Lessons from a Loser

It never feels good to lose, even if you are expecting it. As I watched the results of my race pop up on the screen late November 3rd, I couldn’t help it. I knew it was a long shot, but it still stung to see the numbers. It also didn’t help that in my vivid imagination, I saw my opponent looking a little too proud of himself. 

All day Wednesday I thought through the whole campaign; what I had attempted to accomplish and what the results indicated. I asked myself some serious and difficult questions. I tried to put on a brave face, but I knew this wasn’t something I could just shrug off.  

Look, I’m proud to have won roughly 22% of the vote in my race. That’s nearly 11,000 people who voted for me! I can take heart in the fact that I did better than another major political party did in past elections. But we still have a long way to go before giving the majority party any real competition. As a business-minded voter, I don’t think that’s a good thing.

And as any good business person does, I can find clues to the solution by looking at the numbers. Given the results, it can be said that a number of them are happy with the way things are. And that’s okay. It’s alright to have even a majority of people feel good about the status quo. I mean as much as I still can’t stomach the thought of having to communicate with my opponent as my state senator, he isn’t a terrible guy. 

But the winning and losing numbers alone don’t tell the full story. 

There are some voters who see politics as something they can’t change. They like voting for winners and based on the current system, I’m not likely to win. There are also voters who really aren’t familiar with any other race outside of the Presidential race. The layers and issues are overwhelming, so a safe and reliable default becomes good enough. 

This isn’t bad news either. It’s okay to just acknowledge the way things are.

Looking back at my campaign, not only would I need to personally interact with each of the 50,000 voters in my district, I would have to find a way to convince them that it’s okay to vote outside of the two-party system. I would need to undo years of being told that a third party spoils races, even though I’m the only other candidate in my race. I would have to point out to voters various details about my race, details they likely don’t really care about. Take for example most people assumed my competitor was the incumbent, when the position was an open seat.

I would need to point out things not already on their radar that need changing and help them see how these things directly impact their day-to-day life. And finally, if I managed to overcome those other barriers, I would need to help them feel that I’m the better choice. The breadth and depth of such a feat is bigger than any one campaign.

This information isn’t new. Of course I have to reach voters. Of course I have to get my name out there. But to simply mimic salesman-level antics don’t work either.

Comparing the numbers of my race to that of fellow candidates, we all gleaned similar results. If the formula worked, our results should correspond with the amount of effort that went into the campaign formula. With similar numbers regardless of effort and investment, there’s something missing. What are we not seeing?

Political cultures are extremely difficult to change. People clearly don’t feel comfortable betting on something that hasn’t been tested and proven. People don’t want the quick sale and fear buyer’s remorse. They prefer to go along with the brand they know best, even if the quality isn’t always that great. 

As I accepted these truths, I felt like I started to get at something that might lead us to the answer. 

Rather than fight against the realities of voter behavior and put the fault on them (which is dumb anyway), it’s clear that there is work to be done. If I want anything to change I have to do the hard work of introducing these new ideas to people in my area, one person at a time. I need to find ways to build a long-term relationship with people and let them test and prove what I am offering. I don’t have to wait until the next election to go door-to-door. I can start much sooner.

But I don’t want to simply promote myself or my political party. That would turn my efforts into a really long sales pitch. No, I want to invite more people to the conversation and tear down the barriers to civic engagement. I want to clear the path and prepare the way for many more victories for a variety of problems we face now and in the future.  

Yes, it’s disappointing to lose. But I feel like I’m entering a new campaign, one I can win on my own terms. I can take the things I’ve learned and use them to design opportunities that will serve us all much better.

And that is a real win.

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