Life after losing
After a long and busy election season, newly elected officials are preparing for years in the public eye. But many of their challengers have already returned to obscurity. The Times continues its weekly series focusing on life for those who fell short at the ballot box— from ousted incumbents to long-shot candidates with eyes on the next election cycle.
It’s possible that no one remembers Daniel Benton’s attempt at Congress.
His name is there on the list with everyone else who thought, for some reason or another, he should be Georgia’s next 9th District U.S. House representative.
But there were never any “Benton for Congress” signs, nor weekends spent schmoozing at political barbeques. The name “C. Daniel Benton” never even appeared on the ballot.
The 49-year-old Gainesville man didn’t make it that far. Benton signed up with the agency that oversees contributions to congressional candidates, made plans for his first fundraiser and then threw in the towel.
If politics were more like college football, Benton might say that instead of quitting, he red-shirted himself for the 2012 election, when he might be a stronger candidate and the state might have a new congressional seat better suited for his talents.
Benton says what he is best at is solving problems. He spent more than a decade as a human resources consultant analyzing business efficiency.
He plans to write three books that aim to remedy a variety of problems, be they personal, physical or financial.
So when Benton was one of 13 men who signed up with the Federal Election Commission last year to succeed Nathan Deal in the House, he was out, again, to solve a problem: a plummeting economy and a soaring national deficit.
In May 2009, Deal announced he would not seek re-election to the House, choosing instead a bid for Georgia governor, a race he won. The decision left his seat, as representative of 15 mostly conservative North Georgia counties, open for the first time in 17 years.
Republicans were chomping at the bit.
Immediately, a former Department of Transportation board chairman from Forsyth County and a popular state representative announced their intentions to run for the seat. A month later, a state senator from Gainesville stepped into the ring. So did a former state Senate majority leader, a state representative from just outside the district and a Gainesville businessman who planned to run as an independent.
Benton and others later quietly joined in.
Trained professionally to help major corporations save money and use people more effectively, Benton thought he could do the same for the debt-ridden federal government.
“I’m more of a mathematician than a politician,” said Benton. “I’m intrigued by solving problems, and what we have, really … is a lot of issues with the budget and the economy that need to be solved, and a mathematical approach is going to need to be applied in order to solve those problems, rather than just a lot of vague statements.”
But by the time Benton registered as a candidate with the FEC in November 2009, some of the more seasoned politicians had already reported campaign contributions into six digits.
As a first-time candidate, catching up wouldn’t be easy. So Benton decided to use the 2010 race as a practice round and a chance to plan his strategy for 2012, he said.
He also saw opportunities in the 2012 election cycle not afforded to him before.
“Rather than play catch-up, I used this as an opportunity for experience,” Benton said. “So I did more grass-roots campaigning, and (took) the opportunity to talk to a lot of people.”
So far, Benton said his strategy is to become a “really, really good listener” so he can better represent his future constituents.
He’s been practicing the strategy everywhere he goes in downtown Gainesville. Even on the phone at his Gainesville home, Benton says he’s always campaigning.
Though most of the seeds Benton plants for his “grass-roots” campaign are sowed mostly in Gainesville, Benton thinks that’s good enough for now as Hall County could be part of a new congressional district by 2012.
While the 9th District seat already will have an incumbent representative in Ranger Republican Tom Graves in 2012, results from this year’s census likely will create another congressional seat in North Georgia.
The new district could be carved out of the eastern portion of the existing 9th District, since Graves resides in the western portion.
And while the congressional boundaries are still uncertain, Benton thinks downtown Gainesville is a good place to “test the waters” for his upcoming campaign. So far, he says, the water feels fine.
Benton says he has a lot of friends in Gainesville, and even those he doesn’t know aren’t strangers for long. He touts his more than 700 Facebook friends gathered in a few months’ time as proof.
“I do intend to win in 2012,” Benton said. “I should be able to win — hopefully, by a landslide.”
As he’s still planning his strategy, Benton says there’s also the possibility he could run in southwest Florida in 2012. Though he returned to Gainesville in 2008, Benton is still registered to vote in the Fort Myers area. He owns a home there. He claims a lot of friends there, and Benton said he is also considering opening a health clinic in the area soon.
No matter the district from which he hails, Benton is already setting goals beyond 2012. If he wins, in either Florida or Georgia, Benton says he aims to become speaker of the House.
Again seeing himself as a problem solver, Benton thinks he could be the “fair mediator for change” the legislative branch needs at its helm.
“I want to be part of the solution,” Benton said. “If we wait for this problem to solve itself ... if we just allow the system to continue to work like it is without doing something to alter the course, something to change the mathematics so to speak, then we’re going to keep going in the trend that we’ve been having. And if we do that then we’re going to be broke.”