Talking to voters during the 2020 campaign

I apologize for not updating everyone on my campaigning for state representative. Every time I thought about writing what’s been going on, I opted instead to focus on talking to people from the district rather than writing about talking to people from the district.
Over the past fourteen years, my State Rep had only two Democratic opponents, running unopposed in four out of six elections. In March, I threw my name in the ring as a bit of a minor protest. In June, when I became the official Democratic candidate, rather than release my own personal platform, I chose to find out the issues people from my town are most interested.
“Hello. My name is Jason Kutchma. I live here in Nampa and I am the Democratic candidate for state representative from our district, District 13. I’m calling to find your biggest concerns about our town or state and if there’s anything a state representative could do about those concerns.”
I didn’t have much experience talking politics with strangers. If my tense talks with friends and family were any indication, I was going to need a lot of practice. I started calling Democrats figuring they would be more forgiving to my fumbling and bumbling. Ten percent hung up when they realized it was a political call. Ten percent wanted to talk about Trump. I told them I was running for state rep and my focus was solely on local or state issues. About ten percent wanted to talk about Biden. I told them I was running for state rep and my focus was solely on state issues. Most took some time to think about their answer. The biggest issues were education, property tax, COVID response, growth, and transportation.
I attempted to contact about 1,000 Democrats. People told me they were grateful to even have someone running. They wished me luck and asked how to donate. I told them I wasn’t taking any donations. I understand why other candidate do so but I decided to campaign solely by making calls. No signs. No ads. People asked if they could volunteer. I told them I was grateful but this first time out, I wanted to run as a one-person operation and see how it goes.
In some states, if you aren’t registered as either major party, you are considered an Independent. In Idaho, you are instead called Unaffiliated. I attempted to call about six to seven hundred Unaffiliated. Ten percent hung up. Ten percent wanted to talk about Biden. Ten percent wanted to talk about Trump. A few people told me my chances of winning were next to nothing. I told them I was running because I believe people should have a choice. No candidate should stroll unopposed into office year after year after year. Most were surprised a candidate was calling them and even more shocked to find the candidate was not asking for either their vote or their money but rather their opinion.The Unaffiliated’s biggest issues were education, property tax, COVID response, growth, and transportation.
I then attempted to call Republicans, about four to five hundred. Ten percent hung up. Ten percent wanted to talk about Biden. Ten percent wanted to talk about Trump. Many couldn’t understand why a Democrat called them. Some stated they never voted for a Democrat and didn’t plan on starting this year. I told them why I was running. I told them I believe in a marketplace of ideas and solutions. I told them I called to find out their biggest concerns with our state or town, trying to find consensus among the Republicans and the Unaffiliateds and the Democrats. Their biggest issues were education, property tax, COVID response, growth, and transportation.
Regardless of party, there was constant corralling our talk to concentrate on local issues.
People are well aware of the problems in cities several thousand miles away from their own. They might even know great detail of troubles halfway across the globe. And they are anxious, and in some cases insistent, in expressing their personal solution to these national and international problems occurring several states or continents away. Though I might have been interested in those conversations, I reminded people I am running for State Representative and most of the issues I’d deal with are from a state perspective.
People took a few moments of consideration. In some cases they asked “What would be a local issue?” or “What are other people saying?”
Education, property tax, COVID response, growth, and transportation.
More than a few folks had excellent, applicable suggestions on solving these problems. I am grateful for their input. Two of these suggestions, one from a Democrat and one from a Republican, became part of my platform, responses to a questionnaire from the local newspapers.
My route of campaigning was not an easy process. Idaho is a deep red state and I had many contentious calls, brief talks with people who are antagonistic to my party: life-long Republicans, indifferent Unaffiliateds, former Democrats, and yes, current Democrats. But I also had many, many more calls where we discussed common ground and, after an hour or so of talking, I believe found paths forward promoting our general welfare. For every one deflating call, there were ten others ending, “I don’t know if I’ll ever vote for a Democrat. I never have yet. But I’m sure glad I picked up the phone and had this talk with you. What was your name again?”
In a year full of red and blue protests and riots, it seems the most radical thing I could’ve done is talk to people.
I have no illusions of winning. The numbers are too daunting. My district has about 21,000 voters. There are only 2,800 registered Democrats. Yet though I’m not optimistic about winning, I am optimistic about all the other reasons I decided to run: providing choice for my community, finding solutions to complex problems for my state, assuaging fears I and my neighbors have about our collective future.
Over the next few months, I plan on writing and posting some of the conversations I had with folks. While the memory is still fresh, I should document them. I am fairly certain I’ll run again for some public office and these writings might serve as a platform.
A few years ago, I heard someone speak at a conference, a former candidate from Texas named Dorothea Ockar. She talked about her campaign to become a U.S. Representative from Fort Worth, a high stakes campaign, big money and time and effort. It was a very hard run that she did with a lot of grit. Though she didn’t win, she did well. She’s tough and I admired her fortitude.
She took questions at the end of the speech. Someone asked what was her biggest takeaway from running.
She thought for a moment then said, “It was the hardest thing I ever did that I can’t wait to do again.”