Most venture capitalists in the K-12 world are focused on bringing in strong returns and positive impacts to schools.
Jason Palmer is now turning to something strikingly different: a campaign for the nation’s highest office.
A general partner at New Markets Venture Partners and a former deputy director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Palmer recently announced he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential race in 2024.
“The main thing that we’re hoping to accomplish is to change the national discussion. It’s been a lot of yelling, and not a lot of collaborative dialogue and discussion,” Palmer said in an interview this week. “That’s really important to me, as somebody who cares a lot about education, cares a lot about civil society, and cares a lot about our country. We want to raise the caliber of the national debate.”
There’s no question Palmer faces long odds. In addition to the well-known historical difficulty of a candidate challenging a sitting president in their party during a primary election, Palmer is also entering into the fray with little-to-no national name recognition and a miniscule war chest compared to the campaign’s early frontrunners.
Former President Donald Trump, who is surpassing Biden in early polling and is seen as the likely Republican nominee, reported raising more than $45.5 million in the third quarter, with about $37.5 million cash on hand. Biden raised over $71 million in the same time period, and has a reported $91 million in the bank.
Palmer’s fundraising is just beginning. He personally loaned the campaign a sum that is “in the few hundred thousand dollars range,” he said, and is seeking to raise the rest from small donations from voters who are frustrated with the existing candidates in the field and seeking alternative options.
The investor is taking the effort seriously. He says his campaign has nine full-time employees, who are focusing on getting his name on the ballot in as many states as possible. He plans to direct most of his resources during the primary campaign, however, on a few key states, including New Hampshire and Nevada.
Palmer said he is aiming to grow a volunteer base “into the hundreds” by the end of December.
Ballot access rules differ by state, but many require gathering a set number of signatures. Others require paying filings fees or gaining the approval of local election officials or party leaders.
Palmer acknowledges his campaign is “a head-scratcher for a lot of people,” and said he was hesitant to run at first. He was hoping a promising candidate would enter the Democratic primary and advocate for the issues that were important to him, but as filing deadlines neared and none appeared, he decided to make the leap himself.
He was looking for someone who had innovative ideas for making capitalism work for social good, he said, but nobody did.
“I really did very reluctantly step forward,” he said. “I agonized over this … Am I really the best person to represent this movement? And I might not be, but I’m going to step forward and serve in this way.”
While Palmer is running as a Democrat and supports a range of policy positions shared by the party, he is positioning himself as a centrist, and has said he is a “purple” candidate.
On his website, he voices support for the passage of a federal law to guarantee abortion rights, protecting LGBTQ+ rights at the federal level, and a national ban on military-style firearms.
His educational policy centers around bringing more project-based learning into K-12 schools, supporting alternative forms of postsecondary education and credentialing, and encouraging states to give every teacher a 25 percent raise.
Palmer said he sees climate change as an existential threat, and is looking to create a “people-first, jobs-focused, all-of-the-above,” approach to addressing it. He opposes efforts to create a federal rule requiring 50 percent of automakers’ new vehicles to be electric-powered, and he believes in “markets teaching businesses what consumers want.”
He is a fan of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and his newly formed Forward Party. He backs its push to create term limits for Congressional representatives, institute ranked choice voting, and hold open primaries.
The boomer generation has done a great job of making the government serve them. We need to make the government serve Generation Z and Generation Alpha.Jason PalmerU.S. presidential candidate
One of his core beliefs is in “conscious capitalism, the idea that market-centered ideals can be used to drive positive social impacts – to create a better economy for younger generations, and modernize government.
“Right now, the way the federal government works, more and more resources are going to people who are older, and not enough money is going to people who are younger,” he said. “That’s why people are waiting longer to buy a house and get married. The boomer generation has done a great job of making the government serve them. We need to make the government serve Generation Z and Generation Alpha.”
Palmer believes that voters are seeking an alternative choice to Biden, and he hopes to gain their attention to his campaign with guerilla marketing, artificial intelligence tools, and nontraditional methods.
“It’s definitely a campaign that’s going to be powered by technology,” he said.
Candidates coming from the business sector often have personal wealth they can draw from, said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University.
But it’s tough to move the needle without a massive fortune, like that of billionaire and former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, whose own 2020 Democratic campaign for president fizzled.
The field of candidates, including lesser-known ones, is getting crowded, he said. As of Nov. 21, 1,157 people have filed to run for the 2024 presidential race overall, with 179 of them filing as a Democrat seeking the party’s nomination, according to Federal Election Commission data.
“He can go and fundraise, but everybody knows that his candidacy is very much the longest of long shots,” McGuinn said.
While some Democrats believe Biden should drop out of the running for a variety of reasons, including his age, there are already many higher-profile potential Democrats who appeal to party loyalists, McGuinn said, such as Sen. Cory Booker and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
A presidential campaign can help increase a candidates’ network and name recognition, and if they generate enough interest and debate, can help propel them into higher-profile and higher-powered roles in government, McGuinn said.
A longshot presidential challenge in 2020 made it possible for Buttigieg, for example, to go from being the mayor of South Bend, Ind., to serving as Biden’s secretary of transportation.
Candidates like Palmer are also able to use the increased focus and media attention that comes with a presidential campaign to drive conversations around issues that are important to them — such as the venture capitalist’s focus on education and workforce development, McGuinn said.
Palmer said while the No. 1 goal is to win the election — and the No. 2 goal is to support the Democratic nominee — the most likely scenario is that after the campaign, he will go back to “investing in people and helping them succeed.”
That may include returning to New Markets or staying in the impact investing world, he said, but at the moment, he is “fully committed to this campaign.”
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