Our Endorsement Process, Explained

This election cycle, there are hundreds of independent candidates running for office, up and down the ballot and across the country.

So far, we’ve endorsed 24 candidates: five for statewide office and 19 for state legislature. And we’ve highlighted dozens of others on our website.

This blog post addresses a few frequently asked questions about our endorsement process –– including our support levels, criteria, and process.

What’s the purpose of an endorsement?

Unlike a political party that nominates candidates, our endorsement process is not meant to control who gets to run as an independent in any given election –– the more, the merrier. Instead, our endorsements help our organization and network of supporters prioritize how to allocate limited time and resources in order to maximize electoral success.

This is particularly the case in the context of our overall strategy: in the short-term (2018), prove the electoral viability of independent candidates; in the medium-term (2020), elect a sufficient number of independent candidates to establish a fulcrum and control the balance of power in one or more state legislatures; and in the long-term (2022 and beyond), scale our movement to additional states and to the U.S. Congress.

We desire for our endorsements to both deliver meaningful direct support from Unite America and to carry their own credibility that can help our endorsed candidates raise money, gain media attention, and ultimately win votes. That means we have to maintain a high standard and remain very selective in who we endorse.

What are the criteria?

In deciding who we support and at what level, we evaluate  the candidates we recruit, identify, or who reach out to us based on four criteria:

Leadership: Is the candidate the kind of leader we desire in public office based on their personal character and integrity?

To help us answer this question, we use a framework developed by Margaret M. Perlis that includes the following 8 pillars: fortitude, temperance/responsibility, prudence, justice/fairness, trustworthiness, respect, caring, and citizenship.

Alignment: Is the candidate aligned with the values and principles of our movement?

Unlike the parties, we do not have a strict policy-based litmus test. Instead, we are focused on supporting candidates who share a similar approach to governance based on finding common ground and using common sense. In particular, we ask candidates if they agree to the five principles of our Declaration of Independents, which we drafted alongside our national candidate slate in 2017.

Credibility: Would, or should, the candidate be taken seriously by donors, media, and, most importantly, voters?

We closely examine the candidate’s personal qualities such as their biography and credentials, as well as their political aptitude such as their message, fundraising potential, and overall ability to run a strong campaign.

Viability: Does the candidate have a plausible path to victory? (In order words: can they win?)

This point comes down to raw political calculus. We start with the inherent dynamics of the district such as the incumbent and composition of the electorate, and then we consider the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate such as how well known they are, what time/resources they can commit to their campaign, and the quality of the team they have. We also consider structural dynamics that may impact the race, like Ranked Choice Voting, Top-Two primaries or publicly financed campaigns. In many circumstances, we conduct polling to gauge the political opportunity in a particular district or state.

Note: We only consider supporting candidates who are not personally affiliated with either major party. In furtherance of our Fulcrum Strategy, we are unlikely to support any legislative candidate who pre-commits to “caucusing” with either major party once elected.

What are the levels of support?

We list candidates in three tiers: Declared, On Our Radar, and Endorsed according to a framework developed by our endorsement committee. 

Framework

Declared: Any candidate we come across who is running for state or federal office as an independent.

While we do not have the bandwidth to fully vet every candidate based on their leadership or alignment, we make note of candidates who have signed on our Declaration of Independents or published it to their websites.

Unite America welcomes these candidates into our community and offers scaled support resources, like our candidate toolkit.

On Our Radar: Candidates whose races we are watching closely and offer a limited amount of direct support.

We’ve fully vetted these candidates across all of our criteria. While they must meet our minimum threshold for credibility, they do not have to meet our standard of viability. These are serious candidates who may be long-shots right now, but still have the potential to clear their own path to victory. We may consider candidates On Our Radar for future endorsements.

Unite America offers these candidates some individual guidance, connections to our network of campaign talent, and a platform to share their campaigns with our supporters in their district or state.

Endorsed: Candidates who we think have the best chance of winning and are most likely to be catalysts for the independent movement.

No independent campaign is a slam dunk, but we believe our endorsed candidates have a real chance at victory. Moreover, we believe they are high quality representatives and leaders of our movement.

Unite America focuses the vast majority of our time, energy and resources on supporting our endorsed candidates –– including raising money, mobilizing volunteers, and giving access to our electoral infrastructure such as voter data.

What is the endorsement process?

When we find candidates, or they find us, we begin by sending them a 40-question survey to help us get to know them, their reasons for running, and their campaigns.

After a staff evaluates candidates, the strongest candidates –– based on benchmarks for credibility and viability –– are interviewed by our team. At the same time, we conduct independent research on them and the political dynamics of their race and district.

Our team compiles as much information and provides recommendations to Unite America’s Endorsement Committee, which is comprised of civic and business leaders committed to our movement. The Committee meets every few weeks, deliberates on candidates and ultimately decides which candidates to endorse or to place On Our Radar.

Our endorsement committee includes:

  • Charlie Wheelan -- Unite America Founder; Author, The Centrist Manifesto
  • Bill King -- Former Independent Candidate, Mayor of Houston
  • Lisa Rice -- Political & External Affairs Strategist
  • Colston Young -- Co-Chair, Unite America; Founder, Whiteboot
  • Cory Gilchrist -- CO Steering Committee Member; President, KCH Holdings I LLC

Conclusion

While we’re proud of the framework and process we’ve developed, we are regularly refining it to make it more effective, transparent and meaningful. Our long-term vision is to open our endorsement process up, in a democratic way, to the feedback, recommendations, and eventual votes of our Founding Members.

Have an idea, question, or comment? Drop us a line: hello@uniteamerica.org.


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