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Endorsements Explained with Heather Matson

“Endorsements come in a lot of different ways, and they offer a lot of different opportunities.”

A lot has been written about whether or not endorsements, whether from newspapers, celebrities, or fellow politicos matter. I took a stab at the topic back in 2010.

I went “back to the well” this week for the inaugural episode of The Greg Hauenstein Show. After a two year and then some gap in podcasting, your boy is back on the mic.

I spoke to Iowa State Representative Heather Matson, both a recipient of endorsements and now as an endorser in this Presidential race, about what she wanted out of those who endorsed her campaign in 2018, the “courting” Presidential campaigns did, why she chose Sen. Cory Booker, and more.

I think when it comes down to it that any candidate or any team is going to hope and ask for their endorsers to do more than put their name on a piece of paper. Because then the only day that that matters is the day that the story breaks.

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Interview Transcript

Greg: When you won in 2018. That was your second race. Take me back to when you decided to run again after after 2016. It was… It was a pretty close loss. Relatively. Um, how long between that loss and starting again? Where was that? Take me through that process.

Heather: Sure. Well, it took pretty much a year to decide that I was definitely going to run again. The first couple months after the 26 times 2016 election were obviously rough for a lot of reasons.

Greg: For everybody!

Heather: For literally everybody! From, obviously, what was happening at the national level with with President Trump, to what was happening in the state legislature knowing that we had lost the Senate.

Just that on election night alone was really rough. But seeing what was happening in the legislature in 2017 with collective bargaining, with attacks on reproductive rights, attacks on teachers, all of those things were in some ways mind numbing and just an assault on the senses and really tough.

And I was taking the time to really think about if I ran again, could I win? You know what? Why did I lose in 2016? Was it because I didn’t do enough? Was it because of, you know, the national mood? And there was no there was gonna be no overcoming that, you know, and really just assessing all of the pieces.

So I took the time to really think about all of those things. And then I wanted to watch what was happening around the country and in Iowa when it came to special elections and seeing what happened. And, you know, obviously states like Virginia that do their legislative elections in the off year, seeing what happened there gave me a little bit more hope. And then seeing what happened in Northwest Iowa with some special elections up there.

And we didn’t win those. But we came really close and, to me, I looked at that those districts and I thought, that’s pretty close to where I live. I mean, not geographically, but just in terms off the numbers, what the districts look like, and I thought, you know, I know that special elections are completely different beast then had been a regular election. But I realized that people were starting to pay attention and that they were mad and that maybe they were ready for a change.

And if I could put a good coalition together, and if I could take everything that I did in ’16 and build on that, then we’d have a chance in 18.

Greg: Ehat did you end up doing differently in 16 and in 18?

Heather: Sure, I think basically, in ’18 it was taking everything from ’16 and kicking it up a notch. So, one: fundraising was bigger. We had a really good. I mean, I raised outraised my opponent in ’16. So it wasn’t that we didn’t do the fundraising work but in in 2016 I had no intention of going on television. It just didn’t seem like something that was going to need to happen. In 2018, there was a recognition that I was gonna have to go on television, and the House Truman Fund was obviously a big part of that. They were all in on this race in 2018 which made a huge difference. Just the resources were there in ways that they weren’t in 2016.

For anyone who pays attention to, you know, what’s considered a targeted race in 2016 they were very supportive. They were very excited about me running. They helped me in a ton of different ways in 2018. It was kind of taking it to that next level. You know, of ensuring that the resource is we’re gonna be there. If I did my part and raised what I said I was going to raise, which I did, uh, then and I knocked the doors that I said I was gonna knock, which I did, then then they were committed to doing their piece of it, too. And that was ensuring that we would have the resources to go on television, to run a real mail program, to run a strong digital program. And we were able to bring all of those pieces together in 2018 in a way that we didn’t necessarily think was going to be needed in 2016. It was just a very different feeling in a very different year. And then the other piece really was that we had more volunteers. Like I had an amazing volunteer base in 2016.

Greg: You’re welcome.

