As most of you know, my father, Wright McLeod, ran for Georgia's 12th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. My family and I walked away from the race disappointed, proud and much more informed about people, politics, and patriotism.
So here I am to share a few observations about what I wish I had known before the 2012 congressional elections and what I'm afraid will happen again in this year's election as the political "silly season" kicks into high gear.
1. Signs don't vote. Political signs have an impact on people in the voting booth, but often not in the way they should. Some campaigns pay landowners and tenants to place political signs on their property? Who knew? Never in my life did I think that someone would place a candidate's sign (without knowing anything about the candidate and their views) on their property for a mere $20. But it happens. And it's completely legal. I had a friend tell me that he simply voted for candidates with interesting names. Don't do that either.
On the flipside, people are paid to steal signs. These same people are also paid to comment on articles and posts with either negative or positive reviews.
Lesson Learned: The discourse we read and hear is most often not "real honest."
2. Money Matters. There are four phases to a campaign. Phase 1 — raise money; Phase 2 — raise money; Phase 3 — raise money; and Phase 4 — spend money to get the message out, because a message not heard is not a message. A candidate can loan an unlimited amount of money to his campaign. Newspapers, push cards and plain old gossip can always skew candidates' financial reports. For example, if the media publish that Candidate A raised $500,000 while Candidate B raised $250,000, most people would immediately assume that Candidate A is "winning." WRONG.
If one actually looks at the fine print or the campaign donation list published by the Federal Election Commission, one would see that Candidate A loaned $400,000 to his campaign while Candidate B only loaned $50,000 to his campaign. This means that Candidate B raised twice as much as Candidate A. Oh, how the tables have turned.
In the 2012 primary election for the 12th District, Rick Allen raised the most money, but he also loaned the most money to his own campaign, more than $290,000.
In the current 12th District race, there are five Republican candidates: Allen, John Stone, Eugene Yu, Delvis Dutton and Dianne Vann. A chart, taken from the FEC's website, shows how much each has raised and how much each has loaned his or her campaign. (See Fundraising table in pdf above.)
Lesson Learned: Being independently wealthy helps because you can loan your campaign money. Then if elected, lobbyists and special interests groups are happy to pay that loan off.
3. Donation location? Consider checking to see where candidates' donations come from. Once the FEC publishes a campaign's contributions, a curious constituent can see who donates, how much that person donated and where he or she resides. So if $90,000 of Candidate A's donations came from donors outside of the district and he loaned $100,000 to his campaign, ho is the candidate going to represent? The people of the 12th District or the out-of-state donor? The 2012 election cycle boasted several scenarios like this. Specifically, almost 75 percent of congressman John Barrow's donations came from outside the 12th Congressional District, compared with 35 percent for Allen, 24 percent for Lee Anderson and 16 percent for Wright McLeod. In 2014, the numbers are not yet out.
Lesson Learned: Raising money is now about catering to wealthy outside donors, special interest groups and political action committees.
4. Losing Stinks. My father has always told me that how you handle defeat defines you as a person. So in July, August and November of 2012, I watched each of the four 2012 Republican candidates handle victory or loss. All the candidates in the 12th District knew that only one of the four could win the honor to represent the 12th in the November general election. All the candidates promised after the primary to support the winner in November.
Which candidates worked to promote their fellow candidate after being voted out of the race? Which candidates sulked in defeat? Which candidates remained active in the Republican Party while others continued to publicize petty falsehoods? Which candidate kept his word?
In 2012, all of the Republican candidates agreed to support the eventual nominee. In reality, all did except for Allen.
Lessons Learned: Politics is a grown-up sport; pouting is not allowed.
5. Do Your Own Homework. Most of us don't go out and buy a new car without doing a little research. Whether you're comparing the average miles per gallon or price tags or safety ratings or Kelly Blue Book resell standards, you research something and most likely compare a few models before making a decision. Why should choosing your senator or congressman be any different? Do some research, attend debates or local political party meetings, and meet the candidate yourself! Don't just rely on Facebook comments or local media.
Would you let your sister tell you how she liked test-driving your car? Would you base your ultimate decision on her opinions? Arguably her opinion could be of value, but it's a car. It's expensive. Test-drive it yourself.
Lesson Learned: Most people don't do their homework.
6. Some Races Are Over Before Election Day. The results of elections are greatly impacted by absentee and early voters. I say this based on the primary election numbers in 2012. (See Voting table in pdf above.)
In hindsight, the race was over before Election Day even began. As shown, my dad was more than 1,600 votes behind Anderson before Election Day even began. The saying used to be "peak on Election Day"; now the election begins 30 days prior. Regardless of whom you support, make an effort to be aware if you need to request an absentee ballot or find an early voting precinct. Fill them out. Do whatever it takes to cast your vote.
Lesson Learned: It is not just about Election Day. Early voting and absentee ballots make a real difference.
Campaigns are emotionally taxing, and watching your father face a roomful of friends and family on election night with tears in his eyes is not fun.
My sisters and I spent our spring break participating in the 12th Congressional District Republican Convention. And my grandmother hosted three campaign interns in her home for months at a time. My mother missed my sister's sporting events to accompany Dad to every local political meeting, fundraiser or public event.
The entire family made sacrifices. But we did so as a team. The morning after the primary election, we awoke to broken liquor bottles in our driveway, and my sister's car tires had been slashed.
I could continue, but Dad doesn't allow us to dwell on the past. He asks instead that we learn from it. So above are the lessons I learned, the things I wish I had known before the craziness that is politics took over my family and our district.
Collier McLeod is a daughter of Wright McLeod, an Augusta attorney who narrowly missed making the runoff in the Republican primary for the 12th Congressional District seat in 2012.