We call ourselves the South Carolina Blue Brothers. We are four 2016 South Carolina federal candidates who believe it is critical to share our experience working with the South Carolina Democratic Party (SCDP). We believe our experience will help inform your decision to elect a new DNC Chair. Our names are:
- Thomas Dixon, U.S. Senate candidate for South Carolina (vs. Scott)
- Dimitri Cherny, Congressional candidate for South Carolina District One (vs. Sanford)
- Arik Bjorn, Congressional candidate for South Carolina District Two (vs. Wilson)
- Mal Hyman, Congressional candidate for South Carolina District Seven (vs. Rice)
It is critical to note that none of us were recruited by the SCDP to run for office. This means that at least half of the 8 federal ballot slots in South Carolina would have been empty had we not made independent determinations as concerned citizens to run for office. This would have been even worse than the situation in 2014, when Chair Jaime Harrison’s SCDP fielded no candidate in Districts 1 and 4, and settled for a fake Democrat to the right of Donald Trump in District 2—a candidate the SCDP didn’t manage to shun until just before the 2016 Primary.
None of us had run for office previously, with the exception of Mr. Cherny, who ran in 2014 as a write-in independent due to the fact that no Democratic Party candidate filed to run. Early in our campaigns, the four of us recognized that we shared many policy positions and general worldviews, so we communicated often and campaigned together. We referred to our collective efforts as “Stronger Together” and branded ourselves the SC Blue Brothers. We were a collective strength to one another, and all of us, to varying degrees, felt shunned and ignored by the SCDP.
In 2016, South Carolina finally had Democratic challengers to run against every federal Republican incumbent—not because of the efforts of the SCDP, but because non-career politicians, concerned citizens, stepped forward. Thomas Dixon is a community organizer and man of the cloth. Dimitri Cherny is an engineer/entrepreneur. Arik Bjorn is a public librarian. Mal Hyman is a college professor. Thus, all 4 SC Blue Brothers races became grassroots candidate experiments.
We expected the SCDP to tell us which campaign strategies and tactics would be the most cost-effective and to help us perform them. Instead, the mantra “raise lots of money” was repeated ad nauseam. Yet as our candidacies were never legitimized by state Democratic powerbrokers (we suspect because of our progressive backgrounds and support for Bernie Sanders), “raising lots of money” in the traditional manner was impossible. Thus, we were left to experiment on our own.
In the end, only one of us, Mal Hyman, raised nearly $100,000—though he contributed personal funds to reach this level. Dimitri Cherny raised less than $28,000. Mr. Cherny campaigned on-the-road continuously for four months yet did not engage in traditional canvassing. He also did not use phone banks, TV or radio ads, or direct mailers; he had no access to the national Democratic Party database—he didn’t even have a campaign manager. Yet Mr. Cherny received 15,000 (14%) more votes than the 2012 Democratic Party candidate who campaigned traditionally and raised nearly six times as many dollars. He also received more votes than any 2016 South Carolina Democratic Party congressional candidate with the exception of the sole incumbent, Congressman Clyburn, in the grotesquely gerrymandered SC District 6.
Ultimately, none of the SC Blue Brothers won our races, though we all, with very limited resources, did roughly the same, if not better, than previous Democratic candidates for these seats. In fact, we all fared the same, if not better, than Fran Person, the SC District 5 candidate who received more than $700,000 in campaign contributions and substantial SCDP and state Democratic leadership support, and who was the recipient of several high-profile visits from Vice President Joe Biden.
Interestingly, the SCDP still has not asked any of us about the tactics we used, the dollars we spent, nor the messages we created that made our campaigns so cost-effective and successful. Thomas Dixon may be the most cost-effective U.S. Senate candidate in history, at one nickel per vote. Mr. Cherny’s campaign cost 23¢ per vote. Fran Person, however, was $7 per vote. Some of us had strong social media success: Arik Bjorn attracted ~350,000 viewers in the final week of the campaign with more creativity than dollars. If nothing else, the SC Blue Brothers proved “raising lots of money” is no longer the path to winning, at least in South Carolina.
Our efforts and experiences leave us to ask some rather basic questions: Shouldn’t a state political party be a vital learning organization and the warehouse of institutional knowledge from previous campaigns? Shouldn’t such an organization use its knowledge to become better at achieving victories? Isn’t winning the measure of success for a major political party? Shouldn’t failing state political parties experiment with new tactics and different types of candidates to see what might be more effective? And isn’t a large number of empty state and federal slots on election ballots a mark of colossal failure by state party leadership, especially its Chair?
Below is a list of what we identify as SCDP major failures in Election 2016:
- Statewide Coordinated Campaign that, ironically, failed due to lack of coordination;
- Anemic Voter Registration strategy;
- Failed outreach to emerging Hispanic-Latino population, to pre- and post-incarcerated population, and to college students (including few campus activities);
- Failed state candidate recruitment (Unchallenged Republican Seats: 28 Senate, 58 House);
- Failed federal candidate recruitment (see above); and
- Failure to connect federal candidates to state Democratic leadership, DNC, and DCCC.
Finally: Should a state party Chair who hasn’t succeeded, who hasn’t secured ballot victories, who prefers empty ballots to experimental candidacies, be promoted to run an even larger party organization like the DNC? We four congressional candidates think not.
We collectively think Jaime Harrison’s tenure as SCDP Chair has been a failure. SCDP Chair Harrison failed to create and implement a 46-county strategy in South Carolina. How could he possibly orchestrate a 50-state strategy across our Union?
Our tireless efforts in the campaign trenches have taught us that it is time to return the Democratic Party back to its working class roots and into the hands of one who will capably develop and coordinate a 50-state strategy. We wish Mr. Harrison future success in whatever career path he chooses, but we expressly do not support his campaign as DNC Chair.
We do, however, endorse Representative Keith Ellison (MN – 5th) as DNC Chair. Our tireless efforts in the campaign trenches in 2016 have taught us that it is time to return the Democratic Party back to its working class roots. We think Ellison is the chairman candidate who most wants to do that, and is most capable of making the Democratic Party relevant for a majority of Americans in the future.
With this open letter, the South Carolina Blue Brothers desire to start a productive dialogue with the DNC.
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