Friday, February 7, 2014

A Memo to Senator Walsh

Today, to no one's surprise, Governor Steve Bullock appointed John Walsh to the open Senate seat. Ink has been spilled by me and others concerning whether this appointment helps or hurts him politically. I have said it doesn't particularly help him, others disagree (most notably erstwhile Don Pogreba over at Intelligent Discontent). It is clear there are pros and cons to the move.

But let's say it helps.

If Senator Walsh wanted to maximize the benefit of his appointment, I'd pull much of his Washington staff and send them home to Montana to work in the eight offices he'll inherit from Max Baucus. In an article I published with Craig Goodman in 2013 in Political Research Quarterly, we examine the effect of the office expenditures by senators on the impressions of their constituents. We wrote the following to summarize our statistical analysis:

"Put differently, senators from more rural and less populated states can more easily act like their House colleagues and develop reputations for constituent service, while senators representing more densely populated states have more barriers to overcome for that reputation to receive positive notice."

You can read the entire piece here (behind a paid firewall FYI).

In a state like Montana, constituents notice constituent service work done at home for them. If Walsh wants to maximize the power of incumbency in his upcoming race against Congressman Steve Daines, using those official resources to do casework and help constituents deal with federal red tape would yield far more benefit than concentrating on policy and passing legislation (which is really had to pass in this polarized period of divided government anyway). And, since a senator can draw upon more official resources than a member of the House, he can make a bigger splash and get more notice than Daines. Such is the problem of running for the Senate as a sitting House member especially in a state like Montana where the constituencies are one and the same....

No comments: