‘I can’t lose this…I gave up everything’

On Wednesday evening I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a conference call with U.S. Senate candidate Dan Bongino, and I was joined by a handful of other political bloggers around the state. Insofar as I know (and I haven’t checked today, so I may now be incorrect on this assertion) no one else has written about this call, and that’s sort of a shame.

The call itself was timed just before Dan’s “20 on 20” moneybomb, which turned out to be, in his words today, “an incredible success” which “surpassed our one-day goal.” But Dan lauded the support of the Maryland conservative blogosphere, which had been “absolutely invaluable” to his campaign, arguably moreso than the mainstream media’s. I’m not sure I would agree with that totally, but when you stop to consider the interests of our audience (which is more attuned to politics and forms the backbone of donors, volunteers, etc.) I can see his point. The mainstream is more valuable for building up name recognition, though.

Speaking of volunteers, Dan assessed his campaign as “in great shape” as far as that goes; still he conceded “we need a little help” in fundraising – “but we’re doing okay.” Much of the fundraising would go toward media, and it’s no secret that whoever wins the GOP primary will have to contend with Cardin’s massive warchest, $1 million of which he’s purportedly spending on media buys in the runup to the primary. And while Cardin has a contested primary, with the main opponent being State Senator C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County, it’s probable that the lone question surrounding the April 3rd contest is the over-under on Cardin’s margin of victory. As others are finding out on a more limited scale, it’s difficult enough to run a campaign during the General Assembly session let alone attempt a statewide one as Muse is attempting. You can also factor in the tacit disapproval of state Democratic party brass as another hindrance to Muse’s upstart bid.

But Dan brought up a good point about Ben’s media buy – why is this necessary after 45 years in public office, particularly when he’s run for election 16 times? Granted, Ben hasn’t been on the ballot since 2006 but he’s obviously a familiar name in one of the state’s two leading media markets, and it’s not like he won’t get the covert backing of the state’s key media outlets either.

I asked a question of Dan regarding the Muse challenge and what it means to the minority vote: what percentage of the vote are you looking for? “All of them,” he replied. But to Dan that sphere of voters presents a “target-rich environment” where several conservative issues can resonate. There’s no doubt that Bongino is basing his campaign on kitchen-table issues – “I know what it’s like to be hungry,” he said, regarding his upbringing in a impoverished family – but there are other “wedge issues” out there like school choice, which “resonates strongly” in many areas, where the incumbent is working against the interests of minority voters. “We can do better” with them, assessed Dan.

Other issue-based questions dealt with the recent CBO re-estimate of Obamacare’s costs, which Dan remarked is “not realistic…not even close” to the true costs and what he felt were key issues: of course the economy and jobs topped the list. “Folks want to hear about putting Cheerios on the table right now,” said Bongino.

He was also pleased to get the endorsement from the Gazette website, which is based in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., along with additional coverage from Newsmax and the G. Gordon Liddy radio program. “Seven million eyeballs” saw the Newsmax piece, beamed Bongino.

All in all, the conference call, which lasted a few ticks short of a half-hour, was a valuable tool in gauging the strength of the Bongino campaign at this point. There’s no doubt he (or any other of the ten GOP aspirants for the nomination) will have an uphill battle this fall, but there are reasons to believe Democrats in general have cracks in their Maryland armor. Will the base turn out for Obama? And what about the two referenda which will most likely be on the ballot – will they drive conservative turnout?

I’m not sure how much Bongino or any of the other Republicans who will survive the primary will tie themselves to these issues, as we have a long way to go to find out whether the gay marriage question will even be on the ballot. Moreover, and quite frankly, gay marriage can be characterized as a side issue in a race for federal office. But these ballot issues will bring conservative voters out and we know Cardin is foursquare behind placing the support of same-sex marriage in the Democratic party’s platform so we don’t necessarily have to be strongly against gay marriage in federal races.

But I appreciated being included in the call, and know that the campaign begins in earnest once nominees are selected April 3.

It’s worth noting that, while Bongino doesn’t have a local event scheduled I’m aware of, two of his opponents will be in the Salisbury area on Monday, March 26th. Richard Douglas is the featured speaker for the Wicomico County Republican Club meeting at the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Salisbury while fellow GOP officeseeker Robert Broadus will address the Wicomico Society of Patriots meeting at Adam’s Ribs in Fruitland.