Is this candidate squad material?
The challenge of evaluating a first time candidate is obvious: the political arena is full of charming and charismatic people who happily vote against the interests of working people all the time. So if someone is running for the first time, how are we supposed to know if they're on our side or not?
I think for me the process of finding an answer to that question boils down to three criteria: RECORD, RHETORIC and RELATIONSHIPS.
What do I mean?
Obviously a first time candidate doesn't have a policy track record, but presumably if they are a legitimate candidate for office, they do have a track record as a community member. Here I am looking for people who took bold risks, rather than staying uncontroversial. When did this person pick a side in a public fight? Did they stay on the sidelines or did they get their hands dirty? Working a non-controversial service oriented job, while noble, is not the same thing as picking a side. I want someone who has pissed off the right people.
The stated policy platform of any candidate is important to evaluate -- but its not just the policies I'm interested in. It is of critical importance to evaluate HOW the candidate talks about the issues. Do they describe the issues as tho they were describing "bad weather" -- like they're an unfortunate accident and we just need to make sure everyone has umbrellas and rain gear? Or do they name the people actively benefiting from the suffering of others and guiding public policy to favor them? Do they talk about solutions that rely on the opinions and advice of 'experts' and highly educated people? Or do they talk about solutions that rely on community power and the lived experiences of working people? Do they propose means-tested policies? Or are their policies universal? Are they pretending to be 'color blind? Or do they acknowledge the existence of widespread racism in public policy? I want someone who frames the issues in a way that names the real enemy and calls the rest of us to greatness.
Politics is ultimately about which factions take power at any particular moment. At the national level we have useful codes like "Democrat" and "Republican" to help sort out which faction the candidate belongs to -- but at the local level we need to look for different clues. Who does this person talk to on a daily basis? Who do they call when they need advice? Who is giving $$ to their campaign? Who is on their campaign staff? Who is publicly supporting them? Who are they publicly supporting? I'm going to be extremely suspicious if I look around and I see a lot of big business types and big checks coming in. I want to see lots of small dollar donors, labor union support and an inner circle that includes working class people and community activists.
To be clear, I'm not demanding perfection here. I recognize that most candidates are going to have weaknesses in one or two of these areas. However, if a candidate is weak on all three? I don't see why anyone would expect that I should support them.
The political arena is treacherous and rocky and I want someone who can be trusted. Without strong rhetoric, relationships and a record, I have no basis on which to form that trust.