A fundamental part of political campaigns is that they mobilize constituencies and groups. Presidential campaigns are particularly interesting because they bring like-minded people into networks across the country. The level of awareness is huge, so the size of the networks are huge. Much has been made of the Barry Goldwater organization which, until very recently, has been literally the core of the conservative movement. Much has also been made of the left-over organization of the Pat Robertson campaign, which became the Christian Coalition.
John McCain’s campaign may be found to have had a lasting impact that will be comparable to Goldwater’s and Robertson’s in the network of veterans, military families, and their allies, who came together around McCain and propelled his campaign, especially in the darkest times in the second half of 2007. At any McCain rally, you would encounter vets of all ages who had gotten involved in politics because of him. These guys are often conservative, but not quite as ideological as Republican activists, just as McCain was. Frankly, it was with this base of new people that allowed McCain to bypass state and county parties that despised him.
While McCain did not become President, a new group of activists have been brought into Republican politics. They know how to work together. They trust each other. They recognize their local and national leaders through 2 years of emails. And they have taken sides, already, in a number of state-level intra-party fights.
Let’s mix this with something Patrick had suggested: one consequence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be that we will have candidates for Congress, just as the Dems have been doing. My additional point is that there is a national organized and mobilized network that these candidates will have natural affinities with, regardless of ideology. This network may help propel these guys through primaries.
Let’s look at where people are already happening.
In Idaho, Vaughn Ward, who was McCain state director in Nevada and has done some tours in Iraq, is running for Congress against Democrat Walt Minnick, who managed to defeat Republican Bill Sali in one of the most Republican districts in the country. In 2008, Sali almost lost a Republican primary to another Iraq vet, Matt Salisbury, even though Salisbury raised only 5-digits of money, while Sali was an incumbent.
In Colorado, there are several candidates running. In CO-04, you have Diggs Brown, a Fort Collins City Council member and … Green Beret. Brown is on active duty, but has been around the district on a book tour. There is a draft movement. I have heard rumors of a couple of more, including at the Senate level.
In Illinois, Adam Kinzinger is running against Debbie Halverson. All indications on the ground are that he has been incredibly savvy early on, locking up key political and party support, in addition to donors. I have heard DC operatives express astonishment at how effective he has been early on.