Heather: Oh, yes, absolutely. Thank you very much. And it was, I mean, I had so many friends out, knocking on doors with me and it was wonderful, but I just couldn’t get through as many passes as I really needed to, I think in 2016. So even though we had knocked a ton of doors we can do more.

And so in 2018 I think we made three complete passes of the district with our universe. And so that was unbelievable. So even when we had volunteers going to a lot of doors, there were so many people who said, “Oh, yeah, Heather’s already been here,” so that felt really great. Uh, and, you know, I can’t think of too many people. I would be hard pressed to think of too many people who would say, “no one from the Matson campaign came to my door,” unless they were, you know, totally outside of our universe, right?

Greg: So when you were running, did you seek the endorsements of local leaders. And if so, what that process look like?

Heather: Sure, So I absolutely made an effort to visit with and ask for the support of folks in my community. So whether they were local elected leaders or people who are just well known in the community, and I’ll say that I had a lot of amazing conversations and a lot of people who were tremendously supportive of the effort and would help in a lot of different ways.

When you are running a state legislative race, which is obviously a partisan race against a relatively popular incumbent and your local elected leaders are elected to nonpartisan offices, then they don’t all necessarily feel really comfortable in getting involved in that which I completely understand.

So for me, I asked for support. I asked for votes. I asked for advice as they were able to give it and got a lot of really great support that way. What I chose to do, when I realized that individual endorsements were going to be harder to get, I focused on organizational support, which I would have done anyway. But that really became kind of the endorsement piece for me.

Greg: So organizations. Planned Parenthood, organized labor. What did you want out of those endorsements beyond just the votes of the people you know who are who are a part of that organization? What was your ask of them?

Heather: Yes. So, really good questions. So organized labor in particular. Is amazing. They are just awesome. So there is a reason why Democratic candidates in particular look to organized labor for support. Number one, because they are as an entity, each individual union is obviously very well respected by their members. Right? So they take each individual. You know, member takes what their leadership has to say very seriously. No, they may not always go along with them, but it’s an important voice in their decision making process.

But as an organization itself, you know, they have a lot of power. So in terms of turning out volunteers who can help knock doors. In a district like mine, that’s incredibly important particularly, you know, obviously the Ankeny precincts, that’s very important, but it’s incredibly important to with the unincorporated Polk County parts of my district, and I have a number of labor unions that are actually based in my district.

So having built those relationships over the years was obviously helpful. And when I think of organizations like AFSCME Counsel 61 and the Iowa Federation of Labor, given the work that I done in the past working for other candidates and working in government affairs, I’d built those friendships like really solid friendships over the years.

And so these leaders knew who I was and they knew my work ethic and knew that I cared a lot and still care a lot obviously about working families and that I’m not just someone who showing up, you know, in election season to ask for support, that I’m gonna be with them all the time.

Greg: One of your big endorsements, arguably the biggest, President Obama endorsed your race along with a bunch of other legislative state legislative races. Take me through that that process. Did you Was that something you sought out? Was that through the DLCC that that happened?

Heather: Yeah, that was pretty much the greatest moment, arguably of my political life. You know, besides actually winning the election, But President Obama is someone that I admire so much, I think many of us, certainly most Democrats would say that maybe even some Republicans would say that. I had been a supporter of his since 2007. I was a co-precinct captain for him, had the opportunity to meet with him and talked to him about issues like health care before he had even, you know, won the Iowa caucus.

And so the process, I think, you know, I was kind of on the sidelines of it. I think most of the candidates who received the endorsements were I think it was a combination of organizations like the DLCC, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Truman Fund. And I’m sure you know whatever the entities are in other states of, you know, suggesting to the Obama team, you know who some of their candidates are that they would like to give consideration to.

And, you know, I think as I look back on the reasons that President Obama gave for his endorsements, it was about folks who cared deeply about public service and recognized that there is value in public service and that he wanted to support candidates who believed in that mission and who were working to make their community a better place. And it wasn’t just about, you know, them as individuals. It was about the bigger picture. And I think there must have been something in my bio and something about what I was talking about that made him and his team think that I would be a good fit for that. And I am so grateful for it. It was pretty amazing. And you know, what you get out of an Obama endorsement, certainly it’s not, you know, someone coming to knock doors for you. But, I mean, if he ever wanted to, that’s an open invitation. I will be up for re-election in 2020

Greg: He doesn’t have much going on these days.

Heather: He doesn’t. He’s got nothing. He’s incredibly busy doing really important work. But, uh, but I would say, you know, I was able to, you know, send that out in an email newsletter, and that’s a great fundraising opportunity. So I think, you know, endorsements come in a lot of different ways, and they offer a lot of different opportunities.

Greg: So now, you won. Yay! What sort of advice, if any did you receive from your fellow legislators, people who have been around the block, a couple caucus cycles, about about these candidates coming in asking for your endorsement?

Heather: We got some really great advice. I think all of us who are new to this process got a lot of great advice. And what I was told was, “Meet everybody. Take your time. Get a chance to hear what everyone is saying. Do they believe the things that you do? Are you really excited about them? Do you think they can win?” You know, all of those components. Kind of like what you would just imagine what you would give your support to if just any caucus goer, right, that you’d go through all of those things. But just kind of a reminder that you only get to do it once, right?

So if you are passionate about somebody and you really want to work for them and you believe strongly in their campaign then absolutely go ahead and make that endorsement. If you just wanna kind of stay back and be kind of that neutral party and, which is also totally reasonable, um, and just, you know, help everybody and do all of those pieces then that’s also okay to And it’s really gonna be down to each one of us as individuals what we want to do.

Greg: You’ve got folks like Senator Rob Hogg here in Iowa who are hosting climate change forums for everybody who wants to come. He’s, you know, our local expert and I think that’s a great use of his platform. If he doesn’t know, he tends to not endorse in primaries anyways. So, you know, I think that’s a great way of using your platform to help advance everybody and help advance an issue that he cares about.

Heather: Oh, I absolutely agree. And someone like Senator Hogg, I mean, Rob’s awesome. And you’re right. He is a local expert on that issue, and he is recognized for that. So his ability to get candidates talking about climate change to talk about flooding. You know all of these things that we’re experiencing here in Iowa and around the country. I can’t think of anyone better right in our state to be doing that. And I’m I’m just so glad he’s taken on that role of making sure that we’ve got our candidates all talking about that issue and showing up, and I would have those conversations.

Greg: So take me to the day um, the first presidential campaign reached out to you. What were you doing?

Heather: So, to be honest, the first presidential campaign to reach out to me, I should say, any presidential campaign to reach out to me was before they were presidential campaigns. So I think that’s actually pretty awesome. But I had calls from a couple of now candidates who called just to say congratulations when I won. I think that that’s I think that’s pretty amazing. Not so much because, oh, they’re calling me, Heather Matson, but rather they are folks that get that state legislatures matter for the building of our party. And the two people that were that did that were Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.

And then over time, you know, I was hearing from I would say about I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and meet with or talk on the phone with about half a dozen of the candidates themselves. And that all happened pretty quickly. I think the first one to reach out to me with an official like “Let’s do something” as a presidential candidate was Elizabeth Warren.

She had a great event up in Ankeny back in January, which now it feels like a million years ago when it really wasn’t uh, yeah, where it was a town hall conversation with women who, some of us who had won, some of us who just ran amazing races and unfortunately didn’t get there this time, uh, to talk about women running for office and to really be engaged, and that was a huge honor to get to sit on a stage with Elizabeth Warren. And her team had reached out and, you know, made it clear that, you know, this doesn’t mean that you have to commit to caucus for Elizabeth Warren, but she’d like toe to be a part of this conversation with you.

Greg: So did any of them try toe try to close on the first call?

Heather: No. Which is great. And I think that there’s one thing that I really appreciated about this field of candidates is, I think that they all recognize because they genuinely like each other and know each other, that they’re all pretty great, right? And so it’s not so much a, you know, if you’re against a bunch of other people, you actually, you’re just choosing to be for somebody.

And so there was a lot of work from a lot of different folks hearing from state directors to political directors, field organizers from a variety of different campaigns to just, you know, come to an event. Come have, you know, either a small group meeting with that candidate, you know, just to kind of build those conversations over time and then just kind of periodically just checking in like you know, “Where do you feel like you are? Are you somewhat there? Are we in your top five?”

You know, it’s also kind of funny to think about a top five knowing that we have that many candidates. But that’s one thing that I appreciate. It was that for a lot of these campaigns, it’s, you know, it’s just been a really good, long ongoing dialogue.

Greg: And so what made you, uh, what made you dive in headfirst for Cory Booker?

Heather: That’s a great question. So, uh, I first got to hear from Cory Booker last fall at the Democrats’ Fall Hala. And I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, this guy is amazing.” In part because he gave a really thoughtful and inspiring speech. And, you know, a lot of folks when they’re doing keynote speeches I guess you’re never really sure what you’re gonna get with them. And it waas a really wonderful night where he, I think, really was able to tap into the energy in the room and talk about how we all have the ability to come together.

And it was a really inspiring message and feel this feeling of being called to a higher purpose. And that night was definitely my first thought of. I can imagine the sky running for president and I can imagine supporting him. And then, uh, fast forward, you know, into the new year and I see his team coming together, and they are some pretty phenomenal people that I’ve known for a long time. So it was great to keep, you know, to keep in touch with them and, you know, to start going to events and I will never forget one time.

I mean, I’d had the chance to talk to Senator Booker on a couple of occasions and one night just at home with my family were sitting watching a movie and my phone rings and I looked down and I see New Jersey. I’m like, “Oh, can we pause the movie?”

Greg: There are a couple of states where you do that for!

Heather: Yes and I thought, “I’m gonna go out on a limb and think maybe,” and it was. It was Cory Booker and he was just like, “What nare you up to?” “I’m all sitting around watching a movie with my family.” Um, and he was gracious and lovely. And we had a nice chat and he was just calling to check in, you know, on how session was going, you know, on a whole variety of things.

And so that was just really nice and just a reminder of Iowa, right? I mean, come on. It’s amazing. It’s Iowa.

Greg: We’re spoiled.

Heather: We’re so spoiled, so spoiled. And I will fully admit that as a caucus go er as an elected official, so spoiled. So then over the next couple months, I’d have the chance to sit down for a small meeting with him and, you know, kept those conversations going.

And what really jumped out at me every time I had the chance to sit down and talk to him was that he is a great listener and not the kind of listening where you can tell someone’s just waiting to finish, waiting for you to finish what they’re saying so that they can respond but is really taking it all in.

To know that someone’s is truly listening and taking your ideas and, you know, and I thought, “Well, if he’s doing this with me, he’s clearly doing this all over the state and all over the country.” And you could just tell. So there was that piece of it and then being at an event, I think it was the Memorial Day barbecue that he had in Urbandale. He was speaking and no joke. I was trying not to cry. and it was that realization for me of I want to be called to a higher purpose. I want a president who inspires and who is asking us to believe in each other.

One of the things that I love about Cory Booker is that he talks about we don’t need a savior. We need each other. And so there have been three pieces that it came down to. For me, the first is like I said, I want to be inspired. Cory Booker inspires me to rise to the challenges that we face as a nation, and I think he’s the candidate that’s going to inspire Americans to believe in each other again. And I think that’s what we need is a country is not just someone who inspires us as individuals, but someone who inspires us to work together and you know he’ll talk a lot about, you know, we don’t defeat hate with more hate. He talks about radical love and courageous empathy which might sound weird to some, but to me, I thought, That’s exactly right.

Greg: I’m a big fan.

Heather: Those are, I think, the things that have pulled us along as a country at really difficult times and I think we need to rise together. I think that’s how we move forward as a country and I see him in particular as the best candidate to make that happen.

