What we learned about political candidates in 2018

By December 20, 2018 No Comments

Lindsey Williams – candidate for Pennsylvania State Senator – speaks at the “Wolf for Women” canvassing event in Ross Township. (Current photo by Martha Rial)

By Aryanna Berringer
Pittsburgh Current Political Columnist


It’s hard to believe that 2018 is coming to an end. When January hits, not only will we see candidates in the 2019 election cycle pressing the flesh for votes, but others will begin to gear up for the big one in 2020.

As always happens in these cases, those allegedly “in the know” can’t wait to start offering advice and imparting their wisdom to the candidates. They think they know the perfect formula to get someone elected, from the right talking points to the best way to dress and act in public.

But, what I hope they remember is just one thing  2018 was the year that authenticity won.

We saw it here locally with the Primary election wins of Sara Innamorato (full disclosure, I am her campaign chair) and Summer Lee. These women ran for seats in the Pennsylvania House as themselves. They didn’t listen to establishment-types who told them to dress differently or wear their hair a certain way. Most importantly, instead of sticking to the tired playbook of avoiding saying too much on policy for fear of offending a potential voter, they got out there and talked about the issues that were important to them and their community in a very personal and thoughtful way. They talked about race, and class, and the economic struggles of people.

This authenticity inspired people to come out and knock doors in the rain, even on Mother’s Day. And the candidates themselves were out there getting drenched with their supporters.

This authenticity also moved people to come out and vote. We saw that with voter turnout in  districts across Pennsylvania that surpassed historical bests.

It also translated into not only General election wins, but  tighter races in districts that were typically written off by Democrats across the Commonwealth.  Candidates who were authentic pushed the boundaries and gave a new found hope like never before. We saw competitive races in Delaware County with Kristin Seale (HD-168) and in the state Senate win of Lindsey Williams (SD-38).  Emily Best stayed true to herself in her state Senate (SD-30) race. She ran for office as a young mom and often had her little one out on the stump with her. We saw this authenticity in Congressional districts nationally as well. Just take a look at Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in New York.

You saw many of this “keepin’-it-real” class of candidates expressing themselves in person, in front of town hall meetings and on social media. They opened themselves up and it made a personal connection with their constituencies. Yes, these candidates organized, but more importantly they made politics finally feel accessible to all, not just the donor class.

There were no coattails to ride in Pennsylvania from the top of the ticket down to local races; the opposite happened. These candidates who kept it real should be credited for increasing voter participation that provided substantial margins of victory for Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

The reason 2018 is being labeled as the “Year of the Woman” is because women figured out that they were going to make it the “Year of Authenticity.”

So if you’re running for office in 2019, burn your copy of the “buttoned-up, stodgy, play it safe, say little, stay-vague-and-vapid- in-your-talking points” playbook.

Go out there, run for office and be yourself; choose convictions over calculations. When you do you will continue to reshape the structure of what a political candidate should be.

That’s the difference between making change and making authentic change.

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