Here are my qualifications to run for Congress: I have a degree in political science — and, obviously, a keen interest in politics. I’ve written and reported on politics since the 2012 presidential campaign. And I have management experience — running teams and sections on websites — too.
But I’ve never, ever wanted to run for office. Especially the House of Representatives. The very thought of being put through an almost-permanent campaign cycle, with elections every two years, makes me want to curl up into a ball.
But I may be just the type of candidate a new initiative called Run for America is looking for. Run for America is scouring the country in search of a “new generation” of candidates for office. And it's crowdsourcing nominations on its website, too.
David Burstein, the founder of Run for America, told Fusion the group wants to change Congress. But it's trying to approach the challenge a little bit differently. First, they want to bring in candidates who don’t think of politics as a career. Some of their ideal recruits might have never even thought for a second about a run for office.
“Part of our theory is that we should not limit ourselves to thinking about people who are career politicians,” Burstein said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Over 60 percent of the people in Congress are career politicians. So why don’t we — we should have journalists running. We should have artists running. We should have engineers running.”
“It’s ridiculous,” he added, “that we’re in the 21st century, and a huge amount of our foreign policy and domestic policy rests on questions involving technology. And we have a huge percentage of Congress that doesn’t know how to use email.”
Run for America is aiming to pick 12 candidates to run for Congress next year. Party affiliation won’t be a factor — Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and others will be considered. Once it chooses those 12 candidates, it will put them through a training program to prepare for the long campaign grind. And it will support the candidates with both manpower and money.
The group has opened up the search pool in three ways: First, there’s an online submission form anyone can use to nominate someone and encourage them to run. There’s also a link you can use to apply yourself, via your LinkedIn resume. Finally, Burstein said, the group has a 30-plus-person search team looking to pluck candidates from across the country. The group has some districts in mind as potential targets, but Burstein said those districts will ultimately be determined by which candidates they choose.
Burstein said the group has already received hundreds of nominations. (No celebrities yet — “perhaps thankfully,” Burstein said.)
“We just had this idea — what if people had the opportunity to suggest someone well before there were primaries,” Burstein said. “And we said, why has no one ever done that before? We’re really the first people we know to ever offer a public nomination process. And I think part of that is that that’s the kind of organization that we are.”
The ideal candidate, in addition to not being a career-minded politician, would be a person who has held a leadership role in his or her young career. Burstein said Run for America wants entrepreneurs, innovators, educators, engineers. “Proven leaders" among a "new generation."
Run for America has some big names coming out in support — top strategists like Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist to George W. Bush's re-election campaign, and former members of Congress like former Rep. Bob Carr of Michigan. But it’s far from the first group to try to gin up a “new wave” of leaders and shake up things in Congress. What about this effort can be different than so many that have failed?
“There haven’t been many efforts that specifically focus on recruiting new kinds of people to run and then supporting those people all the way through,” Burstein said. “So there have been a lot of PACs that have encouraged people to run. Or there have been various efforts to encourage people in the system to work together.
“I think what’s really important is that we are actively recruiting people — primarily people who don’t want to run for Congress,” he added. “So there’s an element in our model that’s sort of like Teach for America. Come serve your country. Do this as a form of service, which is really what our founding fathers intended.”
One challenge is money. The initial recruiting won't take much out of pocket, but the group is relying on donations as its source of funding. Burstein said the group has gotten hundreds of donations of less than $500. It plans to disclose more financial information in the next few months.
"Most important to us is that we build something that is really meaningful and long-lasting," he said. "From our perspective, that's not, 'We need to win X number of races.' But on Election Day, have we succeeded in building a new movement that can go forward."
But he added, "Obviously, that's a lot more difficult if we don't win."
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.