Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burg Blog: The Invisibles

This may come as a surprise, but there’s an election next week.

Regular Burg readers may know that I’m a little obsessed with local political campaigns. I write about them frequently, unfortunately often discussing how terribly they’re run.

Over the years, I’ve pointed to the incompetency, laziness and invisibility of many (though not all) of the campaigns for Harrisburg mayor, City Council and school board. I even took a shot last year at Democratic candidates in Dauphin County, amazed that Democrats can’t manage to win a single countywide office in a majority-Democratic county.

And now comes the race for Pennsylvania’s new 10th congressional district.

The primary is on Tuesday—and please raise your hand if you’ve personally met any of the four candidates running for the Democratic nomination: Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, Eric Ding, Alan Howe and George Scott.

I assume that few hands went up.

The primary is literally five days away. Where are these people?

In case the candidates aren’t aware: Harrisburg is the largest city in your district, with the greatest concentration of Democratic votes. For the past two months, you should have been pounding the pavement in Harrisburg and York, practically camped outside the Broad Street Market and Central Market on market days, pressing the flesh, asking for votes.

But I haven’t seen you out here. No one’s seen you. No one knows who you are. You’ve never served before in elected office and have almost no name or face recognition. So, how do you expect to win the primary, much less mount a credible challenge to the entrenched Republican incumbent, Scott Perry?

Of the four, Corbin-Johnson seems to be running the closest thing to a race. She has an office in Midtown Harrisburg, and I can’t seem to log onto Facebook without her campaign ad popping up in my newsfeed.

Facebook ads, however, do not a campaign make. I’ve met Corbin-Johnson once, and she struck me as caring and intelligent, if quite young (she’s 26). But I met her only because I proactively went to the single event I received a press release for—her endorsement last week by Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse. I was the only member of the press there. I gave her campaign manager my business card, and I haven’t heard from him since.

But, to Corbin-Johnson’s credit, that one press release is 100-percent more than I’ve received from all of her three opponents combined, from whom I’ve received nada, zip, zero, nothing. To be credible, campaigns need to aware of and in touch with all local media, including a news source—TheBurg—that covers local politics and is really the only publication with widespread distribution throughout the entire 10th district.

Nor has anyone called me or visited our extremely visible and open office. Corbin-Johnson told me she’s walked past it a few times.

I did a Google search for each campaign, which I had to do because the candidates never told me how to find them online. Only one website—Scott’s—had a list of appearances, though most seemed to be small fundraisers or pre-scripted “forums” organized by other groups. In the crucial month of April, 10 days passed without a single event listed on his website.

Howe’s online calendar was completely blank—not one event was listed for April or May.

I went to Ding’s page, where I found no area at all for campaign appearances. So, I hit the button that said “press” and discovered that the page was last updated on March 28.

Do these candidates actually want to win? And, if so, how exactly do they plan to do that?

Knowing your local media, publicizing your events, hitting the ground hard, engaging voters, shaking every hand, making yourself visible, campaigning every day for months—these are the basic building blocks of a credible effort. They demonstrate fundamental knowledge, competency and hard work, and they mostly don’t cost a cent.

Politics—like nature—abhors a vacuum. In this field of unknowns, a little hard work could have made all the difference, boosting one candidate over the others. However, most voters who turn out on Tuesday will stand inside the voting booth, stare at the slate of candidates and have no idea who these people are or why they should select one over the other.

Common wisdom has it that Democrats have a real chance this year in the new 10th district, since their partisan disadvantage is down to a few points, and Democratic voters generally seem energized. However, beating an incumbent congressman is damn hard work and, so far, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that any of these four are willing to do the tough, time-consuming, on-the-ground campaigning that it takes to win.

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