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Lessons from Santorum: You Don't Have to Win to Set the Agenda

Santorum has achieved the best-case scenario of a longshot candidate: making a mark on the national conversation.


When I was 17 years old, my father ran for governor of New York on the Green Party ticket. From May to November 2002, he drove around the state in the family's Volvo two or three times a week, racking up about 10,000 miles. The campaign bill was around $60,000, some of which our family footed. Winning was never the point: My dad earned 41,000 votes total.

I was horrified about spending the money, and perplexed about my mother's tolerance of a semi-absentee partner. It seemed like such a waste. "Why are you doing this, Dad?" I asked him. His answer was simple: "I want to influence the conversation." I was skeptical, until the day after my high school graduation when he handed me a lengthy New York Times profile of him and his bid for governor, one that quoted him on the need for environmental protections, campaign finance reform, and state-subsidized health insurance—positions that were absent from the more mainstream candidates' platforms. "This is why I'm running," he told me. "When you run for office, you get publicity for your ideas." Despite the fact that my middle-class parents had to put a chunk of the campaign expenses on credit cards and were still paying them off in 2006, my father doesn't regret running. Those few thousand people who listened to him, and ended up voting for him, made it worth it.

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