John Hall, the former songwriter and guitarist for hitmaking ("Still the One," "Dance With Me") group Orleans, won a surprise victory -- after receiving one of the first "Colbert bumps" -- in 2006 for Congress in the upstate New York region a little north from where I live along the Hudson River.
After winning a fairly easy re-election bid in 2008 he's now in a tougher fight with a rightwing GOP candidate this fall. In fact, in a surprise, Nate Silver of 538.com and The New York Times now gives his well-funded foe a 69% chance of snagging his seat.
With his rock 'n roll background, however, Hall always received fund raising help from the likes of Steve Earle and Bonnie Raitt, had a benefits this past Sunday with Pete Seeger (who lives in his district), and another on Oct. 16 with Jackson Browne. The "Rockin' Rep," who has compiled an admirable record in Congress -- despite his district's very moderate profile -- needs all the help he can get.
As it happens I have a rather unusual history with Hall, going back about 35 years. Because of that, I was probably the first to write about Hall for a national news outlet long before his first campaign took off in 2006.
It all started that summer when I noticed that Hall was running for Congress as a longshot Democrat. I knew he had been politically active for years in the Woodstock/Saugerties area -- I once had a summer house nearby -- on environmental and education issues so it was not exactly a shock, at least to me. But he was given almost no chance of winning, going up against a longtime, well-funded GOP incumbent Sue Kelly. He wasn't even favored in the Democratic primary at that point.
But I had a deeper connection to Hall. Back in the 1970s, I was senior editor of the legendary Crawdaddy magazine and Hall, with then-wife Johanna, wrote a couple of articles for us, including a cover story on Stevie Wonder. I met him several times then and once or twice later when he went on to help run the famous antinuclear concert/foundation MUSE in the late-1970s.
So, more than four years ago, I wrote a column about all this for my magazine, Editor & Publisher. As far as I could tell, no one else was paying any attention to this. I also posted it on our site.
Then Huff Post picked it up, and posted the link under a wonderfully atmospheric, if embarrassing, old Orleans album cover showing the entire band standing bare-chested. That Huff Post link, picked up elsewhere, drew massive traffic and finally got Hall national attention.
Hall won his primary. I interviewed him and wrote another piece for E&P, which also drew wide attention -- and perhaps most importantly, some eyeballs from Democratic/liberal activists who started putting him on their candidates to watch.
And, in the immediate wake of this, Hall was suddenly invited on The Colbert Report. I'll always believe my bump helped get him that bump. He gained in the polls, Rolling Stone did a piece on him, and he was now backed by some liberal funding groups, in addition to his musician pals.
Well, the rest is history. Hall won a big victory in November. Soon he appeared on Colbert again to sing harmony with Stephen. And now he is an incumbent himself, with several strong accomplishments--especially measures to help vets.
But now he needs as many "bumps" as possible to secure another term in Congress. Go to his campaign site to learn more and make sure he's "Still the One" come January.
Greg Mitchell's award-winning book "The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics" has just been published in a new edition. He writes the popular Media Fix blog for The Nation.