Journalism professor Mark Harmon knows exactly which doors he’ll be knocking on in Tennessee’s second congressional district to meet moderate Republicans. Their votes are most valuable to him and can help him get into Congress. He revealed the behind-the-scenes of the political campaign in the American elections in an interview with Deník N during his visit to Prague.
What we ask in the interview:
What chance does a Democrat have to win in a traditionally Republican district?
What role does the repeal of the constitutional right to abortion play in the election?
Where do the candidates get their money and who gave Mark Harmon the most?
How much will it cost to win the election of a senator, deputy or governor?
Why is political TV advertising passé?
You’re a Democrat, you’ve worked as a college professor all your life, and now, on your 65-year-old knees, you’ve decided to run for Congress. Will you be angry that I am not too optimistic about your chances?
I know that as a Democrat I don’t have much of a chance in historically Republican Tennessee. But some, yes.
And specifically in my precinct in the city of Knoxville, Republicans have won since 1850. They’ve never elected a Democrat there. But this is an exceptional year, atypical, anything can happen. I have to at least try.
What is your motivation?
It was the last straw for methe attack on the Capitol last January 6. My wife and I watched in horror as Donald Trump supporters stormed the building, but even worse for me was the reaction of our legislators. I expected that when the police chased the attackers away and security was restored, the politicians of both parties would come together and unanimously declare the election results legitimate.
But that didn’t happen.
No! Just hours after the worst attempted coup in modern times, 140 lawmakers voted against confirming the election result. I expected them to sing the national anthem together like after 9/11, but instead they insisted on Trump’s big lie that the election was rigged. And our district MP Tim Burchett was among them. I was deeply offended by that.
How do you see the current events in America?
Extremists are attacking our democracy and trying to rob the United States of the freedom it is famous for. Look at how, for example, the Supreme Court has now taken away women’s right to decide about pregnancy. Most Americans are in favor of keeping that right, and so am I. So I’m going to voters — especially women — and telling them that the Republican Party has lost its way and it’s time to remind them of it.
Mark Harmon (65)
He has taught journalism, media and broadcasting at the University of Tennessee for 23 years
He also worked as a radio host or television news producer and hosted a political show.
In 1998, he unsuccessfully ran for Congress for the first time
Since 2004, he has served as a member of the Knoxville County Board of Trustees.
How do they react to you?
Some ignore me completely, others start talking. I know that I won’t convince them of anything, but others will. Now we should not divide topics into republican and democratic, but into good and bad. And I think it’s wrong that women lost their right to an abortion, and it’s wrong when politicians question the legitimate results of an election.
Where do you go to meet people? Do you ring their bells?
Also. Now, for example, I joined the 4th of July celebrations, my wife Becky took her Mini Cooper, pulled the roof down, and I waved to people from the car and handed out flyers. I also wear a Mark Harmon For Congress t-shirt and wear it to various meetings and gatherings, inviting people to events.
Is he walking?
Not always. Now recently I came up with such an interesting location, or so I thought, but not a single journalist came there. Ah, you media!
What bothers the Americans you talk to the most?
Migrants and high prices. For example, about the situation on the southern border of the USA, I tell them that John McCain proposed two very good laws for this and that I would like to enforce them. That gets them interested – a Democrat approving of something a Republican did. But he usually counters that Biden is expensive.
They’re right, aren’t they?
They have. But more things are reflected in the price increase, and the rest of the world is in the same situation as us, so it can’t just be Biden. I talk to them about price fixing by big corporations. They like that, too, because Republicans are mostly opposed to corporate power.
Why do politicians change constituencies
What is the ratio of Republican to Democratic voters in Tennessee?
So 55 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat, and the rest are independent or undecided.
And in the state parliament?
There are so many Republicans there that they have a so-called supermajority, which means they don’t need the approval of the Democrats for anything and can pass whatever laws they want. In this way, they also approved the new shapes of the precincts so that the Republicans would always win in them. We have nine constituencies, I am running for the second one.
