I have great respect for anyone who tosses their hat in the ring and runs for office. From local election to the national stage, it's a hard tough and not very pleasant road complete with too many hours of travel and too many meals out of a bag.
So, when you take a woman like Ellen Simon - who ran and lost and has already announced she is running again, well, my respect and admiration grows even more.
Let's take a quick review of what happened to Ellen last time, the lessons she learned and how she's going to apply her learning. I had a very enjoyable conversation with her yesterday as she headed to her native Cleveland from Phoenix.
Ellen ran against true Republican scumbag Rick Renzi (more on that later.)
She ran in the 1st district in Arizona, 58,000 square miles with under 200,000 people voting. I can't imagine the mileage she put on her car. She ran for all right reasons after a career as a civil rights attorney. And she learned a lot of tough lessons about how the Democratic Party in DC functions, or actually doesn't. And what the far Right will do to win.
Back in May 2006, Rick Renzi looked like he was going to have an easy re-election campaign. His major Democratic opponent dropped out of the race, leaving him feeling invincible. Then Arizona civil-rights attorney Ellen Simon stepped up to the plate and took on the Arizona Republican. This was Simon's first foray into politics, and it was a tough initiation to both the Republican smear machine and the Democratic establishment.
Though she was a first time candidate coming late to the race, Simon made an excellent showing in her district. In the first six weeks of her campaign, Simon raised more than $500,000. In fact, in only six months of campaigning, Simon raised over $1.5 million. She had almost everything a candidate needs - a resonant message, a dedicated staff, and strong support in her district. The one thing that her campaign was missing? Support from the Democratic establishment.
Well, she got plenty of promises from the DCCC and others. Raise this and we'll match, but they didn't. Do this and we'll help, but they didn't. They left her hanging out there and she could have won, but when you take her experience, and many others, you really have to wonder what the DCCC is thinking. The core message they send is raise $500,000 and come back. I wonder if it ever occurred for them to help great new candidates raise the early money, seems to me that's where they might need the most help.
So while Simon was able to raise a substantial amount of money in her district, she got hardly any support from the Democratic Party in Washington. Of her total campaign contributions, only 8 percent - barely over $125,000 - came from Democratic PACs. While Simon stepped up to the plate, the Democratic establishment sat on the bench.
Renzi, on the other hand, was heavily backed by the GOP, who sent in heavy-hitters. President Bush, John McCain, and Newt Gingrich went to Arizona to rally voters and raise cash. In the end, Renzi's PAC money totaled over $1 million. The Republicans were not going to let this seat go without a fight.
And what a fight it was. The Renzi camp cranked up the smear machine and let the mud fly. In a disgusting display of dirty politics, Renzi issued a press release that attempted to associate Simon's campaign with terrorists by claiming that she received a donation from "an al-Qaeda attorney." The truth, of course, is that the donor in question is not a member of al-Qaeda, but a Jewish civil rights attorney who is only guilty of holding the U.S. government to its own principles.
Then Renzi got ugly with an ad calling Ellen a NAMBLA attorney -- that's the North American Man Boy Love Association for those of you who haven't been following. Slate.com called the ad an "effusion of pure political poison" and concluded, "not one word in the ad is actually true."
Dave Johnson and I over at Smoking Politics are going to take a look into this a bit more, seems like Renzi and his major donors, should be held responsible for their lies.
Renzi is also involved, deep, in the US Attorneys case as they were investigating him before, during and after the election. I think they tried to rush their findings to the Arizona voters to make sure that they knew all the facts about Renzi but missed their plane. In fact, now, in another moment of Right Wing Hilarity, Renzi himself is going after the Justice Department. File this under more Republican Stuff You Just Can Not Make Up.
Despite being late to the race, subjected to a disgusting smear campaign, outspent by her opponent and abandoned by the Democratic establishment, Ellen Simon still won 44 percent of the vote, just 7 points behind Renzi. Simon managed to pull off such high numbers by having strong support in the district, and by concentrating on a message that voters responded to - returning American politics to issues that are important to the American people, and ending the culture of corruption that plagued Washington during the years of Republican rule.
Today, Renzi is even more vulnerable. Faced with ongoing federal investigations, Renzi has resigned from his committee posts, but he says he'll run again next year. Not viewing her 7 point loss as a rejection, Simon has stepped up to the plate again, vowing to unseat Renzi in 2008. Judging by Simon's showing in 2006, she's got a great chance to take the Arizona seat for Democrats, but will she be ignored by the Democratic establishment again?
Matt Stoller at MyDD.com lays out a good argument for why the DCCC should throw their weight behind Simon.
...if a candidate is in a longshot race and ends up coming very close to pulling off an upset without any institutional backing, it's bad form not to let them have another chance. After all, what kind of incentive is it to candidates to run for Congress in longshot races if they know that coming close will only lead to a more cautious and established politician leaping in to push them out of the way?
Simon showed that she's a formidable candidate with a lot of support in the district. She has laid the foundation for a winning candidacy, and it would be self-defeating for the DCCC and others to push her aside for a new, untried candidate.
However, what they do is frankly up to them. And what are the chances they make the call the right way this time? Better I suppose, but I'm not betting on it.
What I am counting on is a smart woman from Arizona who, sadly, learned the rules of engagement a little too late the first time around.
DC Democrats aren't worth the paper their business cards are printed on.
Republicans will Fear and Smear you to defeat, and no, the facts don't matter, neither does the truth.
Click here to learn more about Ellen and how you can help her out.
Here's another Meet Your Candidate profile: Chellie Pingree.