Monday, February 21, 2011

What Do All Those Endorsements For Janice Hahn Really Mean?

Today the folks at Hahn Campaign ™ touted yet another high-profile endorsement, that of newly elected State Senator and former political rival Ted Lieu. Lieu went on to win 57% of the vote after Hahn announced she would not run for the seat vacated by State Senator Jenny Oropeza's death, clearing the field for a Lieu victory.

Lieu's is a significant endorsement since his district and CA36 share much of the same territory.

The Hahn Campaign ™has been working the phones overtime ever since she announced her candidacy two weeks ago. But what do all these endorsements mean? And why is Hahn working so hard to get them?

I'll answer the second question first. Candidates work so hard for endorsements for several reasons. Endorsements mean money and resources. Endorsing officials and community leaders will often do so on the condition they'll fundraise, or lend their names to fundraisers to draw participation. Organizations like unions can lend significant institutional support by putting boots on the ground to canvas and phone bank.

An impressive and extensive list of endorsements convey inferred legitimacy to a candidate. They act as "validators" for the busy voter, who might not be paying very close attention to a politician's policies, but who sees the name of a trusted official or organization endorsing a candidate and thinks their policies and values must closely mirror their own.

Lastly, endorsements can also act as a "shock and awe" strategy, discouraging lesser-known or under-resourced candidates from entering the race, clearing the field of pesky challengers.

The Hahn Campaign ™has been working the "shock and awe" doctrine overtime. Within 24 hours of announcing her candidacy, Hahn had secured the endorsement of dozens of politicians, including the Mayor of Los Angeles and nearly the entire LA City Council. In two weeks, she's amassed over 80 endorsements, all the way from Senator Diane Feinstein to the President of the Long Beach Democratic Club.

But what do all these endorsements really mean?


Or, as one politician who's name sits high on the Hahn Campaign's ™ endorsement list told me, "Look kid, if Hahn loses, I still have to work with her. If she wins, I have a friend in congress."

While not all the endorsements on Hahn's website represent this kind of transactional politics, a lot of them do. Nearly every name on Hahn's list endorsed before the other Democratic candidate, Debra Bowen,  had officially announced. The Hahn Campaign ™ was calling in favors, and they were calling them in as fast as they could.

(Full disclosure, I was contacted by Janice Hahn and asked to endorse her within hours of Harman's resignation. I told her I wouldn't, because I wanted to see who else would enter the race. It's probably not hard for any of you to guess who'll I'll be supporting based on the Act Blue widget at the top of this blog, but more on that later.)

So my advice when analyzing endorsements in this race, especially so early on, is to ask yourself, "What does the endorser get out of this?"

Is the politican/oganization endorsing because they think that candidate would be the best one for the district, or because they owe that candidate a favor, fear repercussions if they don't endorse or hope to do a little horse-trading in the future?

Do your homework, ask questions, then decide.

1 comment:

  1. Marta, something else to consider about the Lieu endorsement of Hahn:

    Did Hahn make like she was maybe going to run for State Senate to extract a favor from Lieu (ie. 'You endorse me for the next office I run for'), all the while knowing Harman was planning on stepping down post-election to let her ease into CA-36?

    And of course, after she decided not to run, it was all about how committed she was to her current job: "Right now, I want to focus on my current job as a City Council member. I love my job and think that at this point, Los Angeles is where I can be most effective," Hahn said in a written statement. To be expected I guess.

    Can't wait till we get to policy issues on this campaign.