How does the redraw of precincts work?
Both Republicans and Democrats know where their voters live from the ballots. If you draw district boundaries so that there are more Republicans and fewer Democrats, the Republican candidate will always beat the Democrat there. So even though the Republicans only have a majority in the state, the vast majority of their candidates will get into the state legislature. It is no longer a system in which voters choose politicians, but on the contrary – politicians choose voters.
Do the Democrats do it too?
Of course. I’m sure they redrew California or Maryland like that, where they have the majority. It’s called
gerrymandering after Elbridge Gerry, then governor of Massachusetts, who used the method. The Republicans, in turn, painted Texas, Ohio or Wisconsin.
Is that fair?
We’ve seen for a long time that it’s not fair because Republicans don’t get a majority of the American electorate, and yet they win elections thanks to gerrymandering and the Electoral System. They have not won the number of votes in the direct presidential election several times in a row. Think Trump and Clinton. He won in small states, she won in big ones. It had three million more people, but still lost the election.
What would Tennessee look like if it was the number of electors, not winning precincts?
Five Republicans, two Democrats, and possibly two tied districts. Instead, it’s now 9-0.
In which states do Republicans still have such a parliamentary supermajority?
We call them deep red states—like Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kansas. It probably won’t surprise you that the same states banned abortion at the same time. It’s the same map. That is, with the exception of Kansas, where the right to abortion has been guaranteed by the constitution for 70 years. So that’s where the Republicans are now trying to change the constitution.
Polls show Democrats may lose their House majority in November’s congressional elections. Do you see it from the ground the same way?
If it weren’t for the Supreme Court ruling on abortion, yes. But that decision changed the atmosphere a lot. I see that the Democratic voters are really very determined to go to the polls. And the more people turn out to vote in the United States, the better the Democrats have a chance to win.
And conversely. The lower the turnout, the higher the Republicans’ chances.
Why is it like this?
Because liberal voters don’t have that kind of voting discipline. They say that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line.
There is a section of Democrats who do not like President Biden’s leadership and criticize him for not being effective. Do you agree
I understand them, but I’ll remind you of 2016. These people disagreed with Hillary Clinton on some things and said they couldn’t vote for her. As a result, they got Donald Trump. If you don’t agree with the candidate one hundred percent, that’s fine. The important thing is that you agree with him on the main points. Don’t let someone get into office with whom you agree on maybe five, ten percent of things, because you couldn’t throw it to your candidate on some principle.
How do you think the Republican Party of George Bush became the party of Donald Trump?
During Ronald Reagan’s administration, the party decided to appeal to and build its base on very conservative, religious, southern white men. It became the heart of the party and today it surpasses the traditional Republicans, i.e. businessoriented conservatives, both in terms of numbers and activity. In recent years, Trump has fueled them with his anger.
Is Donald Trump their consequence or cause?
He was originally an accidental profiteer. He’s still using the movement, but he’s not smart enough to lead it.
And who is he?
If Trump doesn’t run, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is smart enough to play the extremist game. He is the most likely candidate.
What does a DeSantis like this mean for Democrats?
They are worried about him.
Look what happened under Trump. We almost lost our democratic system. With a smarter and more disciplined candidate with authoritarian tendencies, it might work.
What will happen to Trump if he doesn’t run?
I expect him to be charged based on the investigations that are being conducted against him. Either because of his business practices, which are being investigated by the prosecutor’s office in New York, or the influencing of elections, of which he is suspected in Georgia. There, I think the accusation is very likely. And then there’s the commission investigating last year’s attack on the Capitol, I’m not ruling out charges there either. He may – as the first president since the Civil War – be banned from voting. So Trump will probably be pretty busy anyway , as we say (employed, editor’s note) .
How do you think Trump has changed American society?
He changed her to be crueler, crueler and angrier.
After all, such people will not vote for a democratic candidate who warns them about it.
