Politicians are more than platforms

Several characteristics other than legislation can shape elections.

by Ronald Dixon

In today’s political machine, candidates often first create platforms of beliefs and endorsements. But where politics end, personality begins. Most of my discussions with fellow political junkies boil down to partisan stances that political contenders declare on the campaign trail. Although I value these comparisons, voters undoubtedly look at other factors to define potential leaders.

An excellent example of this phenomenon recently unfolded in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, just northwest of Minneapolis.

It all began when I attended my local precinct caucus at Blaine High School in the northern suburbs. The turnout was dismal, so I snagged a spot at my convention without a vote. A week before the convention, I received a call from a passionate volunteer for a political campaign that I knew little about: Joe Perske, a 6th District congressional candidate. A few days later, I had a conversation with Perske over the phone, and his outreach contributed to my decision to support his campaign.

During the convention, Perske and Jim Read, another DFL candidate for the 6th District, had a 10-minute question-and-answer session with delegates. When a woman asked about reproductive health, Read made it clear that he supported women’s right to have abortions, but Perske laid out a pro-life stance.

Some answers at the convention made it clear that Read was more progressive on some issues than Perske. On the ideological spectrum, I am closer to the former than the latter.

If I were to only consider the beliefs of each candidate, I would likely support Read. But when factoring the multitude of elements that go into the development of a politician, I decided to support Perske.

First, Perske’s presence on the campaign trail is palpable. He stopped by my house in the pouring rain to talk about issues surrounding the campaign, despite the fact that he knew I would already vote for him at the convention. Moreover, he is much more approachable, and he relates far better to common Minnesotans than Read, a political science professor who earned a doctorate at Harvard.

However, Perske taught children for decades, is the mayor of a small town and previously coached soccer. Perske’s relative moderatism on some issues may attract independents and liberal Republicans, a necessity in a conservative district.

We should perform a cost-benefit analysis of every aspect of political contenders, and these comparisons shouldn’t just rely on ideology. Rhetorical appeal, work ethic, prior experience, likability, empathy and approachability are all traits that are as important as, if not more important than, a candidate’s specific beliefs. This is especially true if both candidates share similar views or are from the same party, which is more common in the democratic stronghold of Minneapolis. But in highly partisan races, belief can still rule the day.

Due to the myriad of characteristics that shape Perske, he was able to earn the official DFL endorsement at the 6th District convention over the weekend. By speaking directly with candidates during the convention process, I’ve had the opportunity to see potential leaders as more than just political platforms, but two people looking to lead Minnesota in Congress.