I received a couple of polite emails over the weekend from one Isaac Evans-Frantz (or ISAAC! as his campaign logo identifies him), informing me that he would announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate today at noon, and inviting me to cover the event. “We haven’t seen much press yet about the campaign and thought you might be interested,” he wrote with a touch of wistfulness.
ISAAC! is a young man who’s done a lot of good things in his life. He brings ideas and energy to a campaign that exists entirely in the shadow of Senator-In-Waiting Peter Welch.
But no, I won’t be covering his announcement. Well, I guess I’m sort of covering it by writing this, but the rest of this piece won’t be about him. It’ll be about Quixote-style candidates and what we owe them.
Which is not much, really.
Look, I respect anyone who gets into the arena. Almost anyone; nothing for Cris Ericson here. Extra respect if ISAAC! really commits to the campaign instead of sitting around waiting for invitations to debates. But that doesn’t mean he deserves coverage.
Here’s the thing. Politics is about ideas, sure, but it’s also about people. People working together on a common cause. People learning to recognize someone who’s fought in the trenches, won elections, or occupied leadership positions.
You can’t just walk in off the street and expect to be put on par with Peter Welch. He has been there. He’s done some good things and kept his nose clean. He’s built a positive reputation in Democratic circles and with the broader electorate. Evans-Frantz and, for that matter, NIki Thran, are too new, too unfamiliar, too untested, to earn equal consideration.
How do you go from unknown to Welch? Work in party politics. Run for lower office. Win. Serve your constituents. Network among donors and volunteers. Build relationships. Become well known, preferably for positive reasons. Do all that and maybe you’ll climb the ladder. Most don’t.
You can try to skip the line and aim straight for the top. It worked for Molly Gray, but she was an extreme outlier. Plus, she did have real political advantages. She’s a member of a prominent Democratic family. She worked for Welch, and built ties to the Welch and Leahy camps. She was an assistant attorney general under TJ Donovan, who’s as well-connected in politics as anyone.
Is it fair? No, not entirely. But like I said, politics is about people as well as policy. Like anything else that involves people, it’s an imperfect process. But it’s the only one we’ve got.
What’s the media’s responsibility? They have a platform and finite resources. They use their own unscientific judgment in how best to use their resources. An unknown candidate might perform their way into the media’s attention by doing well in debates or fundraising, showing a pulse in the polls, or attracting enthusiastic audiences at public events.
Is there a chicken/egg element to this? Sure. If you’re an unknown, the media ignores you. If the media ignores you, how do you become better known?
Well, you do some or all of that other stuff I wrote above. Get stuck in. Do the work. You can’t enter the political arena and expect to be taken seriously from the jump any more than I can jump into a cockpit and call myself a pilot or walk into NBC headquarters and become Rachel Maddow’s successor.
That’s life. Play by the rules, or jump the line and take your chances.