What can Democrats do to encourage non-career politicians to run for office?

One trend that I noticed among the senate races this last year was that Democratic candidates with non-political backgrounds did better than the traditional politicians. Let’s look at the close races. Mark Kelly (astronaut), Raphael Warnock (preacher), and Jon Ossoff (journalist) won, while Sara Gideon (former Maine House speaker) and Cal Cunningham (lawyer and former state senator) lost. The only exception was John Hickenlooper in Colorado.

My guess is that had the Democrats ran whoever the Georgia and Arizona Democratic state house or senate leaders are, they would have done worse than Kelly, Warnock, and Ossoff. The question for Democrats then is how can they find more quality grassroots candidates. To put a name out there, I think Stephen King would probably have been able to knock off Susan Collins. I think Jeff Vandermeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy and a strong environmentalist, could knock off Marco Rubio on 2022 if he can be convinced to run. I’m sure there are some others out there as well, good people who could run against Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, for Rob Portman’s seat that he is vacating, and so on. Any good ideas on how to get some non-traditional candidates to run?

Do we have any proof that’s the reason they won? This year, there are a lot of confounding variables that could have skewed the results- they could have run in districts that were so sick of Trump and the GOP that they’d have voted for a dog rather than a Republican.

That said, I think the way to do what you’re asking for is to figure out how to make it less financially difficult for non-politicians to run. I mean, there are probably a LOT of smart and good people who’d like to run for down-ballot offices, but who don’t have the money to participate in a primary, much less a larger election.

I do think I’d temper that by requiring some GOP-style party discipline; i.e. you follow the party platform, etc… or we yank your funding. Or if your avowed views are pretty far outside the party line, then you don’t get funding, etc…

I think you need to distinguish between being in politics from being a politician.

Warnock, for example, was extremely active in politics leading up to his senate run. I think seeking political office was a natural step from his political work.

Yeah I really would want some rigorous data analysis with a larger sample before concluding there is a causal link. Not least since two were close results from the same state where Donald Trump attacked state GOP leaders while peddling crazy conspiracy theories.

Get money out of politics.

I think publicly funded elections is by far the most effective step we could take to encourage better political participation among all parties, not just Democrats.

And that’s the thing, is that the OP is talking about people who did not come up from down ballot offices, but went straight from non-political life to running for federal office.

IMHO, the biggest weakness the Democrats have is the down ballot. These people that the OP mentions didn’t run because they were outsiders from the political system, they ran because there weren’t any quality down ballot candidates to move up to a Senate seat.

I would say that a much better question is how to get quality people to start running for their local offices, and start working their way up.

I agree that it’s not as clear cut as “career politicians” versus “non-political backgrounds.” The three “non-politicians” cited all have some background in or exposure to electoral politics. In addition to Warnock, Mark Kelly is famously married to former Representative Gabby Giffords. Jon Ossoff previously ran in the most expensive House race in U.S. history in 2017. These are not political neophytes. On the flip side, Cal Cunningham served one term as an NC state senator from 2001-2003, hardly a “career politician.”

Running “non-politicians” for Senator or other big-time office is a double-edged sword. A non-political background and biography can be an attractive selling point for a candidate, and can help a candidate connect with voters. But they can also be less vetted and more prone to mistakes than candidates who have run successful campaigns for lower offices. I’m particularly reminded of Christine “I’m not a Witch” O’Donnell in the 2010 Delaware Senate race.

Cynthia Nixon in NY governor’s race is another example. I think broadening the scope is valuable, but it puzzles me that people think that being successful in politics requires less skill, experience, and expertise than other professions. You need people with skills and experience, not only to develop good ideas but also to know how to implement them.

I think the better question is how do we get people with more diversity in lived experience into the pipeline, so they’ll be ready to run for office, thus broadening the pool of viable candidates.

Were they talking about Federal offices though? That’s the example they gave, but I took it to mean in the general sense, and with the intention of answering your last question.

That’s why I said that they probably need to remove the financial requirement as much as they can; there might be fantastic and qualified people for say… city council, county commissioner or state legislative positions, but who can’t really afford to run for office, especially people of color or of other disadvantaged populations.

To use a personal example, I might consider running for office some day, but I’m not a lawyer or business owner, and don’t have much in the way of money that I’d be willing to spend just to try. So it’s unlikely that I ever will actually run as a result.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, whatever you think of her, beat one of the most powerful congressmen there was at the time and she was working as a bartender when she did it. That was three years ago and she was 29(ish…I forget exactly).

I’m not saying it is easy but clearly it is possible.

Possible, but far from encouraging, I’d say. It seems like the people who run are either someone with effectively nothing to lose financially (AOC), or people with money to burn. I can’t help but feel that there are lots of terrific potential candidates in the middle.

It’s as if having the means to mount a campaign is a de-facto gatekeeping mechanism- almost like the thinking is “if you can’t be successful enough to afford your own campaign, you have no business running for office.” Which is absolute bullshit, and that’s the point I’m trying to make.

The OP was only giving federal offices as examples, so that’s how I took it.

Local and state offices don’t usually pay all that well anyway, they are part time jobs, and you are generally going to need to keep your day job.

I’ve discussed running for a couple local offices in the past, but I do own a business, and don’t have either money or time for it.

Also, I’d be running as a Democrat in a pretty red area, so have virtually no chance of winning, and have a decent chance of having politics interfere with my business.

Arising out of the Womens’ March and the range of other organizing activities of the last several years, a number of progressive groups have started “how to get into politics” workshops that include continued support for good identified candidates. There’s a number of exiting local folks that started out this way, that I’m tracking and sometimes supporting at the local and state level right now. Some orgs are marketed at specific groups that aren’t traditionally represented in politicians (e.g. “get some scientists in office”). At the starting-out level, support networks like this don’t have to be huge to get people going.

Emily’s List has been doing this for a very long time, as well. They focus not only on high profile positions, but emphasize local and state elections.


Sure, she was a waitress… a waitress who had interned for Ted Kennedy in college, and who had worked on the Sanders campaign two years before. Her rise was definitely meteoric, but she wasn’t a complete political neophyte .

Wasn’t John Ossoff more well-known for being a staffer for the late John Lewis than as a journalist when he first ran for office?

TV journalist Abby Broyles got beaten badly in her 2020 run for senate in Oklahoma, but probably no worse than anybody else would have done in running against Inhofe.

  • Donald Trump
  • Sarah Palin
  • Marjorie Taylor Greene
  • Lauren Boebert
  • Michele Bachman

If those brain-dead, whack-a-doodle nutjobs can get elected anyone can.

(they were just off the top of my head…I am sure there are more)

Conservative voters elected all the brain-dead, whack-a-doodle nutjobs in your example. This thread is about how to encourage political aspirants who can appeal to voters with better ethical judgement and critical thinking skills.