LI has an interesting comment on the current controversy in the Republican race for the Loudoun County Sheriff nomination, in particular how the battle lines have been drawn relative to Mike Chapman’s campaign. Worth reading.

Thus far, Too Conservative has been the best source for analysis of the campaign for Loudoun County Sheriff. I plan to keep reporting the news but will remain officially neutral at this stage of the contest for the Republican nomination, first because I think all four candidates seem like decent people, any of whom I could support as the GOP candidate in the general election, and second because I have not figured out which of them has the better skill set to do the job.

What I will editorialize about is how this battle for the nomination has created some interesting sets of bedfellows and enemies, and thereby illuminates a truth about political campaigns which grassroots activists ought to bear in mind.

In this context, “grassroots” can be defined as “those whose labor is deemed as valuable as grass in the field” – in other words: Nice to observe, but not worth paying a single cent. In short, free.

[If there are any "grassroots activists" - or unpaid workers - reading this who are trying to reduce the level of cynicism in their lives, I recommend you stop reading now.]

When clusters of fans form in the context of a political campaign, it is important to remember that in each cluster will be people who are being paid to be there as well as people seeking direct personal gain from the campaign, either in the form of an elected office or some other type of career advancement. These two groups constitute the heart of the cheering section. Then, quite separate but glommed on with these, you have the grassroots activists.

The motivating force behind grassroots activism is a cause, which could be either an issue or candidate seen as representing a means to making the world a better place. Activism arises from the realm of ideas. It plays out, however, in the real-world realm of interest groups or cheering sections.

Often, political contests present starkly different alternatives such that anyone who wishes to influence the outcome – whether for pay or as a free worker – can easily decide which side to support and can do so without caring whether anyone is being compensated to join the fray. In many cases, the contrasting choices are so salient that those who work for free are happy to shell out cash to those who are working at the highest levels to move the ball forward.

In contests where the differences between the candidates are more nebulous, such as in the earlier stages of a campaign, the battle lines are drawn less between the obvious forces of good and evil and more between arbitrarily defined interest groups. Grassroots activists who lose sight of this basic fact risk impaling themselves on a sword for nothing more noble than some other person’s paycheck.

It is our nature, however, to conflate the free work we do in one venue with that of another simply because both take place in our off hours, or include the same casts of fellow travelers, or entail marching under similar banners.

But when the grassroots activist walks into a room with various clusters of fans cheering heartily for and against various primary candidates, he or she ought to remember that each cluster often is less akin to a faction of 18th century patriots inveighing against the Crown than to a group of bettors at the race track all holding tickets for the same horse. The grassroots activist who joins in the yelling is like a non-ticket holder jumping in the air for Horse Number 11 and shouting curses at Horse Number 4 and Number 4′s supporters. For reasons of sanity and appropriate use of energy, those without skin in the game should participate for fun or charity or diversion, but should leave the bloodsport to those who have placed the bets.