Viability: It’s time to banish the word for our own good
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What is worse than losing a race? Losing your values. We have been doing both by continuing to support “viable” candidates year after year. Viability sounds practical and innocent but it is a dog whistle for candidates that are independently wealthy, have large fundraising networks, are white and male. Don’t check all those boxes? You are about to get what I call the “wait your turn talk”. Guess what? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t check those boxes but she is taking her non-viability all the way to Washington (Who was that viable guy she ran against?). In 2017 almost half of our candidates won, which is insane if you consider the fact that all of our folks were running for the first or second time, and many were running against incumbents.

We need a new way of thinking in our movement. The old paradigm is as tired as the old guard.

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Here’s some of the misguided “insight” people have given me about candidates. Names and any identifying features have been removed, but the quotes are very real:

Fundraising Example:

“Yvette is great and will be a strong candidate for another office someday, but she is young and Brad has already raised so much money, and we just don’t think she’s going to have a chance against him, so we’re giving Brad our money. She should wait her turn.”

Translation Almost every candidate below the age of 40 has been forced to endure this conversation with somebody in their community. Brad has been tested and he already has money. And more money means winning, right?

Primary Election Example:  

“Sophia speaks well and she has a great story, but we’re backing Mike because we think his policy positions will play better in a general election. She should run for something else down the road. We’ll support her then.”

Translation: Brad will have an easier time connecting with white voters. The underlying assumption there is that white voters decide elections.

General Election Example:

“We think Sam has a bright future, but unfortunately – even though they won their primary – this is a general election and we think it’s going to be tough for them to beat Robert. So, we are going to put our resources into another district where we think there’s a chance of winning.”

Translation: Even when you win the primary, even when you have proven you are actually viable, you will still have to listen to this nonsense. What is so striking here is that the speaker has decided to move resources, that were previous allocated for one district to another race.

These conversations are common among political operatives and donors. The idea is that we cannot govern if we do not win, so we must do whatever it takes to win. That logic makes some sense, but the thing that often gets ignored is, how do we know that the “viable” candidate is going to perform better in the election?

What we’ve learned at Run for Something is that candidates who are representative of their communities, come from non-traditional backgrounds, and are willing to get out there and hustle often surprise folks. I can give you dozens of individual examples of candidates who were written-off by insiders, but found a way to win. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s race is one example. Another is Jessica Gonzalez in Texas, who took on a long-time incumbent for state legislature and won. Same with DSA candidate Sara Innamorato in Pittsburgh.

If you’re interested in banishing of the word “viability” from our political vocabulary, share this article and make sure the organizations you work with and contribute to are looking at more than fundraising totals and the proclivities of white voters when making resource allocation decisions.

Ross Morales Rocketto is co founder of Run for Something.