Maybe… But I can see the way there. Republicans very often vote for single-issue candidates. Typically abortion, Trump, guns. If a candidate agrees with them on the one thing they consider crucial, they vote for him, whatever else he says. And now the Democrats and some Republicans could do that around the right to abortion. Do not decide based on anything else and vote only for those candidates who are in favor of a woman’s right to abortion. That’s why I appeal more to moderate voters and especially women. Because then we would have a chance.
The lottery winner sent me the most
Money plays a big role in the campaign. do you have them From where?
I get a small portion from the Democratic Party, I get a lot from my local chapter, and then I get money from constituents. Typically between $20 and $100 per person.
Who gave you the most?
A gentleman who won the lottery. He gave me the maximum he could: $2,700 per cycle, for a total of $5,400.
And how much do you need?
American elections are very expensive. A seat in the House will cost you about a million dollars, a seat in the Senate six to twelve million, the governor’s post the same. And the presidential election goes to heaven.
How do you find money?
There are three ways in America. Either you are rich enough to pay for the campaign yourself, which I am not. Then you can collect among people: either directly yourself, or you turn to a political committee, the so-called PAC ( political action committee ). There are a lot of them, they are given money by others and you can get it from them. And the third way is the so-called dark money.
That doesn’t sound very official.
It’s not even. But they can influence the outcome of the election even more.
How does it work?
Let’s say you’re a high-ranking executive at a technology company and you don’t like a bill in Congress that affects your business. You start an organization you call America’s Entrepreneurs for Success, pay for television ads to speak out against the law, and call on the public to call this and that congressman who is pushing the “horrible” law. In other words, you are not openly in favor of any candidate, but you strongly influence the election.
How much money does your opponent have?
Five times more. But he doesn’t have five times as many votes.
Can you calculate how much one vote costs you?
Only in retrospect. Let’s say I get two hundred thousand dollars and one hundred thousand votes, that works out to two dollars per vote.
And how many votes do you need?
One hundred and forty grand to win. Now I’m sure about a hundred thousand of them.
Where can you find another forty thousand?
Maybe it’s not too detailed, but I have a system for this, which I call twos and ones. If you’re a person who only goes to the polls sometimes, and I convince you to vote for me, that’s one vote for me. But if you’re someone who usually votes Republican, but this time you’re too fed up to vote for me, that’s two votes.
Because you won’t give it to my opponent at the same time. So I gain one while he loses one. That’s a plus two for me.
But you really have to persuade people almost one by one.
That’s exactly how I won the election when I became a member of our precinct’s board of trustees. I went door to door, went all over our precinct and concentrated on moderate Republicans, or rather conservatives. I had fun with them, I explained to them, and then they made an exception and gave me a vote. I will repeat the same now.
Don’t you care about any other demographic?
But yes, about the young and university-educated, of course. But I focus on those twos and ones. To those who lean slightly to the other side, plus their usual voters. It’s not worth wasting my time and money on people I know I’ll never convince.
How do you actually know how people voted?
We don’t know. We only know that they voted in primaries, in which only those who are registered with that party can choose party candidates. So if someone has voted five times in a row in the Republican primary, they probably won’t give me their vote. But if he voted twice in the Republican primary, once in the Democratic primary, and missed one primary, I want to talk to that person. I want to listen to him and maybe get his voice.
Will you also have TV commercials?
No. They are very expensive and not that effective. I have a better way.
And that’s it?
Targeted advertising on social networks. Case in point: my opponent, Tim Burchett, voted against passing the Asian and Pacific American (AAPI) Crimes Reporting Act . I will search for residents with Asian surnames and target them with an ad telling them about it. It’s not that expensive and should work better.
How much does your team cost you?
Nothing. They work for me for free. All are volunteers.
Is this common?
For challengers in very difficult fights, yes.
Did you mean pre-lost fights or not?
But I really have a chance. Otherwise I wouldn’t even try
Published in Denik News