And I think that he’s doing that as he goes across the state. And, you know, we talk a lot in Iowa about, and I’m sure this is you’re all over the country to There are always these conversations about, you know, a rural-urban divide, and I think you know, when Cory Booker’s out talking about common purpose and common pain, that that is true, you know, and it crosses an urban-rural divide and that we need a candidate and a president who is, like I said, bringing us together and kind of bridging that divide and I think he could do that.

The second piece is policy. I think that the vast majority of caucus goers and voters as a whole, you know that Obviously, we want someone that we agree with, right? And the vast majority of Democrats that are running for president right now. They’re not that far apart on a lot of issues there. Some certainly that are much further to the left and some that are a little bit more moderate. I think Cory Booker is right there in the middle of it all that he is talking about really big, bold ideas.

But he also has been a mayor of a big city that face some really serious struggles. And he gets that you can shoot for the sky, your shoot for the moon. However, you wanna give that wonderful expression and put out these big, bold ideas, but also know that you cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As a legislator, I get that. You know that you’ve gotta fight for what you want to fight for, but also know that when people are hurting, you solve that problem as quickly as you can, and that’s what I love about him when it comes to policy.

And then, finally, last thing is a commitment to building our party. And I mentioned earlier state legislatures. This is critical, right? This is where a lot of really important work gets done. Where a lot of really awful things can happen if you’re not paying attention. And you know, if you want to move the country forward, in a lot of ways, that has to happen state by state. Because as much as I love some of our members of Congress, it’s really hard to move some really good legislation right now. Maybe we could get some stuff done in the House, but it’s really hard to get it done in the Senate. So we have to make sure that we have state legislatures, obviously, here in Iowa, but across the country, who can move really great legislation and change each of our states individually. And Cory is no stranger to that effort.

He was instrumental as a leader in 2018 of just making sure that financial resource is were directed not only to the House Truman Fund, but also many of us as individual candidates. And so there are plenty of candidates who helped, and I’m so grateful for all of them for doing that. But he is definitely the one who ensured that the most financial resources were getting to our candidates, which helped us get so much closer on were now only four seats from the majority.

So he is a big part of making that happen. And because he’s no stranger to it, I feel very confident that that’s something that he will always be focused on.

Greg : Are there expectations of you as as an endorser like now that you’re on board, do you have do you have homework? And do you know if that’s typical across other campaigns and other legislators?

Heather: So I can’t obviously speak for what other candidates are asking, you know, their legislative endorsers to do and I think it could be different, you know, from even like within the Booker campaign, it could be different, you know, from one person to another because there are several of us who have endorsed and I think when it comes down to it that any candidate or any team is going to hope and ask for their endorsers to do more than put their name on a piece of paper, right? Because then the only day that that matters is the day that the story breaks right?

Greg: We see that a lot. We see a lot of these big names, you know, in our state, they’ll endorse somebody but that’s the last you’ll hear of it. And maybe they’ll cut a check. Maybe that’s what that means. But you’re you’re doing more.

Heather: Yes, and I think that I think that’s also very true. Anything that different people are going to bring different things to the table like I had mentioned. Like, did I think that, you know, Barack Obama was coming to come knock doors for me? No.

Greg: Invitation still stands.

Heather: But obviously there’s that kind of endorsement that’s hopefully going to gain, you know, some financial resources. I think when it comes to legislative endorsements of a presidential candidate, Uh, what folks want, and I think what the Booker team hopes for for me, is you know that I’m gonna do things that made a difference for me winning here. So, for example, knocking doors, I’ve already went, you know, and knock doors with the team, and we’ll keep doing that. I also love knocking doors, so that’s not a hard task for me.

But, you know, knocking doors showing up to, you know, walk in the Labor Day, parade with them, just, you know, being another face that’s there and showing support. But also, I’ve offered to be a surrogate speaker. I have offered to do basically whatever they feel like I can be the most help to them in the time that we have available, So I will leave it to the team to tell me how they think I can be the most helpful. But they know that that invitations wide open, and I just look forward to doing all the things that that could be helpful to them and helpful to Cory