We chose to defeat incumbent Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) in Wisconsin's 8th U.S. House District for several reasons. This has been Ribble's first term in Congress; Wisconsin was a swing state in the last presidential election, and we believe we have a credible candidate given the voter demographics. Ribble himself defeated incumbent Steve Kagen by a 10% margin in 2010, which mirrored the prior two presidential elections, when Wisconsin in general voted 55% for Bush in 2004 but then gave Obama 54% in 2008 (Proximity 2011). We hope to repeat that in District 8 ("CD 8"), if we can turn Ribble's 55% lead over Kagen around. A quick lay-of-the-land scan suggests that given a fractured GOP and vocal discontent with Obama, the time will be right for a strong independent to take WI CD8 in 2012. While Ribble enjoys clear strategic advantages as an incumbent, this campaign plan outlines in detail how we will not only overcome these, but unify apparently irreconcilable constituencies across our district.
The U.S. Census Bureau's "Fast Facts for Congress" (2010a) reveals a 92% white, suburban, lower-middle class electorate, 49.9% male, 57% married, with a higher high-school graduation rate than the U.S. average but lower than national college education rate, one percent more civilian veterans, about a fourth of the share of immigrants than the national average, and a fifth of the national Latino average. Labor force participation rate in CD-8 is 4% higher than national rates, but per capita, household and family median incomes are all at least a thousand dollars less than U.S. average, although individuals and families below poverty level were both below national averages by about 3% in 2010. CD-8 is about 2% higher than the U.S. In age, with 14.2% over 65, and a median age of 39.3 years compared to the national 36.5.
Ribble styles himself perfectly within these demographics at home, as an upstanding, white male business leader, president of several construction firms; a hometown boy made good through hard work, Christian ethics and the American way. During this his first term in Congress he sponsored four bills, none of which passed (OpenCongress 2011). While this demonstrates an admirable attempt for any junior Rep., we will use all these attributes and demographics to defeat him in 2012, even though he enjoys the usual incumbent advantages of free mail and travel, and taxpayer-funded staff. Though daunting, even our opponent was able to overcome these incumbent advantages through aggressive campaign strategy.
Incumbents typically enjoy greater name recognition than challengers due to their exposure and involvement in public events, organizations and the like. We considered running our candidate for several Wisconsin House districts and even the Senate, but chose D-8 largely because Ribble has not yet finished his first term and has yet to accomplish any significant legislation. The other strategic way we overcome this typical incumbent advantage is through superior name recognition: Our candidate happens to be Carrie Lee Dodgson, wife of the late Gaylord Nelson Dodgson, elected District-8 Representative ten times before finally being unseated in 1992. Rep. Dodgson passed away in 2005, and after half a decade Mrs. Dodgson, now aged 61, has decided to carry on her husband's work by taking back first District 8 and then ultimately the Wisconsin Senate. While Ribble may have the incumbent's advantage at the moment, when we unveil Mrs. Dodgson, no one will remember he was ever there.
Another advantage incumbents usually enjoy is raising funds in and out of district. Challengers often find it difficult to raise a few thousand dollars until they can hire professionals, but Mrs. Dodgson has spent the last twenty years gathering millions as a volunteer or as paid development director for many of Wisconsin's largest charities, including the state United Way; the Milwaukee and Madison Art Museums; the National Association of University Women, and a career's worth of charitable organizations around the region. While none of these nonprofits may donate to political campaigns without specific IRS designation, Carrie's address book contains the wealthiest and most active donors in the state, including both Senators, whom she has often entertained at home, and none of whom appear on Ribble's donor list with the Federal Election Commission (n.d.). Ribble may style himself a business player but Rep. Dodgson left his wife an estate worth over $80 million, ten million of which he set aside for her to continue his political work, including running for office. Carrie enters this race with a war chest of $1 million of her own funds, and aims to outraise Ribble four to one.
Ribble's donor list in fact reveals strategic weakness because it only matches part of the CD-8 demographic. Mostly comprised of building and trade associations, insurance and banking corporations, right-wing foundations and lobbying groups, totally absent are a number of powerful constituencies the Dodgson campaign will capture, which carry some of the highest participation rates in the electorate. While Ribble was born and raised in Appleton (D-8), Mrs. Dodgson comes from an iron mining family in Cary, one district west, and worked her way through Green Bay's Bellin Nursing College, after which she deployed to Viet Nam with the U.S. Army, where she met Mr. Dodgson before his first House election back home. Her opponent may claim to have worked himself to the top, but in truth it was the top of Daddy's firm, while the Dodgson constituency includes organized labor; nurses; higher education; the 50.1% of eligible D-8 women, who incidentally earn consistently less than men in Ribble's district despite higher education rates (U.S. Census 2010a), and as she approaches 65, the higher-than-average local population of seniors.
These constituencies will support Carrie in the field. While incumbents typically try to campaign on their self-styled personas rather than issues (Sidlow 74), especially junior representatives who haven't had the opportunity to demonstrate leadership yet, Mrs. Dodgson will easily outshine Ribble by promoting other constituencies along the campaign trail. While Ribble is mailing all the free fliers he wants, we will host fundraisers for local charities; promote nursing scholarships to Bellin College; and help prepare taxes for seniors with the AARP at the VA hospital. All of these will attract far more media attention than any paid radio spot or cable t.v. ad, especially when promoted (free) on whatever viral media is happening next fall. Targeting these large groups will go much farther than trying to court either party's meager $5,000 donations and whatever lukewarm staff or volunteer support they might deign to offer. We can donate that much to student groups and bring out hordes of coeds from the local universities to every event we hold. In fact this will become one theme of the larger strategy, Vibrant youth (a la Obama '08 / MoveOn / ROP etc.) interacting with seniors (Carrie, and some well-placed volunteers). Why? To overshadow Ribble's bland, white male personality and force him to campaign over issues, where he will lose.
Vibrant youth interacting with seniors as campaign theme is not by accident. "These are the people who will be paying our Social Security" is deliberately aimed at engaging two groups who vote early and vote often, seniors, and the parents who will become seniors over the Baby Boom. College students may not vote as often as adults and elders, but they look great on YouTube, love to canvas, the women attract men, and the men get involved to impress the coeds. Ribble has none of these groups. Remember the coeds from Bellin are nursing students, hence the senior tie-in. This also ties into the Nurses' and Teachers' unions, two of the most powerful lobbies in the state; and then the rest of the union movement, especially since Carrie's father was a local union iron worker. Union representation has dwindled to about 14% in Wisconsin (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011), but these groups are vocal, vote as a bloc, and make it to the polls in far higher concentration than Rubble's unemployed construction workers or religious fundamentalists. These are viral groups who will Get Out The Vote for us without extensive canvassing on Carrie's part, so she can spend time at high-exposure events Ribble can't attend from D.C.
The other reason we are declaring independent is not only because both parties have so little to offer, but in order to take away Ribble's votes after we have captured the constituencies he ignored throughout his term in office. Ribble's 'working man's candidate' home style is a particularly vulnerable stance considering construction is one of the fastest-shrinking employment sectors across the nation and Wisconsin; that despite a higher-than-average homeownership rate CD-8 has nearly double the national home vacancy rate, and lower median average home values than the rest of the nation (U.S. Census 2010b). Why put a new roof on a house that'll just be foreclosed on by the very banks that funded Ribble's last campaign? No wonder all the roofers are out of work: Ribble represents the mortgage brokers, not the worker-homeowners. We want…