NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Documentary Review: “Charlie vs. Goliath” is an inspiring homage to underdog candidates

“The amount of mon­ey you raise is a mir­ror to your chances of win­ning” an elec­tion, says for­mer Wyoming Sec­re­tary of State Kathy Karpan in 2016 doc­u­men­tary “Char­lie vs. Goliath.”

Charlie vs. Goliath: Movie poster

Char­lie vs. Goliath
Release Year: 2017
Direc­tor: Reed Lind­sey
Run­ning time: 80min
Watch trail­er

That’s a mir­ror worth smash­ing, adages of bad luck be damned.

“Char­lie vs. Goliath” fol­lows the 2014 US Sen­ate cam­paign of Char­lie Hardy, who refused to believe that mon­ey would ulti­mate­ly deter­mine if he won or not. Hardy was the Demo­c­ra­t­ic, under­dog can­di­date to 3‑term incum­bent Repub­li­can Mike Enzi.

As not­ed in the film, Enzi him­self isn’t Goliath, it’s the sys­tem that he rep­re­sents and which sup­ports him that is the true opponent.

Hardy ran a grass­roots cam­paign that refused to take mon­ey from PACs or cor­po­ra­tions. While this earned him respect and the moral high ground, unfor­tu­nate­ly it is mon­ey that real­ly has the impact on votes these days.

Hardy raised just $62,468 for his cam­paign, com­pared to $3.3 mil­lion for Enzi. But all of Hardy’s mon­ey was donat­ed by indi­vid­u­als, where­as the vast major­i­ty of Enzi’s dona­tions were from PACs, many of which weren’t even in Wyoming.

The sto­ry of Hardy’s cam­paign is the sto­ry of every­thing that is both best and worst about Amer­i­can campaigns.

The best of it is seen in the moments shared among Hardy and his vol­un­teer cam­paign staff of three, all of whom are essen­tial­ly liv­ing out of a 1970 school bus as they criss­cross the state going to small town parades and town halls.

Hardy is a for­mer priest in his mid-sev­en­ties who seems easy to like as he has con­ver­sa­tions with folks through­out Wyoming. He has con­cern for the every­day peo­ple who are strug­gling to get by in a job mar­ket dom­i­nat­ed by the ser­vice sector.

Part­ly out of eco­nom­ic neces­si­ty, Hardy’s cam­paign hinges on how many peo­ple he can con­nect with direct­ly, as he does not have the funds for TV or even radio ads. Yet his oppo­nent Enzi runs plen­ty of TV ads with his pock­ets full of PAC money.

But it is not just Hardy’s lack of cam­paign mon­ey that holds him back; in solid­ly-con­ser­v­a­tive Wyoming, the mere fact that he is a Demo­c­rat is a giant bar­ri­er in itself.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ couldn’t get elect­ed if he ran in Wyoming today as a Demo­c­rat,” said Karpan, in per­haps the most hilar­i­ous­ly hon­est state­ment in the film.

While that may be true, shouldn’t our sys­tem of elec­tions at least give every can­di­date a chance to be judged based on thi­er clues, posi­tions, and yes, their par­ty, with­out the amount of mon­ey they have pre­vent­ing them from even get­ting their name and ideas out there?

That’s the ques­tion we must address, and soon, if we want to main­tain our democ­ra­cy. Pas­sion­ate, prin­ci­pled can­di­dates like Hardy should be the norm, and not imme­di­ate­ly at a dis­ad­van­tage because of big mon­ey pol­lut­ing our elec­tion environment.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing aspect of “Char­lie vs. Goliath” is the afore­men­tioned cam­paign staff. Pro­vid­ing the 1970 bus for Hardy’s cam­paign was his cam­paign man­ag­er, Bruce Wilkin­son. He quit his job in Olympia, WA and came out to Wyoming, bring­ing along a few of his friends to vol­un­teer on Hardy’s campaign.

If we want to see pro­gres­sive cam­paigns have suc­cess across the nation, pro­gres­sives in solid­ly blue areas need to step up and help out in areas that are not. I’m not say­ing every­one needs to quit their jobs and go to Wyoming and live in a bus on the cam­paign trail for 6 months. But we can and should donate to pro­gres­sive cam­paigns in areas where the path to vic­to­ry is more chal­leng­ing than it is in West­ern and urban parts of Wash­ing­ton and Oregon.

Make a point of engag­ing with friends and fam­i­ly who live in less pro­gres­sive areas. If they are pro­gres­sive, ask them how you can help sup­port them in work­ing on cam­paigns in their area.

If they are not nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­gres­sive but are move­able, talk to them about your pro­gres­sive val­ues and how they apply to the issues in their area.

If you are going on vaca­tion to an area where pro­gres­sive cam­paigns are strug­gling, get in touch with a local cam­paign office before you go and see if you can sign up for a vol­un­teer shift or two for while you are there. These actions may seem small, but if we all com­mit to do these things, we can have a large impact.

I am from Pull­man, in east­ern Wash­ing­ton. Despite Pull­man being fair­ly pro­gres­sive (it may be in a rur­al area, but it is a uni­ver­si­ty town and there­fore has a decent pop­u­la­tion of pro­gres­sive folks), the sur­round­ing area is not, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the state and fed­er­al lev­el is con­sis­tent­ly conservative.

But this year, the race for Wash­ing­ton’s 5th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict is look­ing like it is going to be com­pet­i­tive, with for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen­a­tor Lisa Brown chal­leng­ing 6‑term incum­bent Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers.

