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Nothing, not even 18 years working at the highest levels of national media, could have prepared Dylan Ratigan for a run to represent New York’s 21st Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
“It’s been the most intense and demanding work of my entire life by far,” Ratigan says. “It’s impossible to anticipate something like this until you’re actually in the situation doing this.”
Ratigan is speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at an eatery in midtown Manhattan, where he’s come for a political fundraiser that he later says was successful. Ratigan does a lot of fundraisers (and town halls) these days. He says he splits up his daily schedule into “three days a day”: a morning period between 5 or 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., a normal workday (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and often an evening session.
He’s quick to say that running for Congress is far more demanding than his schedule when he hosted shows on CNBC and then on MSNBC, where he drew his largest national following. “The cable news anchor schedule is a walk in the park compared to this, truly,” he says.
But, Ratigan says the work is incredibly rewarding and “the opportunity of a lifetime,” even if he ultimately loses the crowded Democratic Party primary June 26, when he will face off against six other candidates for the chance to battle the incumbent, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik. He expects a general election contest against Stefanik to be tough. True to form, a Republican communications consultant who responded to an inquiry sent to Stefanik’s campaign asked “Who?” when requested for comment on Ratigan’s candidacy.
While he’s far behind Stefanik (and two other Democrats) in cash on hand, Ratigan’s campaign has been able to raise enough money to be competitive in the race — more than $150,000, as of the end of March, all from individuals (rather than political action committees).
He’s also had some professional help in the form of longtime Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who has been handling his digital advertising and fundraising following Trippi’s success in December’s Alabama Senate contest against Roy Moore. Ratigan’s wife and Trippi were the two people who most encouraged him to run, he says.
Ratigan, Trippi says, is “somebody who gets where we need to go, what we need to do, has a vision for a different kind of politics and a different set of ideas and solutions, and is willing to try them.”
Despite being his livelihood for many years, until he left MSNBC in 2012, Ratigan says that cable news is responsible for amplifying the national political gridlock he hopes to chip away at in Congress. “Part of the broken political system is a broken information market, and the cable news networks are a participant in the breaking of the information,” he says. “Not because they’re bad people, but because the way the system is designed right now rewards cheap, provocative information. [It’s] the easiest way to make money.”
He has little patience for the ethical equivocation and obfuscation that permits someone like Fox News host Sean Hannity to be both a newsman and an informal adviser to President Donald Trump — a “shadow chief of staff,” according to a Washington Post report earlier this week.
Here, Ratigan drops his candidate cool and serves up the tough talk and outrage that made him a star at MSNBC. (A former colleague says that “intense” is the best word to describe him.) “It’s all made-up B.S.,” Ratigan says of the fluid company guidelines that govern how politically active some cable news hosts can be. “It’s all false morals and false ethics in the face of an utterly sick and corrupt set of relationships.”
Ratigan says his campaign has been buoyed by viewers who watched him on MSNBC who now make donations and amplify his message on social media. “A lot of them feel like if there’s one person in America that Congress doesn’t want to come to Congress, it’s me,” he says. “And that alone is reason to send me.”
While Ratigan’s odds seem long, Trippi says he has a “really good” chance of emerging victorious. “No one’s going to outwork him,” he says. “He’s just tenacious when he takes on a challenge.”
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