Surveys of American attitudes toward “the media” regularly place professional journalists down around with the likes of pedophiles, toe fungus and Congress. It’s not a good place to be, unless you’re at the State Fair and the same people couldn’t be more excited to sit on uncomfortable bleachers for hours just to watch journalists do their thing.
But we live in an age where name and face recognition counts for something, enough that one former local anchor/reporter, Tim Sherno, 55, is attempting to commodify himself into votes for Congress in Minnesota’s Third District.
An Edina resident, Sherno — formerly a morning anchor at FOX 9, a reporter with KSTP-TV and a consultant with Frank N. Magid Associates — is jousting with the twin windmills of incumbent Republican Eric Paulsen and his DFL opponent Terri Bonoff.
Conventional wisdom says that even in the age of The Donald, the race is Paulsen’s to lose, with Bonoff providing arguably the most serious competition he’s had since first being elected in 2009. Sherno’s argument is that both are products of the same money-equals-access system built and maintained to serve the interests of the wealthy. (I know, this is news to you.)
Before disgorging a torrent of numbers culled from his dive into Paulsen and Bonoff FEC filings (e.g. Paulsen once dropped $2,213 at a DC restaurant), Sherno emphasizes that his campaign is committed to neither accepting or spending … anything. He vows that he alone will not be taking cash via big-ticket players like the state’s medical device manufacturers or Democratic PACs like EMILY’s List. Sherno’s campaign is staffed by … himself, with video tech support from his son. As he says, “I shave the face of my campaign manager every morning.”
Getting the inevitable Don Quixote reference out of the way, Sherno says: “Well, whether he was crazy or passionate is something we can discuss. But the way I look at it, a life without passion should be called something else.”
Pause … silence on other end of phone line.
“You like that? That’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
I’m not sure a disclaimer is necessary, but Sherno is a media personality I’ve known for quite a while. The difference being that he alone calls — out of the blue/when he needs some “earned media” — offering to commiserate with “your lovely child-bride” for having to put up with a guy (me) “so often found by the police disheveled, wandering the streets in robe and slippers, flashlight in hand. Although for the life of me I still don’t know why you need a flashlight in the middle of the day.”
Hilarious as he’s certain he is, Sherno gets points for throwing himself into this Quixotic adventures. And, implausibility of victory aside, he makes some interesting points on the confluence of money, politics and name/face recognition in a TV culture. Like, for example, how the Supreme Court decision Citizens United “is a major problem,” and his insistence that “seven out of ten people I meet door knocking know who I am.”
Frankly, I didn’t ask for the scientific bona fides on that, but 70 percent wouldn’t surprise me. The effect of a dozen-plus years on local TV is that at least as many people will recall your name (or face) as they are able to ID their current congressman.
Sherno says he’s putting in long hours door-knocking from the somewhat upper-middle-class neighborhoods of Eden Prairie “up 169 all the way to Coon Rapids.” That landscape, of course, includes some of the swankiest ‘hoods in the state, places where his populist vow to “turn the most fortunate among us” upside down and shake more tax money out of their pockets probably isn’t greeted with enthusiasm. Just guessing there, of course.
From his FEC research on money flow, for another example, he notes that a certain “Edward Bastian” of Duluth, Georgia is listed as a contributor Bonoff’s campaign, and an “Ed” Bastian, likewise of Duluth, Georgia has contributed to Paulsen’s reelection bid as well. Now, there may be another Ed Bastian living under the radar in that pleasant Atlanta suburb, but the best known Ed Bastian is the CEO of Delta Airlines. His covering all bases with a few thousand disposable dollars emphasizes Sherno’s point that neither Paulsen or Bonoff is capable of playing outside the country’s monied-up political system.
“Neither of them is going to challenge the other over the way business is done, because they’re caught up in the same thing,” says Sherno. “For one to attack the other would be like Barbie attacking Ken for being too perfect.” (Coming from a former TV guy, I can see how he went to a metaphor on homogenized plastic glamour, but he might want to fine tune that one a bit.)
Sherno’s strategy for gaining traction in the Third District race depends on a very 2016 mix of social media — like the videos up on his Facebook page — “earned media” (like this) and citizen exhaustion with, you guessed it, “politics as usual.”
He hopes that attention will pick up soon. “Unfortunately news coverage has gone dark at the moment because of the State Fair. But after Labor Day I think we can convince enough people that this guy [i.e. him] isn’t a fly-by-night candidate and isn’t a crackpot.”
If enough do, the GOP and DFL might/could possibly consent to putting him on the debate stage with the two main acts, and who knows what happens after that? “If they were to base [debate eligibility] on name recognition, I’d clear the bar easily.”
Out of respect for Sherno’s delicate ego (he was a TV personality) I didn’t go all “snowball in hell” on him. Because, as everyone knows, “The Donald Effect” is the great wildcard of down-ballot races in 2016. I doubt the Bonoff campaign will disagree that Paulsen’s ongoing struggle to find just the right distance between disavowing Trump and not alienating Trump’s hard core voters creates a target-rich environment for everyone outside the GOP.
“I’m not naive about my chances,” Sherno says. “But there’s this perception that the Third District is all Edina and Lake Minnetonka and Wayzata, just the most fortunate. But do you know what the average household income of the District is?”
Uh, I don’t know.
“Sixty-eight thousand dollars,” says Sherno. “And that’s a number driven higher by some astonishing income figures in the parts you’re talking about. Point being, there are plenty of people like me looking at candidates like Paulsen and Bonoff and saying, ‘Who paid for that and what are they going to get in return for it?’”
Ok. Ok. But what did we learn from Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000?
“Well, what I say to that is this: If there’s just two in the race you pick. If there’s three you have a choice.”