It was my Gerald Ford moment. I became president of the South Carolina High School Thespian Society because the president’s parents decided to move to Wyoming.
Since then, I’ve taken on many challenges, but I never seriously considered running for political office. That is until November.
I’m not in the habit of getting this personal in my columns, but because several people know about my recent deliberation, I decided that before it was reported elsewhere I should tell the story myself.
I was approached by a prominent local Democrat (yes, you read that correctly) on behalf of several fellow Dems. They were searching for a liberal Republican to oppose Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth. Names aren’t important, but suffice to say, the offer was genuine, it was backed by serious political clout, and financing was in place.
During the following three weeks, my head spun as I contemplated the magnitude of running for Congress — against a popular incumbent and someone I consider a friend, no less. Politics isn’t personal, though. It’s business. And I hate what’s happening in Washington.
I made countless lists and talked with my family and trusted friends. I’d have to quit my radio job and live on savings for a year (a move I hoped would impress voters as proof of my commitment to the race).
It was a heady thought, returning to Washington, having an office on Capitol Hill, being in a position to make a real difference in people’s lives. OK, I looked up the salary, too ($174,000, which I would not be donating back to the community, a la Yarmuth). And by the way, it takes five years to become vested in the congressional pension program, which means I’d have to serve three terms for that.
But could I win? What if I lost? Did I even want the job?
Maybe. Worst-case scenario I’d be unemployed but would have had a tremendous learning experience. I thought about the primary, but mostly I thought about the general.
I knew I could do the job. I’ve interviewed politicians for years. I’m smarter than a lot of them (the bar is not that high). Rep. Yarmuth is an exception, though. He’s intelligent and has worked hard serving the people of Jefferson County’s 3rd District. He’d be a formidable rival.
Only the real opponent wouldn’t be John. At the first hint his seat might be vulnerable, the political action committee’s, 527s and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would attack, getting nasty and personal. I’d have to take it, and I’d have to be willing to fight back in kind.
I had to deconstruct myself. What skeletons do I have? How comfortable would I be if they were publicized? What are my strengths? Weaknesses? Advisers and I ran through all sorts of criticisms and accusations that might be used to discredit me. What’s said doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be believable. Negative campaigning is done because it works.
And what about supporters? I couldn’t count on the endorsement of Kentucky’s Republican Party. I’m not enough of a conservative or partisan hack for the powers that be. (Actually, though, I saw that working in my favor.)
What I could count on is the mood of the country, the disenchantment that will usher in many new Republicans. Independents certainly aren’t as gung-ho about President Obama’s agenda as they were in 2008. The people who approached me are lifelong Democrats, but they are also entrepreneurs, and they are so concerned that health care reform and cap-and-trade policies will exponentially raise the cost of doing business that they were willing to alter their alliance.
All that might not be enough, though. I didn’t see Republicans winning the 40 seats necessary to take back control of the House. That meant even if I won I’d be in the minority party. I’d have to settle for a figurehead role.
I’d have a bigger life, but I’d have to work endlessly to maintain it. Two-year terms are horrid. I’d constantly be campaigning and raising money. Plus, between Washington and district involvement, my workload would be monumental.
I made one last phone call — to Congressman Yarmuth. I had questions, and he was the only one who could answer them. He’s got the job. He was courteous and professional. I didn’t expect any less.
Ultimately, I decided I didn’t want the job enough to pursue it with the relentlessness a successful campaign would require. But never say never. In two years, I might very well change my mind.