May 21, 2024 11:10 pm

The premier news source for Snohomish County

‘Semi’ serious: Will Bird’s candidacy clip Reichert’s wings?

Campaign victories go to those who do the work to earn the win; party endorsements should be endowed by the same measure, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird hasn’t earned that honor through hard work and delivering results.

semi bird
Gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird speaking at the Snohomish County Republican Convention on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Mariner High School. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Politics is a blood sport.  It is a zero-sum game defined by clear winners and clear losers.  Voters reward candidates who do the work and deliver defeat to those who do not. Ultimately, politics in its purest form is sales.  The candidates who win are those who successfully make their case to the voters and the voters buy-in.  Political campaigns are not won or lost by being right or wrong about the issues.  Campaigns are won through strategy. They are won through execution.  They are won through focused effort. 

In both politics and business, robust revenue streams, especially those derived from a diverse and numerous bases, are critical indicators of broad support and potential for success. This cycle’s gubernatorial fundraising leaderboard is very telling.

At the forefront is Bob Ferguson, amassing a formidable war chest of $6,417,463, followed by Dave Reichert’s substantial $2,569,292 raised over 10 months of campaign operations. Trailing but notable is Mark Mullet with $1,145,349, the now non-contending current Governor Jay Inslee with $1,030,142 who opted not to run for a fourth term in May of last year, and Hilary Franz, who dropped out of the race and pivoted to a Congressional run five months ago, leaving behind a campaign kitty of $743,396 which she raised in less than six months. Then, there’s Semi Bird, ranking in a distant sixth with a paltry $423,608 after an exhausting 18-month campaign — a sum that barely casts a shadow on when compared to the financial strength of his opponents.

semi bird
2024 Washington state gubernatorial candidates campaign finance progress as of April 12, 2024. SOURCE: Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

This stark fiscal contrast becomes all the more pronounced when juxtaposed with the conservative benchmark set by gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp just four years prior. Where Culp closed his 16-month campaign with an impressive $3.3 million, Bird’s haul is a mere fraction of that after 18 months. 

On primary night in 2020, Culp had more individual donors than the Republican gubernatorial candidate four years prior had throughout his entire election.  In 18 months—two months longer than Culp—Bird has a fraction of the individual donors and a fraction of the money raised.  Bird’s campaign has fallen short of emulating Culp’s prior success and has not emerged as the dark horse contender he aspired to become or presents himself to be. But why?

Several factors contribute to the Bird campaign’s lack of traction and none of which relate to Bird’s stance on the issues.

The uncomfortable truth: The Semi Bird campaign’s lack of a statewide structure

In December 2019, when I assumed full control of Culp’s campaign, our goal was to establish a robust statewide network to support campaign operations across all 39 counties in Washington. We operated under the mantra “Fortune Favors the Bold,” convinced that to overcome a well-financed Republican opponent and a field of 33 rivals, we needed to boldly surmount the twin peaks facing any serious candidate: fundraising and building name recognition, in that sequence. By March 2020, the Culp campaign distinguished itself as the sole Republican effort with a comprehensive statewide structure. Following the reorganization in December 2019, each month’s fundraising exceeded the last, generating momentum and sparking a movement—even in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns. Mr. Culp and his team of wonderful people were diligent and strategic in their approach, a method we dubbed ‘organized chaos.’

semi bird
The 2020 Gubernatorial General Election results by County. SOURCE: Washington Secretary of State website.

The core issue hindering Semi Bird’s campaign, despite my personal affinity for him and agreement on many issues, is his inability to expand his support base beyond a small group of state-level backers, mainly party delegates and Precinct Committee Officers. His failure to put in the necessary groundwork has left him without the structure needed to build momentum and secure the funding essential for a credible campaign. At this stage, the Bird campaign is akin to an octopus on roller skates: there’s a flurry of activity, but it’s not translating into forward movement.

Compounding the concerns, Bird’s campaign expenditures are alarmingly high relative to his revenue, with a scant amount being reinvested to generate further funds. As the primary election’s last 90 days loom starting in May, Bird’s campaign accounts are woefully insufficient to cover essential marketing expenses. With less than $50,000 in cash-on-hand, there are no available funds for television and radio spots, billboard space, digital and video advertising, video production costs, or the distribution of multiple direct mailers. Moreover, resources to produce literature for door-to-door campaigning or to launch numerous text message initiatives are lacking. This deficit severely curtails the campaign’s ability to conduct the vital activities needed to secure one of the top two slots advancing from the primary.

From the outset, the Reichert campaign has demonstrated a clear, unwavering focus. The depth of Mr. Reichert’s electoral savvy was evident from the starting blocks. Prioritizing infrastructure, his immediate step was to establish a statewide network of staff dedicated to campaign operations. The absence of such an organization renders a campaign into nothing more than a disorganized crowd, and history shows that disorganized crowds don’t clinch elections. Reichert’s team engaged in proactive discussions with influential figures and local authorities across the business, governmental, and nonprofit sectors. Equally important is Reichert’s efforts in King County.  He has been willing to face the difficult task of having doors slammed in his face by progressives in an effort to win every vote in liberal King County. Embracing the principle that every vote must be won, a principled Mr. Culp also instilled within his campaign staff, Reichert’s approach is methodical and community oriented.

semi bird
Gubernatorial candidate Dave Reichert speaking at the Snohomish County Republican Convention on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Mariner High School. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

This very principle underlies why Reichert, a man I respect greatly though our views diverge on several issues, has declined to debate Bird. It’s not a matter of entitlement or even one’s stance on issues; it’s a question of merit, of having done the necessary legwork to claim a spot on the debate stage.

