The process of persuading voters to support a candidate for office is, particularly at this early point in the various 2016 campaigns, a delicate one - more art than science. While the goal is ultimately to persuade as wide a swath of voters as possible, at this early point one critical goal of congressional and Senate candidates (either directly or through surrogates) is to persuade the “influencers” and “opinion makers” to support the candidate. Voters are for the most part just not that tuned in just yet, nor will they be for many months.
Being so close to D.C., Maryland (and even more so, Montgomery County) is full of these influencers. Leaders of think tanks, policy and advocacy organizations, and political geeks of all stripes (God bless them, they read my blog) are a significant part of our communities. Persuading these folks to get behind a candidate is not easy - they’re smart, savvy and not easily swayed by propaganda.
So it was with a great deal of shock and amazement that I saw a Facebook post this weekend by Tony Varona, inquiring, HUAC-style, whether Elizabeth Birch, former board chair of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and more recently the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign for a decade, was in fact supporting Kathleen Matthews over Jamie Raskin in CD8.
You see at the bottom Birch’s incredulous response, which is precisely the same as mine. Calling out anyone publicly in this manner demonstrates exceedingly questionable judgment - but questioning the civil rights bona fides of someone like Elizabeth Birch is just bizarre. And to do it on the very day of the Supreme Court’s historic marriage equality decision is simply astounding. If Tony Varona wanted to alienate and anger Elizabeth Birch, he couldn’t have succeeded more fully and completely than he did here. He’s not helping his cause, and he’s not helping his candidate.
Moreover, Varona is not just some guy who happens to be a Raskin supporter. He’s Jamie’s colleague at the Washington College of Law at American University (my alma mater, as it happens), associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. He ought to know better. More interesting tidbits as I research further - Varona was general counsel to HRC for fully half of Elizabeth Birch’s tenure as executive director. In other words, they were colleagues and Birch was Varona’s boss. Wow.
Side note: this fixation that some have with Kathleen Matthews’ contribution to Roy Blunt is waaaaay overblown. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but to make a single contribution out of over $60,000 in total contributions a disqualifying event is quite frankly kind of silly. But each to his own, I suppose.
There’s a lot of effective ways to persuade someone to support your preferred candidate for office in this situation. This is definitely not one of them.