Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Meeting Patrick Murphy

I wrote earlier about the criteria I use to evaluate candidates and one of these, when possible, involved meeting them. To put this into practice I picked a candidate, Patrick Murphy, and over a period of months I made it a point to observe a him in a variety of settings, in this case at least one of each of the following: candidate fundraiser, organization fundraiser attended by the candidate, multi-candidate forum, as well as one conference call, and a serendipitous conversation on (or actually in) the street. All told I have had a number of conversations with the candidate, however brief they may have been (more my doing than his – I seldom have much to say in person) and heard him speak around four times. I did not identify myself as a blogger and to the best of my knowledge none of the campaign staff know that I write this blog. If an event was a fundraiser I paid at least the minimum amount to attend.

Why Patrick Murphy?

Granted, regular readers will have noticed that I have written positively several times about Patrick Murphy, but I have written positively about other candidates as well. The primary reason I carried out this test on the Murphy campaign is that they made it easy to do so. Their web site posts events in advance with complete addresses and, if it is a fundraiser, the contribution requested to attend. This may seem like common sense but, in my experience, it is a rare thing. Some campaigns I follow will announce that event is happening on a given day and the general area, but you have to email in to find out exactly where it is and if there is a charge. Some will announce that the candidate will be speaking at particular events (no address) but there isn’t any indication as to whether the public can attend. Some say an event is happening at a certain person’s house but details, including something as basic as the name of the town, are missing. I can understand that people hosting house parties may not necessarily want their addresses published, but unless some idea of where something is happening is given, no one outside of the “in crowd” can attend. I, or someone I know, is on the email list for a number of campaigns. Sometimes I’ll see an event listed on a website but never receive an email about it. Some campaigns only send out emails to ask for money. Others distribute press release after press release but no event information. The Murphy campaign is very good about sending out event announcements on email as well as posting them on the web. Perhaps because he is challenging an incumbent, perhaps out of choice, many of his fundraising events are priced at extremely reasonable levels. For many candidates one of these events would take up my entire budget for this project; with Murphy’s campaign I saw several fundraisers that, had time and geography allowed, I could have attended. So, over several months and during several encounters I evaluated Murphy and his campaign on the following measures.

The Utility Test

This test refers to how the candidate reacts and responds to people who do not appear to have any current usefulness to the campaign. When I introduced myself I purposely did so in a manner that made it clear I would not be much help to him. Murphy passed the utility test with flying colors. One thing that struck me in particular is if he is talking to you, he is talking to you. One eye isn’t looking over your shoulder to see if someone more influential or important is within range. If Murphy is talking to you he is focused on you. He is about the only candidate or official I have ever met (and I’ve met more than a few) that does this. He also doesn’t seem to have the internal egg timer that gives each person a set amount of time and then, when he hears the ding, moves on to the next. He talks to people for as long as they want to talk. His segues from person to person are smoothly and graciously done. At one event I was talking with him and, although the conversation was winding down, it had not yet ended. A man came up and said, in a low voice, that he had brought a sizable check. It is possible that I misheard, but I was close enough that I don’t think so. Murphy did not drop me like a rock, kiss the man’s shoes, and do handsprings around the room. He may have wanted to, but he did not. He completed our conversation in an unhurried manner before responding to the man’s comment. I was impressed.

Murphy’s Campaign Staff

Campaign staff tend to reflect the candidate (or whoever is behind the campaign, if the candidate is a party puppet). I’ve met or emailed with a number of Murphy’s staff in a number of contexts, although seldom the same person more than once. In my blogger persona I’ve had regular communication with the primary blog liaison, who has been consistently polite and responsive. There is a good mix of freshly scrubbed young faces and more seasoned campaigners. Murphy has been able to attract quality people and that speaks well of him. I found them to be uniformly hospitable, ethical, and possessing some sense of humor. If the opportunity presented itself, I eavesdropped on the conversations they had amongst themselves, but never heard anything untoward. I’ve also read over his campaign finance reports and at one event I spotted someone who had donated a sizable amount to the campaign. I was in a conversation grouping that included the donor when one of the campaign staff came over to join us. Congressional challengers in tight races need all the money they can get so I expected to be elbowed out of the way and the bowing and scraping to start. I waited and waited and waited. It never happened. I was as much a part of the conversation as “deep pockets.” This is bad news for big donors but good news for potential constituents.

Murphy’s Supporters

In general I don’t like going to political events. I always get too many of the “who let you in?” looks and “you can’t sit at this table” comments. By contrast I found Murphy’s supporters to be extremely pleasant people and enjoyed talking with them. If an event was sponsored by another group you could see that it had a slightly different texture, but that was primarily among the people organizing it. Public events that candidates attend but are not the main attraction, pull in a more diverse audience that may not reflect core supporters. Those attending events solely supporting Murphy or sponsored by another organization featuring Murphy tended to be people you would want to sit next to at dinner or be stuck in an elevator with. They were warm and welcoming, even if I was not part of the expected audience. I found this surprisingly refreshing and am a little sad that I probably won’t be going out among them as much any more.

The Motivation Test

This refers to a candidate or official’s ability to get people involved in things they might not otherwise consider, or inspire people who disagree to work together. In my initial draft of this posting I gave Murphy a B for potential. Then I thought more about it. When planning out this project I had not intended to attend as many events as I did. I considered the effort, expense, and, most of all, time away from home and family, that it took to get to the events. Taking this into consideration Murphy gets an A with flying colors on this one, too.

General Impressions of Murphy

Patrick Murphy is very personable. He’s nice looking but not so handsome as to be intimidating. (Don’t go by the pictures; he doesn’t photograph well.) He seems very at ease among people, all sorts of people. As mentioned earlier he actually engages in conversation with people. At one point I said something he misinterpreted and he questioned me on it. This wasn’t your standard “happy happy small talk;” he wanted to know how I had come to the conclusion I had (or that he thought I had). It is customary to mention how young he appears. Certainly anyone who mistakes a youthful appearance for an untrained mind is making a serious mistake. The choirboy face is an incongruous fa├žade for some impressive mental artillery. He is quick-witted and widely read. He speaks well, with just the right combination of bravado and self-deprecation to be charming. His stories are interesting and applicable to the point he is making. Nor is he afraid to stray from the traditional safe topics of campaign talks. More than once when he was speaking to a group, he would start off onto a new subject and I’d think “No! Stop! Quicksand!” but my telepathy wasn’t working and on he went, strolling through the swamp and coming out the other side, mud and stink free. Again, I was impressed. If you have a chance to hear him speak, make the effort to do so. It won’t be a waste of time. He is a more effective speaker than many more experienced politicians I have heard and certainly more interesting. His repertoire of stories has a much broader range than merely aggrandizing his own accomplishments and he is quick to credit his staff for their efforts. This also speaks well of him.

The Rope Test

My mother’s primary test of character can be summed up in one sentence: If you were dangling off the edge of a cliff by a rope, would you want this person to be holding the other end of the rope? In Patrick Murphy’s case, I would have no hesitation. The 8th district can, in my view, have confidence that he won’t let them down.

Summation

I truly enjoyed talking with Patrick Murphy, his staff, and his supporters. They are bright, intelligent, warm, and concerned people. Having been an armchair political observer for many years I cannot help but wonder if I would be equally impressed with Murphy during his second or third re-election campaign. I hope that I will have the chance to repeat my study and find out.

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