Academic journal article Policy Review

How I Won

Academic journal article Policy Review

How I Won

Article excerpt

It rapidly is becoming clear that 1994 will be the most important year in American politics since the 1980 race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Abandoning his "New Democratic" tax promises in the 1992 elections, President Clinton is unabashedly identifying the Democratic Party with the old-time religion of a large and activist federal government. The congressional elections of 1994 will be the first real opportunity for voters to say whether they agree with this direction.

If the Democratic Party maintains its overwhelming majority in both Houses of Congress in 1994, then the Reagan Revolution truly will be over, and the federal government will likely grow in size and intrusiveness into American life. If, however, the Republican Party makes substantial gains, then there is a good chance that the Clinton presidency will be just a temporary interruption in the downsizing of central government. These choices were muddied in 1992 because Mr. Clinton ran to the right of President Bush on many taxing and spending issues. In 1994, the choices will be clearer.

If Republicans want to make major gains in Congress, they will have to run more effective campaigns than they did in 1992. Even with George Bush at the top of the ticket, the GOP should have picked up at least 25 or 30 seats in the House last November, simply as the result of redistricting and public unhappiness with incumbents in Washington, most of whom were Democrats. Instead, the GOP picked up only 10 seats.

The good news for the GOP is that its 47-member freshman class in the House is filled with energy and talent, and is a goldmine of information about how to run for office in the 1990s. Winning congressional elections is a matter of effective campaign strategy and organization as well as picking the right issues to win voters' confidence. The new Republican members of Congress had to do both.

Policy Review asked eight GOP freshmen to explain how they won House races in districts that could not be assumed to be automatic Republican victories. Their stories follow.

WILLIAM P. BAKER (R-CA)

How did I win my race for Congress? By outrunning bullets.

We started running seriously in December 1991. My campaign raised over $600,000. We recruited 1,000 precinct workers. We set up card tables at 40 shopping centers to pass out literature and register Republican voters.

We ran an old-fashioned grass-roots political campaign. While today's campaigns rely almost exclusively on television and direct mail, ours focused on getting out and actually meeting voters. We made phone calls, passed out flyers, and hung signs.

Our people knocked on every door in the district. We also held about 65 coffees in voters' homes, where I would meet with neighbors to learn what was on their minds and to discuss where I stood on major issues. This proved to be an effective way of overcoming many of the stereotypes in the media about conservative Republicans. Typically about 20 or 25 neighbors would meet with me. The coffees were a perfect opportunity to recruit campaign volunteers, and also to show that here was one politician who was not out of touch. As a congressman, I will continue to hold these types of neighborhood meetings whenever I'm back in the district.

I ran on three principal issues: balancing the federal budget; maintaining a strong defense; and improving transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 10th District is located in suburbs east of San Francisco in an area known as the East Bay.

I argued that the federal budget could be balanced in three- and-a-half years if we had an across-the-board freeze on spending. I didn't campaign against specific spending programs, each of which has its own constituency. Instead, I said $1.5 trillion was enough for the federal government to spend, and freezing expenditures at that level would force Congress to do a better job setting priorities, and would force federal agencies to prioritize within their own departments. …

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