Tomorrow morning Steve Pestka joins Trevor Thomas in the race for the Third Congressional.
Pestka brings a solid record as a moderate, pro-life Democrat, a background that has attracted attacks by some, as well as spurred doubts by progressives in the community. To date, none have gone public with their misgivings.
Thomas has a local connection (Wyoming native, GVSU graduate) and comes off of a big win for the overturning of Dont Ask Don’t Tell. This work has brought him to national attention, at least in the LGBT communities. And Thomas is also young, 28.
Both are driven by a combination of the redrawn lines of the Third, and by the staunchly conservative stands taken by the incumbent, Justin Amash. Add to this that the prospect that 2012 may in fact look like 2008 (so Ruy Teixiera), the candidacy becomes hot property. In 2008, the new district basically broke even in its vote for Obama (177,195 McCain, 180,021 Obama).
If the district looks like a possible win, how are the two Dems ready for the challenge?
The heart of that goes to the MIRS poll, reported in Politico,
The first test of an Amash-Pestka match up comes out 50 percent to 39 percent in favor of the incumbent.
This is basically name-recognition. Here, the incumbent has an advantage, though the rest of the poll shows just how shaky that lead is. For Thomas, these numbers represent a different practical challenge. Despite his local roots, he does not possess the name recognition of Pestka; any successful campaign then will demand major upfront work introducing himself. Making this more challenging will be the necessity of launching this campaign early — the sooner, the better. At the early stages of a campaign, name recognition translates into significant financial advantage. Part of this campaign will be new video. As charming as the introductory piece was, it misses on connecting Thomas to the community; it will need a sharper, more focused presentation, something by a professional. In short, more money.
When the MIRS poll turned to negatives, the position of Pestka improved significantly.
In the final test, using a “balanced battery of negatives on both candidates,” it’s 47 percent to 43 percent with Pestka in the lead.
This is good news for both candidates; Amash is too extreme for many, even those in his own party. The difficulty of a negative, anyone-but-Justin approach will be the counter campaign. Here, both Dems possess vulnerabilities, and with Amash being rated as one of the top representatives by Grover Norquist’s Club for Growth, Super PAC expenditures seem a natural. For Pestka it will be his record of ten years ago and the way that it can be framed as supporting “liberal” causes; he possesses a paper trail no less than Amash. His long-time record in the community can help soften some of these attacks since he already possesses a public identity (this advantage of course, does not work as well in Calhoun or southern Barry counties).
Thomas faces an uglier prospect, the assault on his work on behalf of the LGBT community (one can just imagine it, all Gay Pride and Stonewall all the time). The lack of a record will make the defense at the very least, more expensive. Wanting to be like Jerry Ford, or even work in a nonpartisan fashion as he implied on GVSU will not be sufficient; he will need to be tougher in manner, and clearer in his policies. He is asking a diverse community to back him, to go to bat for him — he will need to better talk their language.
Then there is the element of age. In the primary and the general, this will be Pestka’s significant disadvantage. With Amash especially, the danger is framing this as a youthful man of ideas v. politics of yesteryear. Sure, Amash is a friend of Ron Paul, but given Paul’s youth support, that may not be a disadvantage at all. The principal challenge for Pestka will be to become contemporary. His ten-year absence from politics gives him the opportunity to do some judicious re-branding, there will need to be something of a New Pestka here (fortunately the national Republicans have been doing their best to provide those issues).
Finally, let’s talk money. This will be an expensive race (my Republican friends fairly salivate at the prospect of Dem money “being wasted”), and both candidates have different advantages. Pestka brings more local connections and likely some centrist, nominally GOP money in Kent County; Thomas has some deep connections on the national front.
In terms of outcome, it is not clear at all that a progressive vote would be large enough to take the primary. Thomas will need to find support from other segments of the local party. With Pestka’s entry, the time for that coalition building will be short.