How to Find a Reverse Coattails Candidate, From a Downballot Democrat

6 mins read

Daniel Duncan is running for South Carolina House District 14. Learn more about him here.

As a first-time candidate, it’s more than a little frustrating jumping into a race with no preparation. I was tired of seeing absolutely zero Democrats on my ballot in November, year after year, and I didn’t stop to think there might be a reason for that. After getting involved in my county party for the first time and seeing no Democrats filing again, I couldn’t take it anymore. So I decided I was going to take a stand for the Democrats I’d already met. Funny thing is, while this story felt unique to me, I’ve heard it time and time and time again since I entered the race.

What I’m also hearing, time and again, is a lack of organization and party support for first-time candidates like me. I can understand that from a certain aspect; we’re unknown quantities. You never know if someone’s going to turn out to be a milkshake duck or a right-wing plant. It’s safer to devote resources to people that the party is familiar with, consolidate power where you have it, and try to get more seats further down the road when there’s more money and volunteers available. Admittedly, I’m new to the party machine, but I’m guessing that’s been the playbook for the majority of the two decades in which the Republicans have had full control of South Carolina’s state government. So I want to ask, “How’s that going?”

See, we all witnessed a huge fundraising push in 2020 to elect Jaime Harrison. I donated to his campaign myself. And where did all that money go? I remember seeing some yard signs in Jeff Duncan’s congressional district (no relation), and there’s still a billboard up on my way to work. I got plenty of mailers and saw TV ads. But what I don’t remember ever seeing is volunteers door knocking, phone banks updating data in VoteBuilder, or any other form of direct voter contact in my area. We got written off by every campaign, be it Democrat or Republican, because it was easier to focus where the Democrats already had power and not where they could earn it again.

After Jan. 6, I knew I couldn’t let a seat go unchallenged. I even considered going against Jeff Duncan for Congress, but I didn’t have $3,500 to spare. But I did have $208, and that was enough to get me on the ballot in November for a state House seat. And there are many more people who made the same decision to challenge seats that were always deemed safe, if for no other reason than to make Republicans spend their war chests and to get out Democratic votes for statewide races. While I recognize that statewide races for governor, senator, superintendent of education, etc., are important, they’re also well funded and receive organizational support throughout the state. If you want to get out the depressed Democratic vote, you need to be building capacity in these previously uncontested districts by funding new candidates. Let the statewide races ride the coattails of the new Democrats who are being activated in rural and depressed districts.

Here’s one way to find such candidates. It’s probably not the only way, or even the best way, but I know it would find you at least three (including me). Look for a Republican U.S. House member who’s running unopposed, like Jeff Duncan. See what state legislative seats are up for election inside that district and if there are any Democrats running for those offices. Specifically check for first-time candidates and people who are challenging incumbents or running for an open seat. When you find these Democrats, support them in whatever way you can. It doesn’t always mean writing a check; you can engage with them on social media, email them a pick-me-up message, or volunteer from afar. They may need someone to handle their social media, graphic design, speechwriting, data entry, or virtual phone banking. There are going to be options, and any support you can give them is going to drive their votes up, and, therefore, the votes of those statewide races that everyone cares about. While it may seem like throwing money into a losing race, you’re investing in at least one more well-practiced activist, who’s likely creating more.

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Daniel Duncan ( on Daniel Duncan: I'm a truck driver and former Waffle House Manager who found himself in a leadership position of a county party, and the first candidate to challenge a State House seat in the general election in a decade, all in the course of a month. I grew up in Arkansas in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and saw what happens to a state when Democrats get complacent. So now I'm trying to invigorate upstate South Carolina and show working voters that not only are Democrats among them, but that we actually represent their values and respect their life experience.

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