The persuasion game

Kumar Barve, a Maryland state delegate seeking election to Congress, left, stands with his campaign manager Seth Maiman. Photo by Wilson Chang
Kumar Barve, a Maryland state delegate seeking election to Congress, left, stands with his campaign manager Seth Maiman.
Photo by Wilson Chang

Seth Maiman arrives a half-hour early to a recent Montgomery County Council forum on fixing the beleaguered Metro, accompanied by his daughter, recently home from Camp Louise.

He stands near the entrance to the council meeting room in Rockville and chats with local reporters, predicting (correctly) that the meeting will garner high turnout from the community, given the very public shortcomings of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Such is the life of a campaign manager vying to get his boss into one of the most sought-after seats in Congress.

Del. Kumar Barve (D-Gaithersburg), the first Indian-American elected to a state legislature in the United States, approached his longtime friend Maiman to help organize his campaign for Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s seat in Maryland’s 8th congressional district.

Barve, the former majority leader and current House Environment and Transportation Committee chair, said he “trusts [Maiman] implicitly.”

In a sit-down interview at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, where Maiman serves as executive vice president, he says in an unmistakable Brooklyn accent, “campaigns are about persuading voters for a long period of time, and over the course of persuading voters, you identify who your voters are, and at the end — literally in the last few days — you turn your campaign into one get-out-the-vote machine.”

But the nuts and bolts of that persuasive offensive takes time and considerable funds, particularly in a race with five, potentially six, other candidates.

“You have to communicate, you have to raise money, you have to have organization, paid media, free media, go out to the events,” said Maiman.

Campaigns have become more complicated than when Maiman, 54, first entered the world of politics decades ago. A child in the ’60s, he remembers distinctly when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. There were three or four newspapers delivered to the family home in Brooklyn and his parents never shied away from talking politics.

His political ambitions were solidified when he opted out of a school vacation to head to Washington on a week-long civic education program through the Close Up Foundation, which he would work for 27 years later. The experience led him to double-major in political science and history at the State University of New York at Albany. Law school followed and then an internship in then-state Assemblyman Chuck Schumer’s office during his last year in New York’s legislature.

It wasn’t the first time Maiman and the future senator had met. Maiman’s father, an English teacher by day and religious school principal by night, was Schumer’s Hebrew school teacher. To this day, said Maiman, when he encounters Schumer on the Hill, the senator asks after Maiman’s family, though his father has since passed.

Maiman said that getting out the vote is more complicated than it was back then “because you have 10 days of early voting at multiple sites a couple of days before you actually have the election, so a lot of the old ‘get-out-the-vote’ mechanics are now supplemented by this whole early-voting thing.”

Paid media and social media are more prevalent than ever before. The candidates have websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.  In a crowded race where a candidate could win with “certainly less than 50 percent and more like 30” percent of the vote, chasing down every vote is an imperative, but with a larger electorate comes new challenges.

During the last election cycle, Maiman ran his friend Rick Kessler’s unsuccessful campaign for District 18 delegate. For state legislative races, Maiman said, stumping at Metro stations every morning and door-knocking every afternoon is a necessity, but with a larger electorate, that becomes less feasible.

“In order to compete on a congressional level — because you just have that many more voters and that more of a national play coming in in terms of fundraising and support — the larger the electorate the less the candidate has the ability to meet everyone and meet everyone individually and the more they have to rely on paid media,” said Maiman.

Though he agreed that social media presence is important in introducing voters to a candidate, Lee Annis, chairman of the political science department at Montgomery College’s Rockville campus, believes door-knocking is going to be a big part of this race.

“I think that if a candidate does not get out and pound the pavement and wear out a few pairs of shoes, that candidate won’t stand a chance,” said Annis.

He added that traditional methods will be particularly important in Carroll and Frederick counties, where candidates might have untapped pockets of support.

As reported in The Washington Post, this campaign could cost $1-3 million.

As of the July quarterly reports, Barve ranked third in the field in terms of fundraising. He reported $291,462.31 with $225,260.31 raised between the beginning of April and the end of June. Barve was the first candidate to formally throw his hat in the ring and has filed two fundraising reports. Maiman will be fundraising through Election Day and is appreciative of every dollar, noting that “sometimes people are giving you more of their income when they’re giving you a $10 check.”

State Sen. Jamie Raskin reported $553,538.69, followed by former local television news anchor Kathleen Matthews with $501,105.99. Will Jawando, who ran unsuccessfully for District 20 last year, reported $112,045.02. Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase reported $36,110.00.

Former County Council member Valerie Ervin filed her candidacy in July and did not have to file a quarterly report. Former candidate for District 18 state Del. Elizabeth Matory has set up a campaign website and social media, but at press time had not filed with the FEC.

The amount of money raised at this point in the election cycle doesn’t surprise Annis, who was appointed by the Montgomery County Council to a four-year term on the Public Election Fund Committee.

“Supporters are going to do anything they can to push [their candidate] this time because they know they won’t get another shot,” said Annis. “There’s more [money] this time because people see this as their one chance.”

Despite the huge sums raised and the crowded ballot, Annis predicts the race will retain a degree of civility not always seen in other races.

“Montgomery County, with very few exceptions, has always been a place where people do discuss issues and focus upon issues and they don’t get into ad hominem attacks without much of a reason,” said Annis.

Taking a seat toward the back of the room, Maiman settles in to watch Barve testify before the county council on the need to hire a strong Metro general manager. He snaps a photo of Barve off of a nearby television screen and immediately sends it out via the campaign’s official Twitter account and then retweets it from his personal account.

When hour one of the three-hour forum concludes, Maiman quietly slips out to the hallway to confer with his candidate. When approached by this reporter, he immediately introduces Barve and extols the candidate’s record on transportation and details how Barve crisscrossed the state while majority leader of the House of Delegates.

Before driving his daughter — who, along with her older brother, has participated in the Board of Elections Future Vote program, which awards Montgomery County students service learning hours for training and participating on voting days as a student election aide — back to the home he shares with his wife, Marissa Brown, executive director for the Democracy Initiative, Maiman double-checks the next round of meet and greets with Democratic activists in Carroll and Montgomery counties. Those key meetings can win a candidate valuable volunteers in the grueling last two weeks of a campaign.

At the end of the day, when all the mailers are sent and the knocking on doors has ended, Maiman believes in the wisdom of voters.

“I think the voters state very clearly what they like and don’t like and by not voting last year they spoke very clearly about the kinds of candidates and kinds of campaigns they like to see.”

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