Build The Bench
by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, @CheriBustos

As Democrats, We Need to Build the Bench

Any Democratic County Chairman will tell you that candidate recruitment is a daunting task. Finding the right person with the qualifications can be difficult whether you are recruiting for County Board or Congress.

When I served as the Vice Chair of Recruitment for Democrats in Congress, I was shocked at how difficult it was to find qualified and experienced candidates in some swing districts. It made me think: out of 700,000 people, were there not at least a handful of people who both fit their districts and knew how to run a successful campaign?

What I learned was that we as Democrats had been neglecting our bench. We only had five players on our team: enough for a starting line-up, but we were unprepared for injuries or retirements. While keeping the Presidency and Senate is important, so too are our state legislatures, county boards, and city councils.

That’s why I started a program called Build the Bench. It is a one-day candidate boot camp for those running for office or considering it down the line. We bring in the top campaign experts, and participants walk away from the training with knowledge of grassroots organizing, fundraising, messaging, and digital strategy. Selection for the program is competitive, and all participants fill out an application in order to be accepted.

Since we launched in February 2016, the response has been outstanding. Over 80 people have gone through our training. In the 2016 elections, one of our alumni defeated a three-term countywide incumbent despite having never run for office before. In the most recent municipal elections, 12 alumni ran for office and 8 of them won – many in seats held by Republicans for decades. We have also received national media attention for our efforts, and many within the Democratic Party have renewed their focus on training.

Today’s City Councilors are tomorrow’s members of Congress. Without my experience on the East Moline City Council, I would never have been ready to run for Congress and win. I was fortunate to have had the help of many mentors and friends, as well as the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership (IWIL), to help me take that first step.

If you or someone you know would be an outstanding candidate and public servant, fill out an application for Build the Bench. Come and learn what it takes.

Next year you might serve on the City Council. And who knows, you might end up being our next member of Congress.