Endorsements Already?

I’m not seeing the sense in endorsing a candidate in either the Dem or GOP Senatorial primary at this point in the game.  But it seems FOAC is endorsing Bill Kortz, who’s a dark horse candidate running on the Dem ticket in the race that’s better known as the battle between Snarlen Arlen and Joe Sestak.  What’s also surprising is the language in the article would seem to indicate this is an overall endorsement, and not just a primary nod:

In its endorsement of Bill Kortz over all other declared candidates for U.S. Senate, Firearm Owners Against Crime, a non-partisan group of Pennsylvania citizens went on to declare, “We believe that a strong, independent and Constitutionally sound Government is essential for our society to flourish, especially in these trying times. It is our goal to assist in this process by helping to elect responsible leaders to elected office. F.O.A.C will be distributing our Voters Guide throughout Pennsylvania and your name is listed on this Guide as our endorsed candidate for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race”.

I suspect what FOAC is thinking here is that any interest group is going to have more relative power to affect the vote in the primary rather than in the general election.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a mistake for a state level group to make an endorsement in a primary when the other candidates in the race are anti-gun.  But it’s still very early in the race — too early, I think, for an endorsement.  Let me explain my reasoning.

Any PAC or interest group that makes endorsements has to take care to protect and enhance the value, or at least the perceived value, of the endorsement.  The way you develop that value is to have a reputation for helping candidates win.  There’s a lot more too it than just “This guy is pro-gun, so I’m going to endorse him.”  If I were attempting to build a reputation for, say, a Snowflakes in Hell endorsement, I would stick to endorsing in close, better developed races, where I might be able to have some positive effects.  That both gives me a better chance of betting on the right horse, and a better idea of how much electoral power I have.  If you bet right more than wrong, even if you’re not the reason the candidate won, the perception will be there, and perceptions matter quite a bit in politics, arguably more than reality.

This is one reason NRA stays out of a lot or races, even when you have a pro-gun candidate running against an anti-gun incumbent.  Typical odds are 90% the incumbent is going to win.   Getting involved in a race which is going to beyond your organization’s power to influence — if you can’t drive enough votes and money to help the candidate win — you’re not doing your organization or the candidate any favor with the endorsement.  He’s still going to lose, and by association so will your organization.

Let me take a look at the numbers for a minute, just using this example here.  The last midterm primary, we had a total of 744,000 votes in a three way Democratic Senate race.  I believe this primary will probably pull roughly the same amount of votes.  I don’t know what FOAC’s break down between members who are registered Democrats and voters who are registered Republican, but I’ll be generous and assume it’s matches Pennsylvania’s overall voter breakdown, which means about 50% would be Democrats.  That’s about 30,000 of FOACs 60,000 members.  If you take the total number of likely Dem votes, and split it three ways, you come up with 248,000 votes needed to win.  If you assume you can drive an organizational discipline of 66%, and get 20,000 to actually follow your endorsement, you come out to about 8% of the total votes needed to win.  That is nothing to sneeze at, and a good reason for FOAC to be involved in primary politics if they have a lot of Dems in the organization.  But this is assuming the race is within the margin of FOAC’s influence.

The race currently isn’t close.  Latest polls show Snarlen at 47%, Sestak at 34%, and other at 3%.  Undecideds are at 16%.  Move all FOAC’s Dem members to Kortz, that brings him up to 7%.  A nice boost, but no cigar.  You can see what I’m saying when I argue the race hasn’t developed to the point where an endorsement is going to help a dark horse candidate all that much.  FOAC pretty clearly has some electoral muscle to exercise, but I’m not sure this primary is going to be a good demonstration.  If Kortz suddenly surged late in the game, and the numbers looked favorable for a FOAC endorsement to be able to push him over the top, go for it.  But until the odds look good, it’s not helping either the endorsor, or the endorsee to become involved.

5 thoughts on “Endorsements Already?”

  1. First, please observe that if you go to the KortzforSenate website you will find not one mention of guns, gun rights, or the Second Amendment. At least I couldn’t. It would seem he only wants to befriend us backchannel. But then there’s nothing unusual about that!

    FOAC is a western PA local/regional organization that wants desperately to be a player, or at least to create the image of being one. They have issued endorsements in the past that were questionable, mainly to be in the game. They have from time to time expressed the opinion that they are the only group in the state that legislators will listen to, because they are the only registered RKBA PAC. However, they stop short of taking the steps necessary to be a real player — IMO. As you probably know, having a website and opinions, alone does not put you in the game.

    Those things said, it would seem what you are endorsing is a continuing policy of illusion, perhaps as bad as FOAC’s. If it is counterproductive to the cause for FOAC to endorse someone who may not win, it is arguably worse for any more established group to endorse someone just because they are the likely winners. FOAC only risks their own credibility; while others harm the whole movement’s credibility for being dedicated to out issue rather than to simple minded illusory politics.

  2. Jessup:

    It’s not really so much that you only endorse likely winners, so much as you aren’t going to accomplish anything by endorsing someone who’s too far out of the race for your endorsement to have any effect.

    Just taking NRA as an example, if you believe the studies Dave Kopel has done in conjunction with other economists on the power of NRA’s endorsement, it amounts to something like 5% of the vote for every 10,000 NRA members in a given Congressional district, with it helping a Republican contender more than a Democratic contender. So it would stand to reason that if a candidate is 10 points behind in the polls, and you have 5,000 NRA members in that district, endorsing the candidate isn’t going to accomplish anything. That race is beyond your electoral power to influence.

    Yes, to some degree it is illusory, but illusions are powerful things. Whether it was true or not that the Brady Act and Assault Weapons Ban is what cost the Democrats Congress in 1994 doesn’t really matter. The perception is that it did, or was at least a very serious contribution. Did the gun vote really defeat Al Gore? John Kerry? It’s not something you can point to and say “yes, for sure,” because there’s so many other issues that vie for people’s loyalties. But whether it’s really true or not. If the politicians believe it, it’s true.

  3. Sebastian:

    The question is whether the politicians really believe it’s true, or whether we’re all involved in some huge, stylized kibuki dance. I won’t pretend to know, but I’m leaning more toward thinking we’re partaking more of ritual than reality.

    Something that amuses me is the way most gun rights people wouldn’t believe a word from a liberal/Democrat’s mouth, if they told them their mothers were nice ladies, but when the same people say “Ooooh, we’re really, really scared of the NRA,” they thrust out their chests and believe them implicitly. I’m thinking of how fearful B’rer Rabbit was of being thrown into dat briar patch.

  4. As far as politics being theater, I have had a more-or-less adult awareness of the gun rights cause for nearly fifty years; the first thing I ever wrote for public consumption was on the subject, and that was almost fifty years ago. During that time I have seen the fortunes of both the pro- and anti- sides wax and wane, and things come and go, but the fundamental dynamics have never changed. What I have concluded is, that with at least a half-century of study behind them, the professionals — the people who make a living off of politics, and who can’t afford the luxury of delusion — can pretty well identify and differentiate theater versus reality. In plain words, you and I are only going to fool them now and then, and there won’t be a second time for most of us. When we start believing our own press releases we are headed for trouble.

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