The Pursuit of Happiness

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We’ve heard the advice “Think globally, shop locally.” It’s good advice, but who applies it to politics? In the last election, everyone had an opinion about Old Marmalade Brains and the Methodist in the Mao jacket, but hardly anyone paid attention to local candidates for offices such as town constable, the Quorum Court, or County Clerk. And fewer than half of eligible voters even bothered to show up at the polls.

After Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over George McGovern in 1972, someone asked Malcom Moos, a Republican Party operative, if Nixon’s coattails were long enough to help down ballot candidates.

“Coattails!” Moos exclaimed. “Hell, the guy wasn’t even wearing a tee-shirt.”

Moos’s retort marked a growing recognition of the lessening impact national races have on local elections. Do candidates for federal offices – president, senators, and congressional representatives – help down ballot candidates win or lose elections? Not much. But the opposite is true: robust and consistent effort by local political parties focusing on local offices is a rising tide that lifts all candidates. If you want Steve Womack – or Josh Mahoney – to represent you in Congress, the most effective strategy is to get excited about Quorum Court races.

Republicans are better than Democrats at shopping locally. In 2016, Republicans won something like 1,425 contests vs. 420 wins by Democrats. This is partly due to Republican control of redistricting, and to gerrymandering, with the result that a rural red tail wags the blue national dog. But it’s also because Democrats are good at thinking globally and conspicuously bad at shopping locally. Democrats can tell you all about climate change, but don’t know a thing about how USDA Rural Development and Farm Service Agency dollars are disappearing in the Trump administration.

Candidates for a Carroll County office need to file between February 22 and March 1, 2018. That’s plenty of lead time for them to learn why rural internet is going to get way slower – and cost more, too – and what immigration law has to do with Carroll County’s impending critical shortage of doctors. Candidates need to let voters know that there’s local skin in the national game.

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