Vern Wuensche in Iowa with Harlan Lekowsky, a combat engineer in the Pacific during World War II. For the last 70 years Lekowsky has been running a Des Moines plumbing supply company he founded as well as today being an award winning mediator in Iowa Small Claims Courts.
By Vern Wuensche
Running for elective office is no longer just about the money.
The presidential primary season just completed reflects this. Mitt Romney spent $110 million and did not prevail. Mike Huckabee making do with an early $300,000 came in an impressive second. Ron Paul with a message that resonated with his many internet supporters placed fifth while raising a surprising $32 million. John McCain, who started with $50 million, quickly used it all but got back to $57 million and won the Republican Party nomination. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, starting with an apparently insurmountable war chest and blue chip contributors list lost the Democrat nomination to Barack Obama whose mainstay was many internet contributions.
My judgment is based on personal experience. In February 2007, I filed for the Republican presidential nomination. I had only $40,000 to achieve my goal of doing reasonably well in at least the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary. Being a lifelong student of the presidency and a Republican activist, I was well aware that to win the nomination one must win, one, if not both, of these states. Although it was going to be the most wide open primary in seventy years, I would obviously need major breaks to do any better than reasonably well.
Over the next ten months I made many one-week trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, spending 50 days in each state. Mine was a solo campaign with no funds available to hire staff, recruit volunteers, arrange events, schedule trips, file FEC reports, design brochures, contact the media, correspond with voters or make phone calls. That the campaign was possible at all was that, although I have an MBA from the University of Texas and hold a CPA certificate, I was a small business owner with the broad skills and experience of running my own construction business with scarce resources for 33 years.
Typically, I would arrive at the Des Moines or Manchester airport with one or two pieces of brochure-laden luggage plus a 40 lb. laptop carryon bag, rent a car, and visit main street businesses and others in virtually every town in both states. I could usually cover 5 to 12 towns each day. During 2007 I made a direct pitch to over 6,000 business owners in 242 towns and cities across Iowa and New Hampshire. Occasionally I would be snowbound in a small town Super 8 motel with icy roads requiring that I walk to a nearby McDonalds to eat.
The result was satisfying. Among those candidates campaigning full time in the first two states, I placed tenth in the Iowa Caucuses and tenth in the New Hampshire Primary, spending a total of $36,000. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani placed sixth in Iowa, spending $60 million. Former Senator Fred Thompson placed sixth in New Hampshire, spending $23 million. And Congressman Duncan Hunter, who spent $2.5 million, won the Texas straw poll, and was included in presidential debates for over a year, placed seventh—three places ahead of me. Sam Brownback with $4 million and Tom Tancredo with $7 million quit before Iowa and New Hampshire and did not finish at all. One may surmise from all this that even without instant internet funding someone of average means and intelligence can compete and do reasonably well without a lot of money. And as proven by Ron Paul, if the internet works well for you lack of money will not be the issue.
After New Hampshire as it was obvious that I would not prevail, I did not file in the Texas Republican Primary. Almost no one in Texas even knows that I ran. Or who I am.
But when you compare my background with all the celebrity candidates it becomes quickly apparent that celebrities have little greater ability than the rest of us. They do have more money, they are known and they may have held public office. But their values, judgment on the issues and decision making skill are rarely shown to be any better than those of average people we see every day.
Yet some believe that only by holding public office one should be allowed to run for the nation’s highest office. The public probably disagrees. They have elected no sitting congressman and only three Senators to the presidency in the last 130 years, despite many who have run. Significantly, if experience was so important most in Congress should by now be doing a near perfect job because they have been there so long.
The public desires decision makers and usually elects governors. Yet most business owners have equal decision making skill. They are forced to. Having meager resources, their businesses will fail over a few bad decisions. And an added quality is that their values are usually above reproach. Their good reputation is everything to them. Irrespective of their religious or moral stance, since that reputation takes years to build, it is simply impractical to be other than honest in dealing with others and jeopardize losing it.
If a few thousand candidates of my background and means had run in both party’s primaries, by simple probability at least one, in Ron Paul fashion, might have received funding, broken out from the pack and voters might then have had the opportunity to choose a value based, skillful and common sense problem solver to better lead America.
The entire 2008 website is located in The Library of Congress.