Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 2000

All Politics Is Local

In Your Own Backyard  

While most attention in the coming week will focus on the national presidential election, thousands of statewide contests around the country will also be decided on November 7. What does it take to make a successful run for local office?

Thomas "Tip" O'Neill—a longtime Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress—once declared, "All politics is local." He was explaining how the problems and concerns of towns and cities around the country affect the actions of their representatives and senators in Washington, D.C.

But every election day, local politics takes center stage in another way—as voters choose candidates to represent them at the state, city, and community levels. These races for public office usually do not depend on huge campaign budgets, prime time television ads, or highly publicized debates. Instead, they use more basic approaches and give a vivid picture of democracy in action.

  • What evidence do you see that local campaigns are underway in your community?

It's just such a race that Jim Cantwell is waging. Cantwell is a first-time candidate for the state senate in Massachusetts. His campaign operates from a small store in downtown Weymouth, in the southeastern part of the state.

Candidate Cantwell spends part of his day on the telephone, either introducing himself to voters or raising money to finance his run for office. Then he takes to the street, knocking on the doors of likely voters, distributing campaign literature outside of local supermarkets, and chatting with patrons in a barbershop.

"I only have a very short window to be able to capture the imagination of voters and let them know I have a different vision from my opponent, " Cantwell says. When he's not going one-on-one with the public, he's meeting with groups of voters, from teachers to electrical workers.

The issues that Cantwell must address range from the rising cost of prescription drugs to the impact of a proposed new shopping mall and the traffic it will create.

He also has his own Web site.

There's a lot of ground to cover in Weymouth and the other towns Cantwell hopes to represent in the state senate. And there are 110,000 registered voters he needs to reach before November 7.

  • Start your own campaign. Imagine that you are running for office in your community or state. Make a checklist of what you would have to do in order to get elected.

Follow a day in the life of candidate Jim Cantwell. Click either the 28k or 100k button to view the video. (Requires QuickTime. Download now.)

Check out these recent Election 2000 stories:

"A War of Words"

"Looking for Voters"

"The Public Speaks, in Numbers"

"Conventionally Speaking"

"Doing the Science and Math"

Stay tuned for "The Journey Ahead" (Nov. 6), an interview with former presidential candidate, Senator Bill Bradley.

On the Campaign Trail  

Cantwell launched his campaign on May 1, 2000. He already had some experience in local government. For three years he had served as a selectman—a job similar to mayor—for his hometown. He is also a lawyer and had worked in the local district attorney's office. He had even served as an aide for the U.S. congressman representing his district.

Those experiences provided only the seeds to running successfully for state office. "I'm running to represent eight towns," Cantwell explains. "I need to get an idea of what's most important to them. Then it's building a campaign staff. And then you have to raise a lot of money just so people will get an idea of who you are.

"I'm running against an incumbent who's been in office more or less for 10 years. So the challenge is that there's a person who's already been there and who's very well known. It's my burden to have to get around more often and work harder so people can see me personally."

Competing with someone already in office poses a significant challenge. In most of Massachusetts' 40 contests for state senate, the incumbent is running without opposition.

Making ends meet is perhaps the biggest problem that Cantwell and his campaign staff have to solve. It will cost almost $110,000 to finance his efforts. He had to spend two thirds of that amount to win a primary election in September against another Democratic candidate. He won that contest with approximately 7,800 votes to 6,400 for his opponent.

  • What percentage of the total 14,200 votes in the primary did Cantwell receive?

  • Estimate the percentage of the 110,000 registered voters who actually voted in the primary.

  • If 80% of these registered voters show up for the general election on November 7, how many would be voting?

  • How much of the $110,000 budget did Cantwell's campaign spend on the primary in September? How much money does the campaign have left to spend on the November 7 election?

There are many challenges to running a successful political campaign. Click either the 28k or 100k button to view the video.

Campaign manager Steve O'Keefe says volunteers make a big difference. Click either the 28k or 100k button to view the video.
Making a Difference  

What helps the campaign of Jim Cantwell—and most other campaigns around the country—is a corps of volunteers. Steve O'Keefe, who serves as Cantwell's campaign manager, says that volunteers can make a big contribution.

"Some people will just make phone calls, some people will just hold up signs, some people will just stuff envelopes," says O'Keefe. "We have well over 50 good volunteers you can always count on, that you can call them up at any moment, and they'll do something."

Cantwell says that the volunteers for his campaign come in all ages, including those too young to vote. In fact, he adds, he started trying to make a difference in his community when he was a junior in high school. He had learned that the new pipes leading to houses in his neighborhood contained materials that had been found to cause cancer.

"I was a high school student going door to door, passing out literature and telling people, 'This is outrageous! We can't allow this degradation to our water,'" he remembers.

Besides issuing an invitation for young people to become involved in public life, Cantwell is also sounding a warning about not becoming involved. He summarizes a speech he heard in college by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who this year is running as a third-party candidate for president.

"If someone comes to your house and says that he's running for Congress or the state senate and says, 'I'm the one who decides the quality of water that you drink or the air that you breathe. I'm the person who decides how many taxes you pay and what kind of educational environment you will have—whether you'll have enough pencils or erasers or crayons.'

"You would want to sit and talk with that person and say, 'Wait a second, I have some priorities!' But if you don't get involved now or shortly, you'll be a person who's forgotten in the political process. And we're all going to suffer for it."

Cantwell says that young people can make a difference in the political process. Click either the 28k or 100k button to view the video.


Learn More


More Links

  • Follow the continuing election coverage on Who will lead?, from Riverdeep news partner CNNfyi.com.

  • Kids Voting USA is dedicated to involving the nation's youth in the political process.

  • Learn more about the power of the incumbent in the ABCNEWS.com article, "Staying Power."


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