“If I can do it, anybody can.”
That’s Amanda Curtis, the 35-year-old Montana high school math teacher, speaking about her last-minute, low-budget campaign to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Curtis fell short, losing to Steve Daines, a Republican who in 2012 was elected to the state’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. But her 18-point margin of defeat was no worse than what befell several fellow Democrats, many of them veteran politicians, who spent tens of millions of dollars more than Curtis in their failed quest to keep their party in control of the Senate.
Curtis stumbled into the Democratic nomination in August when the expected candidate, Senator John Walsh, resigned after reports he had committed academic plagiarism. She entered the campaign with a mere 88 days of experience as an elected official. But she made the most of that short stint as a state representative in 2013, posting on YouTube a frank assessment of each day’s session. The videos earned her a reputation as a straight-talking citizen called to public service.
Curtis took that attitude onto the campaign trail, logging 11,000 miles crisscrossing the vast, rural state. But her limited coffers—she raised $980,000 compared with more than $7 million by her opponent—put her at a distinct disadvantage in countering claims that she favored strict gun control laws and that her views on the economy made her a communist. She could afford to run only two television ads, for example, and national Democratic leaders spent no money on her campaign after concluding that she had no chance of winning.
Now back in the classroom at Butte High School, Curtis faults herself for letting her opponents define her on those and other issues. “I was told not to spend my time defending myself against what I considered to be ridiculous and false accusations,” she tells ScienceInsider. “But that was a big mistake. We can’t let them to tell our story. If I had to do it again, I would tell my own narrative about guns, and make sure that the voters were hearing directly from me.”
She says her campaign demonstrates that “an average Joe can do just as well as a professional politician.” And she thinks that her fellow Democrats, including President Barack Obama, might have prevented last week’s debacle if they had done a better job of telling voters what they stood for.
“I think that this country is better off because of the policies of the Obama administration. But we never talked about it. Democrats should have been touting that record of accomplishment rather than avoiding it.”
Curtis says she’s happy to be back in the classroom, “doing something that I love to do.” And she isn’t eager to hit the campaign trail any time soon.
“I’m not making any plans,” she says about her prospects for 2016. “Somebody would really have to twist my arm. It’s not on my shoulders anymore.”
Even so, she thinks her campaign does provide other political novices with a useful road map. “I’ve shown that anybody can participate in this game,” she says. “So I hope others will consider it.”