to the siren song of Clintonian triangulation will continue to follow Republicans to the right and reward their base constituencies with lip service and crumbs.

And that, my fellow Americans, is why 2014 will see at least one Independent elected to the House of Representatives and hopefully more. Between now and then, I will be doing what I can to prepare the way for my own victory but also to share my low-cost campaign strategy with other independents. I can see the book title already, "Campaigning in America on less than $2 a Vote."

Register To Vote