David Burstein wants "unconventional candidates" to run "unconventional campaigns" as he looks toward the 2016 election and his generation's future. The 26-year-old's solution: drafting and training 12 young candidates to run for Congress.
It's a lofty goal—though one that echoes many failed attempts to change the political process. But Burstein, the co-founder of Run for America Action, is going forward with help from some established political names, from former members of Congress to a presidential campaign strategist.
They are combing the country for millennial congressional candidates in two ways: an online form to take nominations from the public and a 35-person search committee that will suggest five potential candidates per month and conduct research on them. By the fall, Burstein says there will be a finalized list of 12 candidates. The districts haven't been determined.
"We want people who have tenacity, deep commitment to make the world a better place "¦ a track record of accomplishments," said Burstein, who said his group is the first organization that recruits candidates of all parties.
Common Sense Action, a millennial group with similar goals, teamed up with Burstein's group, Run for America, in March. Since its launch, the group has received more than 400 online nominations. There are no parameters on who can be nominated, but Burstein cautions against "those who desperately want to be in office."
"We want a certain level of reluctance and people who are not saying 'all I've ever wanted to do is be elected to office,'" Burstein said. "People with that profile find it really difficult to take serious risks and make hard choices."
Once candidates are selected, they will participate in a training program for their run. An advisory board composed of political veterans will help them prepare mentally and financially for the road ahead.
Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for President George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, is one of the people involved. While he has no formal role yet, Dowd has started to look into potential districts and will likely help "provide [candidates] with an infrastructure to increase the likelihood of success."
"I believe in something that disrupts the current environment in ways that might change how things are governed in D.C.," Dowd said. "We've come to a place where both political parties are trapped in an old way of thinking, old policies, old way of communicating. Anything that will bring a new, innovative approach "¦ I'm all for."
Former Rep. Bob Carr, who served in the House of Representatives for 18 years, has firsthand experience of running as a young candidate. As a 29-year-old congressional hopeful, Carr said he grappled with the pressure of not being taken seriously. The Michigan Democrat narrowly lost that election, but was elected to the House two years later.
Carr, who teaches a course about being in Congress at George Washington University, hopes to impart the lessons learned from his campaigns and help the Run for America Action candidates overcome obstacles regarding their age.
"I think there's a mindset in this country that equates length of tenure, service, involvement, with experience, qualification," Carr said. "There are some very strong correlations "¦ but that's not the only determinant of whether a person is capable."
One major question mark hovers over the entire endeavor: money. Burstein said the initial stages of the recruitment process require little money, but the candidates will need it to wage competitive races. So far, Run for America Action has received several hundred donations of less than $500. Burstein said the group will release a list of supporters and a more detailed financial plan in June.
"It may even take a couple of cycles to mature as a phenomenon, but clearly at some point, millennials will take power in this country," Carr said. "The question is how long do we have to wait for that to happen, and I think there's some good reason to accelerate that process."
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