We lost, but we won

Yesterday, at the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Convention in Minnesota’s United States Congressional District 3, my candidate, Sharon Sund, did not gain the endorsement of our party; the endorsement went to the Gentleman from Edina, Brian Barnes. Brian won fair and square, and it was a good campaign.

This morning, my car sits in the garage crammed full of seat cushions and Sun(d) chips, campaign posters and stickers, and other sundry items hastily gathered from our convention field headquarters and the lobby of the Valley View Middle School where the convention happened.

I’ll be straight and honest with you, as always: It was not a pretty picture.

The way this works is like this: Delegates elected from previous conventions are locked into a hot and steamy middle school auditorium and they vote for a candidate. Often, the vote is too close and no candidate is chosen (to gain the endorsement one must achieve 60% of the ballots) so there is a break, things happen (called “delegate persuasion”) and another vote happens. Again and again until there is a winner.

And, accordingly, we had a plan. It was a very good plan, for moving from lower to higher numbers until finally we would have the endorsement. Or maybe the other guy would have the endorsement. Whatever. The point is, we had a plan.

What happened instead was different, and frankly shocking. The ballots were cast. And then they were counted and the Gentleman from Edina had over 60% of the votes on the first round. It was over.

In case you want to know what that feels like, here it is. It is like you are at the hospital with a loved one who is there to undergo serious surgery, but you expect the surgery to be over and the surgeon will come out and tell you how bad or good it is, then you make a plan for the next stage of your loved one’s treatment. But instead, the surgeon comes out and says “I’m sorry” and by that it is meant that the patient died, unexpectedly but not impossibly, on the operating table.

Yeah, it was just like that. For a while.

But we got over it, and I’ll say a quick word about that below, but first something of more immediate importance.

During several weeks of volunteering for this campaign, followed by two weeks of being employed by the campaign, I learned a lot, met a lot of new people, and had an excellent and transformative experience. I’ve worked for a lot of campaigns, always as a volunteer, but being employed is different. The differences are perhaps somewhat unexpected. In some ways, volunteers have a higher status than employees, while at the same time, employees have greater responsibility. Also, as a blogger, it would have been irresponsible for me to blog (as I normally would) about my experiences on the campaign. That was unusual for me.

I got to know an incredible group of people, starting of course with Sharon Sund and her family, as well as the key original members of her campaign. It was a pleasure to work with Conrad Segal and Bonnie Flood, who were with Sharon from the very beginning, as well as the other staff (see this list for most of them). I was especially inspired by Rosemary Rocco, an unabashed Iron Range Feminist with a sharp and powerful political vision. She is now my new BFF.

The volunteers on the campaign were wonderful. People like John Wexler and Michael Kieffer and Captain Al and Conrad’s Mom were always there to make things happen. Volunteers brought many different things to the table, including their hard work but also their insights and experience. I think we impressed the hell out of the convention when all of the volunteers present (which was about 60 percent of the total ever working for the campaign) stood before the convention with Sharon, the floorboards of the auditorium’s old stage creaking under our weight (both real and metaphorical) while we shouted Sharon’s praises and she gave a rousing Paul Wellstone-esque speech.

People on the campaign told me they appreciated my work and thought I did a great job. But, I’ve got that impostor syndrome thing going, only it’s for real. Tabitha Isner, the previous volunteer coordinator, had set everything up, and other staffers like Nikki Abramson made things work in the trenches. Mostly, I just sent out a zillion emails. My assistant, Nhia Chang did a lot of the heavy lifting for me, and the last second arrival of Todd Stump filled in opening cracks and gaps in our efforts. And all this was done under the watchful eye of senior advisers Brad Gagnon, Betty Folliard, Koryne Horbal, and the aforementioned Rosy. It was also a great pleasure to work with Trayshana Thomas, Tasha Byers, Ryan Tate and world class baseball expert and database manager Spencer Crose. I really hope that I get to work with every one of these folks again in the near future.

Brett Buckner is an old hand at winning campaigns; he worked with Keith Ellison and the DFL in the past. Brett came in to run our Convention Strategy as campaign manager, and I appreciate the trust he put in me. The whole experience was a lot like a three part episode of the “West Wing” except maybe the dialog could have been a little smoother and unlike a major TV production, we have no prop master. To get rid of all that crap sitting in my car right now….

I said there would be a word or two about how we all actually feel good about what happened. I don’t want to say too much about this now … watch this space for more later … but I have a few quick points:

1) We may have lost, but at least the guy who won is a Democrat!

2) Not only is he a Democrat, but he has professed a progressive stand on all the issues discussed during the campaign.

3) This happened: Everybody liked Sharon when they went into that convention, and everybody’s opinion of her went UP by the end. In politics, that’s a win, and a very rare kind of win indeed.

4) We are not done. This run for the endorsement within the DFL did not solve any problems. This effort did not win any elections, it did not change the shape of Congress. We did not protect anyone’s rights, we did not guarantee any social fairness and we did not materially advance a Green Economy. But this campaign did position everyone, including the Barnes congressional campaign and all the people with Sharon Sund’s campaign, to work towards those steps more effectively, in numerous ways, over the coming weeks, months and years.

In the words of Paul Wellstone, “Successful organizing is not built on self-interest but rather on dignity and a sense of purpose.”

Shall we get moving on that?


  1. #1 Karin Noren
    April 15, 2012

    This was quite the experience for me. This was my first real involvement in a campaign and I was very impressed with Sharon. So, if nothing else, it really hooked me, and I hope you won’t mind seeing and hearing more from me. I am sharing this on my Facebook page. Thanks Greg.

  2. #2 gwen
    April 15, 2012

    Your elections work a lot differently from ours. Congratulations on an increase in positive visibility. That is priceless. Sorry you otherwise lost. Thanks for the update!

  3. #3 Art
    April 16, 2012

    Sad to lose, but good work on getting a progressive into office, even if it wasn’t you wanted. The GOP worked for decades spouting nonsense to get their candidates into office from dog catcher on up. Progressives will need to work it from ground up. Good work.

  4. #4 Mike Haubrich
    April 16, 2012

    What Art said. The way-conservatives are there because they have been on city councils, school boards, county commissions and the like for more than two decades, and now it is paying off in Congress for them. I mean, in terms of national politics.

    I certainly hope that Brian Barnes does defeat Erik Paulsen, but I think we need to swarm the lower tiers of government.

  5. #5 R.T.Rybak
    April 18, 2012

    Boy does this sound familiar. Not fun to lose,but it seems you realize you don’t really lose if there are two great candidates like there were here. Congrats to all the volunteers for a job well player….for a very good candidate who will do big things