Candidates need to know when to leave campaign and aid party

When the train stops moving, it’s time to get off.  This valuable advice is not only for men of the road (hobos), but politicians.

This week the train stopped moving for Rick Santorum. It had been running out of steam for a while, but once it pulled into Pennsylvania, he saw it was time to get off. Sen. Santorum did a great job of turning a shoestring candidacy into a real voice for an important segment of the national conversation, but that voice was becoming a little shrill and beginning to damage the ultimate objective of his candidacy: the replacement of Barack Obama in the White House.

While there were undoubtedly personal issues in Santorum’s decision to pull out, the prospect of losing the Republican primary in his own state had to be a sobering realization. Losing his Senate seat by one of the largest margins in modern politics had cast enough of a pall over his ability to win in a national election, but as polls tightened in Pennsylvania and 74 percent of the Republican national electorate thought Mitt Romney would be the nominee, many felt that Santorum’s continuation of a primary battle had crossed the Rubicon from helpful to harmful.

The danger of suffering a primary loss in the state where voters know you best is that it might not just put a politician out of the race, but could marginalize him and destroy his hope of being a serious player in the future.

The other thing that happens when a politician won’t get out of the way as the speedometer approaches zero is that he runs the risk of appearing selfish and vindictive. That’s not as much of a stumbling block in today’s political arena as it used to be, but it’s still not the best approach. Newt Gingrich was running this risk until he recently dialed back his rhetoric and now appears to be campaigning on a sort of book tour.

Local politicians can have the same problems, sometimes more so as it seems more personal. Recently, I read in The Daily Sentinel that a candidate who failed to make it on the ballot at one of the county conventions decided he was going to run as a write-in candidate, but only in the primary, so as not to harm his party’s chances in the general election.

I’m not sure how that really hangs together, since it seems continuing a candidacy in such a way operates as an ongoing critique of his party’s candidate and suggests that the process by which the candidate was chosen was flawed.

Same thing for primary candidates who are both on the ballot in another district, and who need to remember there is life after the primary, but harsh words live a long time. More so in a community where supporters run into each other fairly often because they belong to the same political party.

Rough talk from candidates often leads to hard feelings among their supporters, which is bad enough. But when you consider it usually divides their party’s efforts to get state and national candidates elected, it has repercussions far beyond the local office. People seldom tend to fight about one thing and then immediately work smoothly together on something else.

We do have one candidate in the commissioner’s race in Mesa County who seems to be trying to avoid all that by running sort of a stealth campaign. Former Democratic County Commissioner John Leane previously held office for one term until he was defeated by a Republican. Leane, who has always seemed like a pretty good guy, has now chosen to run as an independent, but I think I see a little of that Apple Dumpling Gang type conspiracy at work.

You will notice Democrats haven’t put up a candidate for that seat, which I think they have wisely recognized as being hard to win with a D by the candidate’s name. Someone looked at all the registered independents and figured if they get the Democrats to vote against the Republican and split the independents — Shazam! Winner.

Doesn’t ever work. Independents here are mostly conservative. But I appreciate a wacky scheme as much as the next guy.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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Rick, before you start guessing about the motivations of Democrats you might try interviewing one. I personally tried to find candidates for every race on the ballot. If I could have found someone to run against John Leane as a Democrat, I would have. Likewise, I tried to find someone to run for House District 54. Most Democrats have jobs that they fear losing if anyone knew that they voted with D’s. Too bad that the local GOP is so vindictive that they would actually threaten people’s jobs for voting their values and beliefs.

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