Independent Candidate for Congress Campaigns on a Shoestring
Arlington resident Jason Howell has less than $10,000 in the campaign bank and needs 1,000 signatures by June 12 to get on the ballot.
Howell's got less than $10,000 in the bank for his campaign, so he's hitting every local barbecue, 5k and neighborhood meeting he can to help get the word out. Standing outside the Giant grocery store in Arlington's Cherrydale neighborhood over the weekend, Howell said hello to potential voters in what will likely be an uphill battle to try to unseat Moran, a Democrat who some say is gliding toward his 12th term since getting elected in 1990 to represent Virginia's 8th Congressional District.
"My wife and I are doing the lion's share of signature-gathering," Howell said.
As an independent, Howell is still in a race to gather enough signatures to get onto the ballot. He needs 1,000 by June 12, the day of the Democratic primary in the 8th District, and as of Monday, he was at 888 signatures. Local registrars will work with the state Board of Elections to verify the signatures. The 8th District includes Alexandria, Falls Church, Arlington and parts of Fairfax County.
After redistricting, candidates in the 8th District race will be courting new voters this year, especially in redrawn parts of McLean and Mount Vernon. Approximately 195,000 residents of Fairfax County are in the process of receiving new voter cards in the mail from the state Board of Elections—either because they're in a new congressional district or they had been using their Social Security number as a voter ID number. New cards will not use Social Security numbers for security purposes.
Howell's signatures "can all come from one precinct if he wants," said Justin Riemer, deputy secretary for the state Board of Elections.
Over the weekend, in addition to Arlington, Howell campaign volunteers were outside the Giant store in Alexandria's Bradlee Shopping Center off of King Street near I-395. In all, Howell and his volunteers gathered 457 signatures over the weekend. He said he is shooting to have 1,500 signatures by June 12 — 500 more than necessary as a safeguard against having signatures that cannot be verified or counted.
Because he's an independent, Howell is not running in any primaries. Moran is in a primary with Arlington resident Bruce Shuttleworth. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Howell and GOP contender J. Patrick Murray of Alexandria in a three-way race to Election Day.
Howell isn't waiting until his name is on the ballot to get the word out. Even though he doesn't have the mega-bucks of Moran's campaign, Howell said he is finding low-cost ways to get the word out, like participating in 5k races ("I paid $60 to sign up for four races") wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his campaign logo and handing out literature at the races.
Howell noted that unlike Murray, the GOP candidate who is taking another swing at Moran's seat, "We won't be spending thousands of dollars on food." (In his last campaign, Murray spent $4,366 on pizza for volunteers from Oct. 14 to Nov. 3 from Bugsy's Pizza, according to campaign finance records from the Federal Election Commission.)
Moran's campaign operation includes expenses such as $60,000 on a 20-year gala fundraiser last spring at the Ritz Carlton and paying for a campaign director, Mary Moran, his daughter—$66,874 so far—according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Howell noted that he's running a shoestring campaign, spending "a couple hundred dollars" to purchase thousands of postcards, which he and his 50-plus volunteers are handing out across the 8th Congressional District.
"There are three different budgets—a Pinto, a Taurus and a Cadillac," Howell noted. "With each level, there's a chance to succeed."