Last fall, Ron Crews ran for Congress in Massachusetts against four-time incumbent James McGovern of the Third District. Crews brought significant experience, credentials, and resources to the campaign. He had served in the state senate in Georgia. He had headed the Massachusetts Family Institute for four years (a position he resigned to campaign), where he became the go-to guy for conservative comment on family issues not only in the state, but nationwide. He had reasonably good name and face recognition (if you watch cable news, you've seen Crews). An experienced speaker and leader, Crews is nationally known as a lifelong Army chaplain (he is still a Colonel in the Guard) and an ordained Presbyterian minister.
He lost, pulling only 30 percent of the vote. I interviewed Crews last week, concentrating on the mechanics of the run, rather than on the issues Crews had raised. (Crews raised them anyway. He's a preacher. It's what he does.)
LH: What was it like running for Congress?
RC: It was a good experience. We met wonderful people along the way. I was particularly blessed to have so many evangelical Protestants and Catholics working together (for me), many for the first time in the political arena. At my party on election night there were about 80 people there. I asked how many were working for the first time for a political candidate. About 75 percent raised their hands. I was touched. There were many who had made friends, many of them Catholics and Protestants who might never have met.
LH: What about the results?
RC: I got 30 percent of the vote. I had certainly wanted to win and had hoped to do better. But when I look at the fact that I spent about $150,000 on the race, the incumbent spent $1.25 million, I don't feel so bad about the vote I got.
LH: Some years ago, I heard that the minimum cost for a Congressional run is about $400,000. Is that true?
RC: Yes, yes. I had hoped to be able to raise far more than we raised. A couple of factors impacted that. Governor (Mitt) Romney had done an excellent job recruiting candidates. (Statewide), we had over 100 Republicans running. So there were a lot of people going after the same dollars. Second, I was disappointed in not being able to raise more money from people of like values either in state or around the country. There were a few people who gave to the maximum, and I'm grateful. But I received no funding help from the state or national parties, and that was a disappointment.
LH: Funding is the ultimate endorsement.
RC: It is. That was very difficult. I don't understand, particularly here in the state, why the Republican establishment did not back any of the Congressional candidates in the state -- there were six of us. Part of that I know. The Governor was interested in the state legislature. So he raised and spent $3 million on state legislative candidates -- to no avail. But so far as I know, no funds were given to any of the Congressional candidates. That was a disappointment and a surprise.
LH: Suppose you had had the supposed minimum of $400,000. What other things would you have done?
RC: I did no polling, because I had no funds for that. I did very little advertising. I ran some radio ads in Worcester and Fall River. If I had had sufficient funds, I would have done radio and TV ads and some mail pieces. My opponent ran six or seven mail pieces. One mail piece is about a $60,000 or $70,000 item. So if I had had the funds to be able to do some direct mailing, particularly in Worcester area, that would have helped for name recognition.
LH: What about name recognition? Do you figure you had some, but not the right kind?
RC: I am probably known more in Boston than in Worcester, particularly in the media. Our campaign probably generated more publicity than the other Congressional races. Mr. McGovern did agree to debate me, and we had four debates. Unfortunately, the debates were held in low media markets, and Worcester, the big market, didn't cover them. That was probably Mr. McGovern's intention.
LH: How does a challenger build name recognition?
RC: You've got to be able to buy direct mail pieces as well as advertising in such a way, and in such volume, that people begin to see your name.
LH: What about yard signs?
RC: I think we did a pretty good job. I had 3,000 yard signs printed, and all were given out. Yard signs you can get for about a buck a piece, a little more depending on quality and size. Then you have to add to that the cost of putting signs out, maybe up to another dollar depending on whether you use a wood or a metal post. We relied on local people to contact friends and neighbors about putting up signs. I held coffees and events in homes all across the district. That was a primary means of meeting people, recruiting volunteers, and finding locations for signs.
LH: You were an unusually experienced rookie for a national race.
RC: Money is the name of the game. It takes a significant amount of money. I had a full-time staff of three people who worked for me for five months. I believe Mr. McGovern had about 20 people. That makes a difference. I had one campaign office. He had four or five in the district. Money unfortunately drives the political process at that level. It's true I have run for office for state legislature in Georgia. It's a different league running on a national level. The district includes 28 towns. It's a hundred miles in diameter.
LH: How much did you work?
RC: A normal day was 12-15 hours, no exaggeration. I would begin often early going to a train station or an event, and then would end the evening at a coffee at somebody's home in the district. I would often spend too many hours in the car going from place to place. My wife left her job and would drive me, so I could use that time in phone calls trying to raise money. More radio spots would have been better, too. I did many an interview in my car.
LH: Overall, what advice would you give to prospective challengers for Congressional seats?
RC: Make sure you've got a financial base before you start. You have to have commitments from people to give or raise a given amount for you. Make sure you can raise $400,000-$500,000. You really can't run for less than that. In Massachusetts, realistically, because of the cost of media, you have to double that figure.
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