BIDLACK | Gauging the value of political endorsements | Opinion

Hal Bidlack

Every now and then I like to shock my long-suffering editors here at Colorado Politics by writing a column that is completely about Colorado politics. And so an article caught my eye because it affords an interesting “inside baseball” look at how political things run here in the Centennial state. So, let’s talk Colorado politics, shall we? (Ed: yes!)

It seems an organization named the Working Families Party has withdrawn an endorsement, for the first time ever, of a candidate who is challenging an incumbent Democrat, Diana DeGette.

Challenger Neal Walia just the day before had qualified for the primary election in the 1st Congressional District, earning the right to take on DeGette, the dean of the Colorado House delegation. And the Working Families Party’s decision to withdraw their endorsement reminded me of my time as a congressional candidate back in 2008, and my time after that as the Chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party.

Walia is taking on a very difficult task, in seeking to unseat a 25-year incumbent. DeGette was first elected back in 1996, taking over the generally solid-Democratic district from retiring Pat Schroeder. I once had a speaking gig where I followed Schroeder giving a talk, and I thought she was marvelous. She couldn’t have been nicer.

DeGette I’ve never met. Well, that isn’t completely true. In my 2008 run, I went to events with the other Colorado elected. Mark Udall, Ed Perlmutter, John Salazar, Ken Salazar and the rest were incredibly kind and helpful, with one exception. DeGette declined to ever talk with me and ignored me in a handshake line, so I guess I did kind or with her.

But the good people of CD1 have returned her to Congress for thirteen terms and she is running for a fourteenth term. Incumbents have a number of electoral advantages and beating an incumbent is a very unusual thing indeed (Lauren Boebert being a rare example of beating an incumbent). And DeGette has her own share of endorsements, from various local unions and other groups.

Putting on my old and battered political science professor’s hat, I’ll note that some endorsements are helpful, but it is not entirely clear how important they are in actually winning a primary or election. It is equally true that the impact of the Working Families Party’s withdrawal of an endorsement is also unclear.

Endorsements generally offer two things, or at least candidates hope they do. First off, endorsements can be a kind of “voters guide,” in that most people don’t have the time to, nor the interest in, deeply researching the various candidates for office in their areas. But if you are, say, a grocery worker and your union endorsed candidate X, you might well use that endorsement as a guide in deciding whom you yourself will vote for. That’s also one of the functions of political parties, in that if you are, say, a Republican, you are likely to vote for the GOP candidate, even if you yourself are unfamiliar with that person.

And the next thing candidates hope for out of endorsements are donations. I’m sure that you, like me, have been getting political solicitation emails by dozens in your inbox. If you are a person who does make donations, you may well look to see who has endorsed a particular candidate as part of your donation making process. That is one of the reasons that back when I ran for Congress in 2008, my fundraising letters sent to possible donors usually contained information on who had endorsed my campaign. Heck, the wonderful Mark Udall even wrote a letter to his donors that I included in my pitch, and I’m quite sure that that endorsement helped.

So, what does it mean to a campaign when an endorsement is withdrawn?

Frankly, it is very difficult to tell, especially if the former endorser is not a “major” political player.

Which, of course, brings me to Donald Trump (Ed: hey, you said this was Colorado politics).

Trump, and the cult of personality that he has carefully constructed around him, sees endorsements as a very big deal indeed. And a Trump endorsement can help in certain situations, such as our own Lauren Boebert. I suspect Trump’s 2020 endorsement of her helped her defeat an incumbent. Trump has also shown a willingness to withdraw his endorsement if the person endorsed isn’t sufficiently toady enough, such as his recent abandonment of Mo Brooks in the Alabama senate race. An endorsement withdrawal at that level might well impact the process significantly.

But in Colorado District 1, I suspect the endorsement or withdrawal of an endorsement by a relatively minor political player isn’t too significant. Had the challenger been endorsed by, say, Obama, DeGette might be in a spot of trouble. Similarly, if a previous Obama endorsement were withdrawn, that too could have significant consequences. But short of that level of endorsement, I don’t think it matters too much.

In my 2008 campaign, I was endorsed by various labor unions and others, and I know that I got some additional donations (and very helpful campaign volunteers) from those groups. But those endorsements, nice as they were, couldn’t fundamentally alter the political math of my district, and I suspect the same is true in CD1.

I don’t think Walia was appreciably helped by the Working Families endorsement, and I don’t think he will be significantly hurt by the cancellation of the endorsement.

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.


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