“It takes more than a few bucks and a slap on the back to run a Senate campaign,” Mark Wilson told me Friday afternoon, expressing frustration at charges that he was somehow “bought out” by Sen. Maria Cantwell.
“Maria didn’t need to offer me a job to get out of the race,” he bluntly explained. “I was done. The only thing missing was the funeral.”
Wilson said he sank about $20,000 of his own money into the race, but more significantly had sacrificed about $80,000 of income over the past 16 months. He had also begun to question whether his quixotic campaign was doing more harm than good, and he did not want to play a role in helping Republicans cement their Senate majority with a McGavick victory.
“That would be a tragedy,” Wilson told me, arguing that Democrats need to keep their eyes on the “big prize.” Wilson said he went into the race with eyes wide open, never expecting to have much of a chance of defeating Cantwell, and always publicly promising to enthusiastically endorse the Democratic nominee. A year and a half ago he thought he’d stick it out through the primary, but in recent months he started to fear that his campaign had not only become electorally futile, but counterproductive towards his larger goals.
And if lightening struck and he somehow won the nomination? Well, Wilson said, “that would have been a disaster” too. For as vocal as some of Cantwell’s critics have been they simply haven’t put their money where their mouth is. After 16 months of campaigning Wilson said he would be surprised if he had raised more than $40,000 total.
“That’s gas money,” a clearly exasperated Wilson exclaimed. “I didn’t raise enough money to run for City Council.”
For all the words of encouragement and slaps on the back he got throughout his campaign, Wilson exited the race with zero cash and almost no organization. With only 6 weeks between the primary and the general election, Wilson recognized that a victory over Cantwell would have been Pyrrhic, virtually guaranteeing a win by a well-oiled, well-heeled McGavick campaign. Likewise, a bitter and divisive primary battle would have left little time for Democrats to come together before the November election.
Thus his decision to support Cantwell now, rather than later. These are dire times Wilson warned, and progressive voters simply do not have the luxury of taking “the high road to Hell.”
Wilson is thankful for all the support he did get, and says he comes away with “no regrets” from this “enriching and enlightening experience.” But he does think that some progressives are simply unrealistic about what it takes to have a real impact on the political process, saying that if progressives wanted a nominee that more closely reflected their values they should have started organizing in earnest two years ago. He feels privileged to have had so many people open their hearts to him, but considering how few opened their wallets he seems somewhat taken aback by the vehemence with which a handful of former “supporters” have turned on him in recent days.
“I was out of resources. If people wanted me to keep going they should have put money into it… I wasn’t going to take any more food off my family’s table.”
As for the $8,000 salary, Wilson said there was no premeditation and no negotiating. He went into his meeting with Cantwell aware that his campaign was all but over, but came out an enthusiastic supporter. “What can I do to help you win?” he asked her at the end, to which Cantwell replied “Come work for me.”
A few moments later, after Cantwell had left the room, a top aide asked Wilson what it would take to bring him on board full time, and Wilson said he couldn’t afford to continue neglecting his business and his personal finances. The aide asked how much Wilson earned from his business. Wilson said $2000.00 a week. The aide said “done.”
Is he worth the money? Wilson says he has a mature business with lots of longtime customers, and generally works only 30 hours a week to earn his two grand, whereas he expects to put the same 70-hour weeks into Cantwell’s campaign that he had been putting into his own. As for Cantwell, she has consultants who earn a helluva lot more for doing a helluva lot less, so Wilson comes across as a relative bargain considering all he brings to the table.
And if you ask me, it’s also a pretty good deal for Cantwell’s Democratic critics, for the biggest thing Wilson brings to the table is himself. The “peace and justice” folks now have the ear of somebody who has Cantwell’s ear, and in that respect I suppose you could say that Wilson’s candidacy was a huge success.
For his part, Wilson says that he is grateful to have the opportunity to finish the job. Whether his former supporters choose to take advantage of this opportunity is up to them.