In the political arena, everything must be earned; nothing is simply given, and nobody is owed anything by virtue of their presence alone. Semi Bird, then, doesn’t have an inherent right to debate Reichert—he hasn’t earned that privilege. Should Bird’s supporters desire a debate, their focus should shift to urging their candidate to put in the effort required to warrant such an opportunity. As the frontman of his campaign, Semi owes it to his supporters to not just work tirelessly but to produce results until his voice can be deemed significant in the political discourse. Reichert, on the other hand, is under no obligation to concede part of the platform he has rightfully earned to someone who hasn’t met the same standards or put in the same effort.

The upcoming Washington State Convention endorsement vote

The upcoming endorsement vote April 20 at the Washington State Republican Party convention in Spokane is more than a mere formality, it is a pivotal juncture that could dictate the future of the party in the state. At the heart of this is the issue of merit and effort, principles that are imperative to the integrity of the political process.

Semi Bird, who currently enjoys the support of the Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs), stands on the verge of receiving the party’s endorsement. Yet, despite this backing, there is a conspicuous absence of groundwork indicative of a frontrunner’s campaign. It’s an uncomfortable truth that while endorsements should be the fruit of persistent labor and strategic planning, Bird’s campaign has not yet demonstrated the requisite toil that justifies such support. I understand this well, because at one point, the Culp campaign was in the same position. Our solution, however, settled on earning in the field, first—showing ROI to our supporters and delivering measurable results before engaging in inter party battles.

semi bird
SOURCE: Washington State Republican Party Facebook page.

The contrast between Bird and Reichert in this race is stark. Reichert’s campaign has been a testament to methodical preparation and execution. From building a comprehensive statewide infrastructure to engaging with community influencers and leaders, Reichert has left no stone unturned. This level of dedication has translated into substantial fundraising and a presence that echoes across the electorate—a reach that is both wide and deep.

To endorse a candidate whose campaign lacks these fundamental achievements is to imperil the party’s very foundation. If the WSRP delegates choose to endorse Bird, given the vast gap in fundraising prowess, the difference in reach between the candidates, and the lack of supportive legitimate polling, it risks causing an irrevocable rift within the party.

Semi Bird is seeking the same designation of de facto party leader from the conservative delegates who once supported Culp—a title he has not earned in the way Culp did. In doing so, he is not just jeopardizing the State Republican Party’s efficacy and standing but is also putting at risk the electoral prospects of every conservative legislative candidate on the ballot. If Bird had a campaign war chest of $1 to $2 million, along with tangible campaign developments in King County, my stance might be different. However, despite having more time to campaign than Culp had, at this same period in 2020, Bird has achieved less than a sixth of Culp’s results. In essence, he is requesting the very kind of organizational handout he publicly criticizes. It’s this hypocrisy that renders his request not only inappropriate but also dangerously counterproductive.

The consequence of endorsing a candidate not by merit but by mere favoritism will be tantamount to setting ablaze the Republican infrastructure in Washington State. In this scenario, Democrats would face a field devoid of organized resistance, not only within the legislative races but potentially extending to the Governor’s mansion as well. Such a one-sided political landscape benefits no one, threatening the balance essential for a healthy democracy and leaving constituents underserved.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the delegates at the WSRP convention to weigh their choice with the gravitas it deserves. The WSRP ought to refrain from issuing endorsements prior to the electorate having their say through the voting process.

My position is not to push for an endorsement of Dave Reichert over Semi Bird, or vice versa. Rather, I am suggesting that if Bird opts to proceed beyond the filing deadline, he should be given the chance to put in the necessary effort, secure his standing through merit, and not receive an endorsement that he has not rightfully earned.  An endorsement should be reflective of a candidate’s proven track record of hard work, outreach, and the ability to galvanize support—not just a reward for intra-party popularity. The choice made will send a resounding message about the party’s values and its vision for the future.

Endorsements must be a testament to meritocratic achievement, setting a standard that ensures the party’s fortitude and longevity. In doing so, it will reinforce the core Republican tenet that everything of value—be it a vote, an office, or an endorsement—must be earned.

Christopher P. Gergen, Founder, Dark Horse Political

About Christopher Gergen

Christopher Gergen

Christopher Gergen is a highly skilled and experienced political strategist who has dedicated his career to conservative political organizations and candidates. He stands out from other political consultants by embracing unconventional political thinking. His unique ability to bring order to chaos through innovative tools and methods has proven to be a valuable asset to his clients.

Christopher’s journey in politics began as a grassroots volunteer for Senator Bob Dole’s Presidential campaign in 1995. Since then, he has been involved in numerous political campaigns ranging from local races to presidential elections. After serving in the United States Navy in response to the 9/11 attacks, Gergen went on to build a successful financial planning practice with a Fortune 500 company. However, he saw an opportunity in the political arena and left his growing practice to establish Dark Horse Political in 2015. The following year, he was hired as the State Political Director for the Trump for President organization in Oregon. Since then, DHP has continued to provide advisory services to various campaigns, most notable in Washington state is Culp for Governor, at all levels of government.

Op-Ed DISCLAIMER: The views and comments expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Lynnwood Times nor any of its affiliates.

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