Our 9/12 Project group was formed on the first Saturday in August, and we decided that day we would like to have a Candidates’ Night in our community in mid October. The committee met the following Monday, and by the end of the week we had invited the six candidates running for United States Congressman and United States Senator in our area. The room we are planning to use has a capacity of 150, and we are pretty certain that we can fill it because we intend to send press releases to both of the local papers and the two large area newspapers, put out signs, and generally tell everyone we meet.
Then we waited.
One of the candidates had a great many questions and objections. When we had finally dealt with all of the problems in ways we thought were what he wanted, he declined anyway.
After some running around trying to find out who we really had to talk to – the candidate’s election committee or his office staff – the second candidate said no.
Another candidate, very courteously, told us he couldn’t be with us because he already had something scheduled for the date – after three weeks of waiting and more than one phone call.
The fourth candidate is waiting for the announcement of the date of a much larger debate that they must attend. If the debate organizers ever get around to announcing the date, we’ll find out.
Candidate number five has said nothing.
Only one, Jon Morris, the Libertarian running for Congress, has agreed to participate.
Suggestions for groups:
Start early. The Wednesday after the primary is not too soon. We might have gotten better responses if we had started in June or July – or maybe not.
Plan your event format and public relations campaign early as well. This gives you more credibility when you speak to the candidates and their aides. It was very helpful to have the first candidate’s questions, because it showed us we needed to get organized and to focus on what we wanted to do. The national 9/12 Project and the League of Women Voters have given us great ideas on organizing and running these events.
Be more courteous than the candidates and their aides, no matter how they treat you. They can’t say they refused to attend because of your attitude.
Have patience.
Suggestions for candidates:
The people organizing candidate events will vote. They are not possible or probable voters; they will vote. Most of us are trying to keep and open mind, otherwise we wouldn’t ask all candidates, just the ones we favor. We want to give you an opportunity to tell us why you are the best person for the job. Treat us with respect. If you are already in office, you work for us, the taxpayers/votes. If you want to be elected, you are going to work for us. We are not stupid or mentally impaired.
When someone invites me to do something I look at my datebook. If I don’t have a prior engagement I say yes or no then. If I don’t want to go I say I have a prior engagement. If I have to wait to check my schedule with someone else’s, I say so; then I call back when I said I would so the other person isn’t left dangling. I don’t wait three or four weeks to see if something I like better will show up before I give an answer.
If you don’t attend we will draw conclusions, right or wrong, about why you didn’t come. These conclusions may be influenced by the way you declined our request. Your opponents will have the opportunity to convince us that they will be the better person for the office.
In our case, we will have plenty of time to talk to Jon Morris and find out what the Libertarians think and where they stand. He will have the chance to speak with us one on one; we can come to know him as an acquaintance and build a relationship. People vote for candidates they feel they know and can trust; candidates they think will listen to them and respond to their concerns.
The future of our country depends on voters making informed decisions. Voters cannot simply rely on the campaign rhetoric on the candidates’ websites or mainstream media coverage. A candidates’ night is a way to dig deeper and find out more about the people running for office. Even the ones who don’t show up speak volumes.