“I’ve been a political junkie my entire life, “ said Mary Geren, a former candidate for the ruby red congressional seat SC-3, the election having taken place in the mid-terms. Mary, a committed educator, explained that it was the confirmation of Betsy DeVos that motivated her to run for office. “Public education saved my life, “said Geren, “and now it was under attack.”
She had run for the State House in 2016 at the request of then party chair Jaime Harrison. The incumbent, Ann Thayer, had never had anyone run again her. It was her vote to leave the confederate flag flying at the State Capital that motivated the Democratic Party to mount a challenge. Mary had few resources and lost, but running for office fosters name recognition as well as a list of volunteers, so when she decided to run against Jeff Duncan, she felt she was building on what she had previously started. Duncan had had no strong competition in a long time. Mary lost but moved the needle. “We made progress,” said Geren. “This is a very hard district.”
Mary was lucky enough to have the strong team of volunteers from her State House run, plus she had volunteered for a lot of other candidates who then helped her Congressional campaign. She put together a small but effective team that worked very well together. “Your team is your family,” Mary explained.
The first year she continued working full-time. It’s challenging with kids,” says Geren. “You have to prioritize and create a calendar so you can block time out for kid things.
When asked about the biggest surprises of the campaign,” Geren replied,” I didn’t realize how alive sexism is. It would even come from our supporters. One older gentleman sent his advice to my website saying my voice was almost shrill, and he felt it was off-putting. Someone else commented that they assumed I would now get a makeover and lose 20 lbs.”
Geren is a very open, down to earth woman, a person who embraces everyone. Her opponent Duncan had always thrown a Faith and Freedom barbecue which was more a celebration of “sameness.” “It was a divisive event,” said Geren. Mary decided to have an event in response that was a celebration of the district and its diversity. “We had 300 people there,” recalls Geren. “We had local people as speakers, including an Imam and a Rabbi. There were a lot of teenagers there. It was a very joyful event.”
Mary’s biggest challenge was fundraising. She got endorsements from a number of groups who didn’t wind up donating. So many Democrats think they should just give to likely winners, when, in fact, with more support many more Democrats could win. In the mid-terms, there was a lot of Democratic competition for dollars. Mary’s finance director, Jillian, did a great job of thinking out of the box and coming up with unique events, like drag queen bingo, Eat Drink and Meet Mary, and an art auction. But Mary said the donation per person was very low. Mary hopes the Democratic Party can develop donors and spread financial support among candidates. “I would have liked to have gotten National help like Joe (Cunningham)”
When asked what she would have done differently, Mary said, “I could have tried more things to reach moderate Republicans. Maybe I could have done more outreach to the African- American community, more barbecues earlier. But they know me, so it’s hard to say.”
The challenge for SC Democrats in the mid-terms was definitely attracting swing voters. Geren also remarked,” 70% of the vote was straight ticket. Eliminating the straight ticket would help a lot.”