For all the drama that occurred with Theresa Greenfield’s ballot and signatures situation, little attention was paid to the other developments in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District race a few weeks back. Iowa political news was pretty wild for the entire month of March, and I didn’t get to nearly as many other topics as I had hoped. But I did want to circle back on one story: Austin Frerick ending his candidacy.
Frerick decided to bring his 3rd District run to an end a few hours before the filing deadline on March 16, though it didn’t seem to be due to a lack of signatures. Instead, he cited the fact that his campaign simply hadn’t raised enough money to compete in a major congressional race. He’d raised just under $30,000 by the last fundraising report that ended in December, though he’d probably brought in more this year.
We’ve seen more than plenty of candidates get into high-profile races over the years that simply don’t have the financial resources or wherewithal to seriously compete. Oftentimes, it’s because they don’t even try. Numerous Democrats have essentially just raised enough funds to fill up their gas tank to drive to forums and party meetings to give speeches that just end up lengthening the event. Frerick’s fundraising totals were at least in the “trying” category.
But the refreshing thing about Frerick’s candidacy is that he found unique ways to stand out in his long-shot bid and presented a policy message that no one else was talking about. The central theme of his campaign was that corporate mergers and consolidated wealth were turning America into a 2nd Gilded Age. Included in that was a tough look at several Iowa agricultural corporations (Monsanto in particular) that typically don’t get as much scrutiny from state Democrats. Plenty of Democratic candidates make wealth inequality a topic of their campaign, but Frerick did a good job at really describing the root causes of the problem in ways others don’t.
And that was a nice thing for Democrats who sat through extremely long 3rd District forums and events. If there’s six or seven candidates on stage or giving speeches, it can easily get tiring to hear everyone agree on the same core values and repeat similar talking points. A lot of the statistics and stories that Frerick explained about agriculture and anti-trust policies were things people didn’t know as much about. I dare say some attendees actually learned something new while listening to Frerick.
He also found creative ways to stand out in the media. Frerick’s candidacy was mentioned in or featured in the New York Times, The Intercept, The Nation and several national progressive publications. Part of that was thanks to actually reaching out to media outlets and pitching interesting stories.
Sometimes people will ask me why I wrote one or two more stories about this candidate instead of that candidate. The answer is usually pretty simple: I try to cover most serious contenders equally, but if one campaign keeps in touch and offers up interesting story ideas that makes my job easier, it usually helps get some extra coverage. It’s certainly more effective than the long-shot candidates who just launch personal attacks at every reporter who doesn’t have time to cover in-depth their hopeless candidacy. Being nice and helpful goes a long way.
Frerick also did a much better job with social media than most other candidates in Iowa this cycle, again finding more creative ways to stand out. Some longtime campaign professionals will scoff and say an active social media effort doesn’t make up for call time to raise money to get on TV. While that’s true, you also see so few of the “serious” candidates – those who raise significant money – with engaging and authentic-looking social media profiles, despite having money for staff and consultants.
What I’ve never understood is why can’t you both raise a lot of money and put out several real-sounding, engaging Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts each week? (Actually, I do understand why. It’s because campaign consultants get most of their money from placing TV ads, not digital ones. Too much of the Democratic Party’s national campaign infrastructure has become more focused on ensuring a class of consultants get paid than winning races, but that’s a topic for another time.)
Anyway, Frerick had a good run for several months as a candidate, and then called it a day when realizing he didn’t have a chance of winning the primary. That’s a more responsible decision than say, Paul Knupp, who got upset that the party didn’t help him fill out his petitions (not their job) and now looks to run as a Green Party candidate as payback.
It’s sometimes questionable what long-shot candidates get out of their runs (which sometimes annoys those of us who have to cover very long forums with a ton of candidates). For Frerick, he legitimately advanced a policy debate that not enough people were talking about and raised his personal profile in a positive way that could bring support if he runs for something else in the future (probably a local office that doesn’t require millions of dollars).
Other candidates facing long odds in their races should take note.
As I was typing this story up, Frerick endorsed Cindy Axne.
by Pat Rynard