August 11, 2005
-- by Dave Johnson
I participated in a DCCC blogger conference call last night with DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel. DCCC is an important component if we are going to take back the Congress and it is good that the DCCC is active with the blogging community.
In the call Rahm repeated that they feel they have limited resources and must choose carefully which candidates to support. To them this means it is not a good use of resources supporting candidates in districts that have often voted largely Republican in the past. (Also it isn't easy recruiting candidates to run in such districts.) So they are saying that it is just a fact that you won't win the election in such districts so put the resources where you can win.
I understand this concern, but I think it's a strategy that eats the seed corn. It's looking for short-term results but with a long-term cost. As a result of this approach the numbers for next election will be even worse, and so on after that.
I have experienced this before. At the Democratic Party "Campaign Academy" I attended traditional Democratic strategists taught campaign planning as analyzing precincts according to how many "base" voters there are, and figuring out the costs of finding them and getting them to the polls. You add up your available resources and calculate how many calls and door-stops you can make with those resources (there are specific formulas for this) and plan your campaign around that. You ignore precincts that don't have a high enough base turnout, and ignore anyone who is not a regular base voter.
This turnout strategy is based on assuming that there is a Democratic majority in place, and you will win if you can just get enough of them to show up. It was a good strategy because that used to be true, so it worked. (And I think it's the only way to run a localized campaign.)
This is a pragmatic strategy that says you have to accept the "facts on the ground" and work with them. To Washington professionals those facts include a "conventional wisdom" belief that "the public" has "moved to the right" so you have to move to the center, and a bunch of stuff like that. It does NOT take into account HOW the public was moved. And it certainly does not address how to bring the public back.
It's not true anymore that there is a Democratic majority in place, and I think maye the traditionalists don't realize that - or don't know any other way to operate. To my mind this is similar to the AFL-CIO split, where the AFL-CIO wants to keep working to get a shrinking membership to the polls, and do lobbying, while SEIU and others want to put the resources into growing the membership again.
That's where I'm at on this. To me this is about accepting the facts on the ground vs changing the facts on the ground. Getting out the base vs growing the base. If you put resources into districts that you might not win, you are growing the base. You are informing the local electorate. You are changing minds. You are laying the groundwork for winning that district the next time, or the time after that.
I agree with everything Bob Brigham writes at Swing State Project about the call:
Here's what was missing. Had the DCCC had a call with bloggers two years ago, the exact same conversation would have occurred. "The same, just better" is not a valid slogan.
I'm holding out hope for Emanuel. I'm waiting to be inspired. But nothing leads me to believe that the DCCC realizes the importance of investing early and running full campaigns. Everything still seems based on the last two weeks and 30 second ads.
But that isn't what Democrats need as a Party, especially in congressional races. We need to talk to everyone. Voters deserve a choice. Let's involve all of America when we reform the Culture of Corruption. Technology has circumvented geographic distance, people have free cell phone evenings and IM and email. People talk and we need them talking about the Culture of Corruption – everywhere.
Corrupt Congressmen have been known to live outside of swing districts. Let's put everyone on notice, it is time to do the possible instead of just better than before.
Howard Dean's 50/435 strategy is a longer-term strategy of working everywhere to educate and change people's minds. It might take more election cycles, but it is a strategy for growth. It understands and leverages the concept of an involved netroots.
Update - DCCC thinks I got it wrong, and Jesse e-mailed "Rahm definitely did not say that this meant leaving traditionally Republican seats out of the equation." My grammar was bad, I did not mean it to sound like that was a quote.
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Good God! The donkey is certainly the proper symbol for the Democrats who don't seem to be able to stop being jackasses. If you're stuck with a losing strategy, more of the same is going to produce winners? Moving to the center is gonna do it for you? How about those tens of thousands of Democrats who don't vote because they feel the party has abandoned them? Personally, I'm damned close to becoming one of them in the up-coming election for NYC mayor. ONE decent, acceptable candidate has appeared, and he's running for borough president, not for mayor.
There are several excellent, powerful candidates coming up for governor because Pataki is ready to move on, so I'll work on and vote in that election. I'll support Hillary and Schumer, although I'm not happy about the way Hillary's moving towards the right as a political strategy. I'm darned close to just giving up rather than support a bunch of jackasses clinging to losing strategies because they don't have enough guts to get out there and fight. It's as though Dean stands alone.
How simple can it be? The right has persuaded people to vote against their own interests (and the common interest, too, if they cared) by a thirty-year campaign of deception. Shouldn't it be clear that the only counterattack is to persuade people to vote in their own interests (and the common interest, if they care) by a campaign of courage and truth? Not to demcorats it ain't. Jeeeeze.
But it isn't that demcorats are stupid. They aren't. It's that they have lost the ability to persuade because they stand for nothing. Like repugs, everything is just word games and nimble evasions. They support primarily the interests of their funders and just pretend to support middle- and working-class Americans, about whom most couldn't care less.
Here is the message for Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC. It's the same message for Howard Dean and the DNC, Charles Schumer and the DSCC, and everyone in the Democratic Party who wants to be known as a leader:
If you build it, we will come.
There needs to be an exchange of commitments, financial and personal, between the party leadership and the grassroots/netroots.
They have to give up on the calculations and manipulations. We have to give up on the deeply ingrained habit of waiting for the party to do something, then bitching about it when nothing happens.
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