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So you want to replace your Congressman (yourself)

Advice for those considering running for Congress. To get elected you have to run a campaign. Running a campaign is like starting a small business, one that is funded entirely by donations. You have to hire a team, fundraise, give them direction, fundraise, open offices, fundraise, figure out marketing, fundraise, create posters and flyers, fundraise, make ads, fundraise, run ads, fundraise… Oh, and there is a lot of fundraising. The typical congressional run costs about $10 million. That amount has to be raised in the form of donations every two years. The Senate is a different game, and that one is a bit more expensive to vastly more expensive, depending on the state. Now you can imagine how someone who spends half of their time (actual statistic) calling rich people for campaign contributions spends a whole lot more time listening to the concerns and perspectives of rich people than those of the statistically average American.

So let’s say you win. Then you have to figure out how to live in DC. Almost all congressmen are independently wealthy. I think the average net worth is about $2 million. It is either family money, or spousal money, or money they earned in a previous career. Some are worth nearly $1 billion. That kind of explains why the votes come out the way they do. Oh, and you can’t use campaign money for living expenses. And it kind of looks bad if you crash in the spare room of a wealthy backer. But living in DC on a budget can be done. $2 million is the average net worth. There are quite a few who are worth a whole lot less (Bernie Sanders being just one). Some even sleep in their offices. Congress is in session less than half of the days of the year. So many Congressmen go back to their home districts during the many recesses. This is one reason some choose to sleep in cots in their offices rather than buy a house in DC, which happens to be one of the most expensive housing markets in the US.

A surprising number of congressmen run unopposed. This happens in quite a lot of districts, typically where the district is heavily gerrymandered to be a safe Republican or Democratic seat. And a lot of times, even when there is an opposing candidate, that candidate gets no support from the state or national party, because they have no chance. I was once represented by a congressman who had a $20 million campaign war chest, and his opponent was a local small businessman whose entire campaign spending was $45,000. So while the winner was not technically unopposed, it wasn’t a real contest. This happens on both sides of the aisle; it is just as likely in a Democratic district as in a Republican one.

So what do you do as a moderate in a district with an extremist in office. First, be realistic. The district is heavily gerrymandered. The incumbent only worries about the primary, because whoever wins the primary is guaranteed the general election. And most times, and especially on the Republican side, incumbents are more worried about a challenge from the right. After all, they are the establishment now, and anti-establishment fervor is strong on the right at the moment. So you could mount a challenge as a moderate Republican in the primaries, especially if you live in a district that will never elect a Democrat. And, if on the off chance you prevail in the primaries, the Republican establishment will make sure you don’t lose the general election. On the other hand, you may have more luck as an independent. I foresee many more moderate Republicans opting to run as independents.

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