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I must not have hid my disappointment very well, because she responded in kind, "Five dollars might not mean much to you, but it should."
She continued, "My husband died two weeks ago. I can barely afford feeding my baby girl, much less waste money on a politician. ... So, DON'T LET ME DOWN!"
I felt terrible; truly ashamed. I had lost perspective on why I had gotten into the race to begin with.
The pundits may trivialize political fund-raising as a numbers game. But it's the human capital of a small donation, or a handshake, or a conversation which is really the highest form of political currency.
I believe most every politician has a genuine desire to serve honorably when first pursuing a political vocation. But one of the most serious and palpable effects of fund-raising is the growing disconnectedness between the "haves" and the "have nots."
I deeply respect many of the Democratic Party values. But I was surprised to see just how out of touch the party leadership is. Hardly ever did I see candidates or party leaders in the poorest sections of Arkansas. With the foundation of the party built on serving the "underserved," we seemed too far removed to truly understand what we paid lip service to.
And let me be clear, this isn't an attempt to place blame. If any one is to blame, it starts with me. But ultimately, it's a matter of priority. And when candidates and their parties are forced to spend a majority of their time with the elite few to meet our fund-raising needs, then we become disconnected from the realities on the ground and the values we preach.
If I had to guess, the results of this election will ultimately reflect that.
Not having money was not always a bad thing. I might have been the poorest politician, but I was also the freest politician. But what largely allowed me to do so was the equalizing effect of social media.
On the night before the first-quarter financial reports were due, I was struggling with how to notify the media about my less-than-stellar fund-raising numbers. After several weeks of good media exposure and a Talk Business poll showing me in third place, just a few points behind Wills, I knew that once the numbers were released I'd return to being the black sheep of the candidates.
When I read online that another primary opponent David Boling and Robbie had both released their numbers early along with their new campaign ads, I had never been more disappointed in the media. Not policy, not ideas, not substance, but money and, yes, campaign ads suddenly qualified as news.
I feel confident saying pretty much every normal person abhors campaign ads. I mean, I can't imagine any of my friends saying, "Man, I'm so pumped about seeing that new Boozman commercial. It's going to be sick."
I called my campaign director around 2:30 the next morning. "We've got to flip this," I said.
Half asleep, she responded, "Yeah, OK. We'll flip it."
"Don't know. We'll think of something."
Ten minutes passed — I called her again ... and then again. Until, finally, she answered "Shut up! And go to bed!"
"Well, I'm not going to bed and neither are you until we figure this out."
After a long pause, she chirped, "Fine, you want an idea? Five-second ad."
"Make a 5-second ad poking fun that you can't afford a real one."
"OK, great. I'm shutting my phone off. Goodnight!"
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