What does Curren need to do?
There were no polls, as one of the candidates for the Republican Party nomination in the 20th, Dickie Bell, famously tried to assert upon the departure of State Del. Chris Saxman from the 20th District race two weeks ago, but conventional wisdom would have had Saxman ahead of Democrat Erik Curren if there had been a poll to back that notion up.
That same conventional wisdom has Curren in a much better position in the 20th whether it’s Bell, the apparent favorite for the nomination, or any of the others from among the seven-candidate GOP field that he’s up against this fall.
How you can tell – the Curren camp is redoubling its efforts, if that’s possible, given how hard the team was working before.
“I wouldn’t have thought we could work any harder, either, but it’s amazing what you can find when you have to do it. And yeah, we’re working harder. And the fundraising has gotten easier,” Curren told me.
And that last part is perhaps the most important part. It’s not overstating it to say that prior to Saxman’s stunning announcement that he would not seek a fifth term in the House of Delegates on July 17 Curren was flailing at best in the crucial fundraising race. As of June 30, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project, Curren had raised just $8,516, with $2,742 of that being in-kind donations for printing and campaign incidentals and another $1,382 of that coming from Curren’s personal coffers.
My guess is he’s going to need at least $75,000 to be at all viable in November, and that he’s probably going to need a good bit more than that to be able to guarantee that he gets his message out to voters across the 20th, which is served by two TV markets, in Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, which itself means money will be at a premium to get ads up on the air in October and early November.
“That’s one of the basic ground rules of campaigning – it doesn’t matter how good your message is, if you don’t have money, you can’t get it out to people. What I’m encouraging everyone to do is reach down deep, even in tough times, and support our candidates,” said Rockingham County Democratic Committee chairman Lowell Fulk, who knows a thing or two about running a House of Delegates campaign in the Central Shenandoah Valley, coming just short in two runs for the 26th District seat in 2003 and 2005.
The Curren campaign has been in touch with the Democratic Party of Virginia, Tim Kaine’s Moving Virginia Forward PAC and the campaigns of Democratic state delegates and state senators across the Commonwealth to let everybody know what it is doing to get its message to voters and that it will need help to be able to do so. The message back to the campaign: Raise your seed money in your home district first to show us what you’re made of, and then we’ll talk.
The advice of 2003 24th Senate District nominee Steven Sisson could help in that respect. “Every day of the campaign, I went down the list and called just about every individual on the list and asked for a donation during the eight-month campaign,” Sisson recalled from his ’03 run. “I called during lulls in the campaign, in the vehicles traveling to events and wherever I had wireless reception. These phone calls generated about 80 percent of my funds raised. I believe that I had over 200 individual donations in the campaign. As a candidate, you need to be diligent with the effort, often repeating calls to you have an answer and returning to donors to request more funds.”
One thing that Sisson didn’t have and to a degree Fulk didn’t, either, is scads of early media attention. Curren has had that and more. “We’ve had so much media coverage. Looking at other campaigns around the state, some of them are lucky to get even half a dozen stories during the whole election cycle. We’ve gotten probably 50 stories in the past three months, and that really helps. Each time something comes out, we get more attention,” said Curren, who you have to say was able to turn a potential negative in the form of an attack from fellow Democrat, Augusta County Board of Supervisors member Tracy Pyles, on his religious beliefs and turn it into something that has become very much a positive.
The attention on the Curren campaign in the wake of the news regarding Saxman was another big plus for the Democrat.
The next several weeks heading into Labor Day and the unofficial official kickoff to the fall sprint to the polls will be crucial. If Curren can generate buzz that in turn translates to local fundraising success, that local fundraising success can then turn into bigger money that can fuel an October charge akin to what we saw out of the Tom Perriello upset in the Fifth District congressional race last year.
“Upsets happen. Jim Webb happened. Yes, I think we can do it,” Curren said.
It’s an uphill battle in any case, because you have to remember, the 20th was carved out of the Valley in the 2000-2001 redistricting as what Republicans envisioned as a safe GOP seat in the reddest part of Virginia. But that of course was before Barack Obama won a majority in Staunton in the heart of the district on his way to winning the state in 2008.
“I do feel like after Obama, Warner, Webb, that this area is more primed for a Democratic candidate, a moderate, bipartisan Democratic candidate, than it has been in a decade or two,” Curren said.
He’s got a few weeks to try to prove it.
– Story by Chris Graham