In politics, sometimes when you lose, you actually win; and sometimes when you win, you actually lose. Anthony Clark garnishing 40 percent of the vote, in west suburban Cook County, to a 20-year Democratic incumbent, Congressman Danny Davis, is actually a political win.
Professional strategists look at who had the most votes and won the election. But there are other important numbers: who voted, where they voted, and how much money the candidates spent on those votes.
The power of money and name recognition in our political system is nothing new; candidates with more money, name recognition, and establishment support typically get more votes. It was expected that Cong. Davis would win this election because he had more money, more name recognition, and more support for the major political players.
A great example of Anthony Clark’s political win, is the other big race, in the same area, with the same constituency. The race for Cook County Commissioner of the 1st District, Richard Boykin vs. Brandon Johnson. In many ways, Boykin mirrored Danny Davis as the political insider and incumbent while Brandon Johnson mirrored Anthony Clark as the progressive, young, energetic new candidate. Johnson, the newcomer, managed to pull off a huge upset and win with 13,637 votes (46.73%) to Boykin’s 11,964 votes.
In the same area, Clark had 12,371 votes to Davis’ 19,926.
I posit that the only difference between the Brandon Johnson/Richard Boykin campaign and the Anthony Clark/Danny Davis campaign is money. Brandon Johnson, while a political newcomer, was backed by PAC organizations like the Chicago Teachers Union, and according to his financial reports had about $500,000, which came from the unions: both money and knowledgeable, experienced campaign staff. Now, I believe, Johnson’s win was still a huge political upset.
The Clark campaign, while it was full of love, passion and energy, was not a traditional political campaign. Intentionally. Clark made a pledge to not accept any money from PACs. His campaign was energy rich, financially poor. The Clark campaign, had a mere $70,000 total. Further, the Clark campaign sent out zero political mailers and only one commercial. He also works a full-time job as a special education teacher, and runs an amazing community organization, Suburban Unity.
Conversely, Davis, has been the congressman for the 7th District since 1996. Due to his longevity, Davis is a household name in the 7th. He had no reason to campaign, yet he still had his name on many political mailers.
Traditional political wisdom would dictate that Clark would lose big. Instead, by getting 40 percent in west suburban Cook County, he proved that Davis, is vulnerable to an adequately financed campaign and there is a large group of people unhappy with the congressman’s job performance. Winning by such a small margin, Davis’ electoral win, was a political loss.
Politics is not a zero-sum game. Sometimes when you lose, you actually win; and sometimes when you win, you actually lose. Political winners use their “political loss” as a lesson and re-strategize for the next election.
Case in point: President Barack Obama’s political trajectory.
When President Obama started his political career, he ran his first major campaign against Congressman Bobby Rush, who was, and still is, an institution on the South Side of Chicago. Obama was young, energetic, and had broad-based appeal, especially in Hyde Park, similar to Clark’s energy and support in Oak Park.
Then a community organizer, Obama decided to challenge incumbent congressman in the primary election. Rush had been a congressman for almost as long as Davis. He was popular and had all of the support of the Democratic machine. Yet the young, energized, political newcomer decided to challenge Rush anyway. Obama did not beat Congressman Rush, just like Clark did not beat Congressman Davis. To political outsiders, it looked like a complete political loss for Obama.
But after his defeat, Obama reassessed the political landscape, and ran the next election, relying heavily on the racial, ethnic coalition he built in Hyde Park during his losing campaign. Obama realized a better political strategy was going from state senator to U.S. senator and ultimately, president of the United States.
Although Clark did not win, he did something similar. He created a strong, diverse, powerful political base. He created name recognition and the political establishment is aware of his potential electability.
Anthony Clark may have lost this congressional race, but he is a political winner. Clark’s loss, like Obama’s, I believe, is just a starting point. I’m excited to see where he goes from here because he has as much potential as another Chicago community organizer: Barack Obama.
ShaRhonda Dawson is a resident of Broadview.