Eclectablog and DownWithTyranny are looking with excitement at the possible entry of Trevor Thomas into the race for the Third Congressional. The reasoning is two-fold, first that Justin Amash is weak relative to the Republican Party, he’s an outsider, even an extremist. All true. Second that Thomas would bring a strong progressive resume to the race. Here’s how DWT describes him:
Trevor grew up in the district; his parents worked 30 years each on factory lines, including General Motors and Delphi plants.
Trevor, who spent five years as a producer and reporter at WOOD-TV and WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids, went on to work for Governor Jennifer Granholm and later helped lead the national effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And he’s done his legwork, meeting with local electeds in the district since November and charting a well-thought out, early grassroots plan to win.
There’s a lot in Trevor to like, but he faces something of an uphill climb. Progressives have run in MI-3 before (Lynnes, 2002; Sanchez, 2008), none gained much traction, in part because of a strong incumbent, Vern Ehlers. Because the seat seemed so safe, it was often the territory for small, under-funded campaigns. Only with the Obama victory did it look as if the right candidate might actually take it; hence the well funded but unsuccessful campaign of Pat Miles Jr.
A progressive like Trevor faces two barriers. Financially, the race for MI-3 has become more expensive with the addition of Calhoun county (Battle Creek), forcing campaigns to wage a two-media market war. Secondly, in partisan races outside Grand Rapids, the region tends to be socially conservative, D or R,a function of underlying Catholic (principally Polish) and conservative Protestant (Dutch) communities. Winning coalitions must tap both these communities to win. Organizing the ground game will take work and plenty of allies, this is not something done by the progressives alone.
When we turn to the City proper, things look brighter, notably the creation of a safe (and progressive) state house seat (MI-75), but this will not be vacant until 2016. Our City Commission races also have glimmers of progressive leadership, particularly in the Second Ward. Likewise, the School Board has a strong progressive cast to it, as well, many having enjoyed the support of Progressive Women’s Alliance(PWA) — I think that this would be the likely pool for candidates to actually emerge.
Add to all this, we may note the changing media market itself. On one hand, the shift to social media may well benefit a young campaign with lots of smarts. Sadly for challengers, that’s the field pioneered by Rep. Amash. Any challenger will need to be at least as adept as he has shown himself to be. Second, the demise of print product in the region takes away some of the easier advertising and publicity options (and so pushes for the use of broadcast media). This too, will take finesse but also lots of cash.
In short, it will be the presence of significant financing and a clear strategy that will determine whether Thomas brings a challenge, or one more children’s crusade.