The nation­al GOP has allo­cat­ed resources to help defend the seat, some­thing they have not done in recent mem­o­ry, show­ing their con­cern about McMor­ris Rodger’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. I’ve already donat­ed to Brown’s cam­paign, and post­ed on Face­book chal­leng­ing my oth­er friends who grew up in Pull­man to do the same.

If you don’t have ties to con­ser­v­a­tive dis­tricts and aren’t sure where to donate, you could donate to state or nation­al lev­el orga­ni­za­tions that sup­port pro­gres­sive can­di­dates, or research what seats are being tar­get­ed most by pro­gres­sives this year and sup­port those. (Note that we can’t offer guid­ance on who to donate to or vol­un­teer for, as NPI does not endorse can­di­dates for office or get involved in elec­tion­eer­ing for or against any candidate.)

In Wash­ing­ton, for instance, there are two oth­er Con­gres­sion­al seats that pro­gres­sives are try­ing to flip from Repub­li­can to Demo­c­ra­t­ic in the Novem­ber elec­tions, in addi­tion to oust­ing McMor­ris Rodgers.

One is the seat that Dave Reichert is vacat­ing, Dis­trict 8, stretch­ing from Issaquah and Auburn across the moun­tains to Wenatchee and Ellens­burg. There are eight Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates at the moment, one of whom will like­ly face Dino Rossi in the gen­er­al elec­tion, the only Repub­li­can to have entered the race yet.

Dr. Kim Schri­er seems to be the Demo­c­ra­t­ic fron­trun­ner. She has raised the most mon­ey so far and has a key endorse­ment from EMI­LY’s List, a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to help­ing pro-choice, Demo­c­ra­t­ic women get elect­ed to pub­lic office.

Also being tar­get­ed is the 3rd Dis­trict in south­west Wash­ing­ton, which includes the cities of Van­cou­ver, Cen­tralia, and Gold­en­dale. There are cur­rent­ly four declared Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lengers to incum­bent Jaime Her­rera Beutler.

In addi­tion to these tan­gi­ble con­tri­bu­tions of time or mon­ey to cam­paigns in less pro­gres­sive areas, there is also the arguably more chal­leng­ing work of bridg­ing the divide between the west coast of Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon and the Inland North­west, between urban and rural.

Our local issues may be dif­fer­ent, but they are often linked togeth­er, and not just because we are all fight­ing for shares from the same pot of state resources. If we can all take the time to learn more about each oth­er, our sim­i­lar­i­ties and the things we share, not just the things that make us dif­fer­ent, we can all work togeth­er more effec­tive­ly for a more pros­per­ous state, region, and nation.

Reed Lind­say, direc­tor of “Char­lie vs. Goliath” and I exchanged emails on this top­ic as I was work­ing on writ­ing this review.

“Per­haps that’s a role the film could play in places like Seat­tle, Port­land, etc.” he wrote. “There may be a need for a com­ing togeth­er of the blue(r) parts of the West with the red parts of the West. There should be more col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion because we share the same land and the same rivers and the same prob­lems even if we face dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions. (And of course huge parts of Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon are the same polit­i­cal­ly to Ida­ho and Wyoming.)”

Watch­ing footage of Hardy and his team of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans on the cam­paign trail talk­ing to a lot of tra­di­tion­al­ly con­ser­v­a­tive folks in Wyoming is inspir­ing and dis­heart­en­ing at the same time, because they have such a great spir­it and a pro­gres­sive mes­sage, but you know the cam­paign is ulti­mate­ly doomed to fail due to the lack of fundrais­ing. It should not be this way.

Says Lind­say, “Char­lie is one of the most hum­ble, earnest, trust­ing and ide­al­is­tic peo­ple I have ever met — the exact oppo­site of what it takes to win a fed­er­al elec­tion in this coun­try… It is my hope that Char­lie’s sto­ry, as told through this film, will inspire many oth­ers, in this coun­try and beyond, to fight against mon­ey in pol­i­tics or to take oth­er actions to make the world a bet­ter place even when the odds seem exceed­ing­ly long.”

“Char­lie vs. Goliath” does not cur­rent­ly have any screen­ings sched­uled in the North­west, but if you want to host one in your com­mu­ni­ty, go to the film­mak­er’s web­site and fill out the inquiry form.

Adjacent posts

  • Enjoyed what you just read? Make a donation

    Thank you for read­ing The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s jour­nal of world, nation­al, and local politics.

    Found­ed in March of 2004, The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate has been help­ing peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west and beyond make sense of cur­rent events with rig­or­ous analy­sis and thought-pro­vok­ing com­men­tary for more than fif­teen years. The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate is fund­ed by read­ers like you and trust­ed spon­sors. We don’t run ads or pub­lish con­tent in exchange for money.

    Help us keep The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate edi­to­ri­al­ly inde­pen­dent and freely avail­able to all by becom­ing a mem­ber of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute today. Or make a dona­tion to sus­tain our essen­tial research and advo­ca­cy journalism.

    Your con­tri­bu­tion will allow us to con­tin­ue bring­ing you fea­tures like Last Week In Con­gress, live cov­er­age of events like Net­roots Nation or the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, and reviews of books and doc­u­men­tary films.

    Become an NPI mem­ber Make a one-time donation

  • NPI’s essential research and advocacy is sponsored by: